Why Do I Have Scabs on My Scalp?

Medically Reviewed on 3/3/2022
why do I have scabs on my scalp
Scabs on your scalp can be caused by dandruff, lice, and more. Learn about 14 possible reasons why your scalp is scabbing

Scabs and sores on the scalp are most often caused by dry scalp. Your scalp is protected by a natural barrier, controlled by the oil secreted by your sebaceous glands. When the pH of this barrier is damaged, it can cause your scalp to become dry and itchy.

14 possible causes of scabs on your scalp

  1. Dry scalp: Dry scalp is the most common cause of scabs on the scalp, often due to excessive hair washing, high mineral content in water, very hot water showers, harsh shampoos, and high heat treatments.
  2. Oily scalp: If your scalp is too oily, it can cause irritation and lead to scratching and scabbing.
  3. Dandruff (seborrheic dermatitis): Dandruff is small, white, flaky patches of skin that are usually located at the hair follicle site. It can cause itchiness that may tempt you to scratch and develop scabs.
  4. Contact dermatitis: Contact dermatitis is a type of allergic reaction characterized by red, dry scab patches on the scalp, which may cause severe itchiness and burning. The most common cause of contact dermatitis is frequent changing of hair products. However, it may also be due to other environmental toxins.
  5. Psoriasis: Psoriasis can affect skin anywhere on the body, but sometimes affects the scalp area as well. It causes silver or white scabs that can cause severe itching.
  6. Lice: Lice can also cause scalp itching and in rare cases may lead to an infection due to excessive scratching and scabbing.
  7. Ringworm: Ringworm is a type of fungal infection that affects your scalp and hair shaft. It may cause red, scaly skin with extreme itching and even permanent hair loss.
  8. Eosinophilic folliculitis: Usually seen in people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), this condition causes itchy sores filled with pus that later form scabs.
  9. Seborrheic eczema: Seborrheic eczema causes your scalp to become irritated with small bumps that cause thick red scabs and swelling that can be quite itchy.
  10. Shingles (herpes): Shingles is a viral infection caused by the same virus as chickenpox. One of the most common symptoms of shingles is scabbing on the scalp. 
  11. Lichen planopilaris or lichen planus: This skin condition may cause red bumps and scabs on the scalp, and often quite serious because it may cause scarring and hair loss.
  12. Poisoning: Poisoning due to heavy metals (thallium or arsenic poisoning) are a possible cause of the condition.
  13. Diet: Lack of proper protein and nutrition in your diet can also affect your scalp health.
  14. Burns: Damaged hair shafts and scabs may be caused by burns or other injuries.

What are the symptoms of scabs on the scalp?

Scabs appear as crusty raised areas on the scalp. They are usually yellowish but may also look reddish, black, or dark brown.

When your scalp develops scabs, the areas around the patches of rough skin become excessively dry. Several patches close together can cause larger scabs and lead to symptoms including:

  • Burning or itching sensation
  • Dried blood with or without pus formation
  • Hair loss
  • Flaking or crusting skin
  • Bumps, blisters, or sores
  • Bad odor

Scabs are usually a sign that your skin is trying to heal from an injury or a scratch. Constant scratching damages the outer layer of the skin. The skin tries to heal itself with the help of blood cells called platelets. These platelets stick together to form a clot that then hardens to create a scab. 

If an injured area continues to scab up, the scalp tissue may become inflamed and may scar or develop bald patches.

How can I treat scabs on my scalp?

The best way to treat your scabs is to leave them alone and not scratch them. Scabs usually heal within 10-14 days if there is no underlying medical condition and if you refrain from scratching.

There are many over-the-counter shampoo and medications specifically formulated to treat scabs on the scalp, but it’s best to discuss treatment with your doctor. They may recommend a few home remedies that can help soothe your scalp:

  • Hydrating scalp mask
  • Warm compress
  • Serums containing urea and ceramides
  • Warm oil massage with coconut, jojoba, or tea tree oil
  • Natural ingredients with antioxidants and antimicrobial properties:
    • Aloe vera gel
    • Lemon juice
    • Neem leaves
    • Apple cider vinegar
    • Oatmeal
    • Cocoa butter
    • Sea salt

Depending on the underlying cause and severity of your condition, your dermatologist may prescribe antimicrobials, antihistamines, and even steroids, which come in topical, oral, or injectable forms.


Eczema Browse our medical image collection of allergic skin disorders such as psoriasis and dermatitis and more caused by allergies See Images

How do you stop an itchy scalp?

why is my head itching so bad?
Here are 12 simple home remedies to reduce an itchy scalp, which include hair washing, food and diet modifications, and using antidandruff shampoo.

An itchy scalp may be quite uncomfortable and embarrassing especially if the itch is so severe that it makes it impossible to go about your daily activities.

  • Itching is sometimes accompanied by more significant side effects, such as hair loss and a crusted, blistering scalp.
  • There are several causes of itchy scalps, such as hair care products, water quality, or developing a fungal infection.

10 reasons for an itchy scalp

The 10 reasons for an itchy scalp includes the following:

  1. Dandruff
  2. Head lice
  3. Allergic reactions
  4. Scalp ringworm
  5. Scalp psoriasis
  6. Atopic dermatitis
  7. Scalp ringworm
  8. Scabies
  9. Nerve problem
  10. Skin cancer

12 simple home remedies to reduce itchy scalp

  1. Hair washing:
    • You should not expect that a single day of shampooing will help with all the issues that cause itching.
    • You must wash your hair regularly with shampoos that suit your skin type, followed by applying conditioner.
  2. Food and diet:
    • The food you consume has an impact on the insides of your body and what is on the outside, such as skin and hair. You must be aware of foods that cause you allergies.
    • Include vitamins E and A, as well as healthy fatty acids, in your diet.
    • Reduce your intake of alcohol, caffeine, and sweets during the hotter months, and stay hydrated.
  3. Eliminate harsh hair care products:
    • Some chemicals can cause serious harm to your scalp and hair without your knowledge.
    • They can worsen an existing scalp injury by eliminating any protective lipids, leaving your scalp unprotected.
  4. Aloe vera:
    • Aloe vera is a natural moisturizer with antibacterial and calming effects. It is a tried-and-true treatment for a red, itchy scalp and dandruff.
    • Aloe vera gel is to be applied directly on the scalp and washed after 20 minutes with lukewarm water.
  5. Lemon juice:
    • Lemon juice is acidic and naturally has both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
    • It is rich in vitamin C, citric acid, and iron, which promote hair growth.
    • Lemon juice reduces dandruff because it balances pH, strengthens hair follicles, and reduces the buildup of excess oil on the scalp.
    • Make sure you apply diluted lemon juice to the hair.
  6. Neem oil:
    • Neem is a medicinal plant that has been used for decades for its antibacterial qualities. It can successfully treat itching and clean up most illnesses.
    • Nimbin, an active and essential element in neem oil, aids to relieve inflammation.
  7. Onion juice:
    • Onion is rich in antioxidants and has antibacterial properties.
    • Application of onion juice on the scalp reduces infection and keeps the scalp healthy.
    • The sulfur in onion nourishes hair follicles and reduces hair thinning.
  8. Coconut oil:
    • The application of coconut oil on the scalp reduces its dryness because it acts as a natural moisturizer.
    • It also aids in the treatment of scalp infection that causes itching.
  9. Argan oil:
    • Argan oil is high in vitamin E, which protects the scalp by maintaining moisture and forming a barrier against overheating.
  10. Apple cider vinegar:
    • Apple cider vinegar (ACV) has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antifungal qualities. The use of ACV reduces irritation caused by dry scalp.
    • Dilute a tablespoon of ACV in water and rinse your hair after shampooing. It cleans the scalp by removing all the remnants of shampoo chemicals, dirt, and dandruff. This reduces flaking and itching caused by dandruff.
  11. Tea tree oil:
    • Tea tree oil is an essential oil, which is recognized for its antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties.
    • It is an excellent clearing treatment for dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, and head lice.
    • You should always dilute it first by adding a few drops in a carrier oil, such as coconut or olive oil, before putting it straight to your scalp or skin because it might irritate.
  12. Antidandruff shampoo:
    • Using shampoos that contain salicylic acid and ketoconazole reduces scalp itch effectively. Salicylic acid has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. It causes skin exfoliation, which may make it especially useful for the scaly, itching regions associated with psoriasis.
    • Ketoconazole is an antifungal drug with a broad range of actions. It is effective at getting rid of Malassezia yeast. This is a fungus that can overgrow on the scalp and produce Malassezia folliculitis, often called scalp psoriasis.

If these home treatments do not work and you are experiencing hair loss as well as a dry and irritated scalp, see your doctor right away.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/3/2022
The Itchy scalp - scratching for an explanation: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3233984/

Itchy scalp: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/itchy-scalp

Image Source: iStock Images

American Academy of Dermatology. 10 reasons your scalp itches and how to get relief. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/itchy-skin/itch-relief/relieve-scalp-itch

Arlington Dermatology. 10 Reasons Your Scalp Itches and How to Get Relief. https://www.arlingtondermatology.net/2021/05/27/10-reasons-your-scalp-itches-and-how-to-get-relief/

Scripps Health. What Causes Itchy Scalp? https://www.scripps.org/news_items/7197-what-causes-itchy-scalp