My Scalp is Itchy & On Fire!

My Scalp is Itching So Bad that It's On Fire!
Haven spoken to hundreds of women regarding their hair and scalp issues, it never ceases to amaze me that most all of them at one point in their hair care journey experience the same thing.  Here's how it's usually presented to me:

"At the top of my head and on the sides, near my temples, my scalp itches really bad.  Sometimes I scratch so hard that I think it might be bleeding but when I check, there's no blood.  And every now and again it feels like someone is sticking me with a bunch of needles and all I can think to do is scratch it some more."

Is there any dandruff?

Photo Courtesy of"No.  Sometimes there are dry, white patches but when I go to scratch it, it doesn't flake off like dandruff.  It's sort of like a scab but at the same time it's not."

Does it go away after you shampoo? 

"No, not really.  Sometimes when I wash my hair and dry it, my scalp is white moments later.  And when I use oil, it doesn't do anything."

If any of this sounds familiar, you may suffer from seborrheic dermatitis.

"Seborrheic dermatitis is a common inflammatory disease of the scalp and skin characterized by scaly lesions usually on the scalp, hairline, face and body. In infants, it is sometimes called cradle cap." [1]

"Dandruff is a mild form of seborrheic dermatitis and appear as fine white scales without red skin or inflammation. Dandruff can also be caused by other skin conditions, especially in children." [1]

The difference between dandruff and dermatitis is that dandruff lacks inflammation.  Where your scalp may be itchy due to dandruff, it will not feel like it's literally burning if you don't scratch it.  Due to the nature of dermatitis and the Level of scratching going on, the area is tender to the touch.  In addition where dandruff results in dusty, white flakes that easily fall from the scalp, dermatitis is characterized by greasy or dry scales that may be white, yellowish, or gray in color.  They also can not easily be removed when you "scratch your scalp" with a fine-tooth comb.

Anyone who has witnessed a child with cradle cap knows how difficult dermatitis is to remove.  Where most infants grow out of this condition, adults with the condition generally experience flare-ups throughout their lifetime. 

But I didn't have this problem before I went natural or grew Dreadlocks.
You're not alone.  Most people had very little to no occurrences of dermatitis when their hair was relaxed.  The development of this condi

tion is probably due to a number of factors and to date, there is no known cause.  However, we've identified some commonalities:
  • More Frequent Shampoos:  People with natural hair tend to shampoo more frequently than those with relaxed hair.  Whether it's wetting your hair in the morning or spritzing it with water throughout the day, natural hair is exposed to moisture in various forms far more readily than relaxed hair. If you use shampoos which strip your hair of oils (most shampoos are manufactured for naturally straight hair which gets greasy quicker than African hair), then ironically, by cleansing your hair more frequently, you could actually be damaging it and your scalp.
  • Less Frequent Styling:  Women with relaxed hair distribute oils more readily through their hair.  Ask a person with dreadlocks the last time they've used a brush or comb.  Women with natural hair tend to choose styles that are best maintained with finger combing.  They also tend to maintain a particular style longer.  For example, braid extensions may last a few months.  This lack of styling reduces the distribution of oils and concentrates them at the scalp.
Ok, How Do I Get Rid of It?
You don't.  At least not technically.  It'd be like asking how do I get rid of acne?  You don't get rid of acne.  We're all susceptible to break outs.  In the case of dermatitis, once you have it, you're prone to future flare-ups.  So the better question is, how do I prevent a flare-up?

First, get a diagnosis.  Find out if the problems you're experiencing are indeed due to seborrheic dermatitis.  If your dermatologist or general practitioner diagnoses you with this condition, he or she will most likely give you a topical steroid cream...sorta like hydrocortisone (anti-itch) but stronger.  Ask for an oil based ointment if available.  Reason being, a water based medication might mess up your hair whereas an oil based one shouldn't effect your style.  The ointment will help bring the flare-up under control.  Overtime, you will need stronger and stronger doses.

Second, reevaluate your hair care products.  Your shampoos are stripping your hair.  So not only are you styling your hair less or distributing your hairs' oils far less, you're also stripping your hair with shampoos that are designed for naturally straight hair.  You should therefore opt for milder shampoos, Sulfate-Free blends in particular.  I myself had dermatitis and almost as soon as I began using Juanita Sulfate Free Shampoo, my scalp issues went away.  I haven't had a flare-up since 2002!

In the presence of a flare-up, consider using a medicated shampoo or one that contains pure essential oils that are known to alleviate scalp conditions.  The key is to attack a flare-up early while simultaneously using products and engaging in practices that will prevent the exacerbation of the  flare-up.

Finally, use natural butters and oils.  People with dermatitis may have skin allergies.  Where we usually think of allergies as extreme, allergies can reveal themselves in the form of something as simple as extremely itchy scalp.  Natural butters and oils better absorb into your skin.  Where fake oils and scalp dressings (products containing mineral oils and petrolatum) sit on top of your hair and skin, natural products penetrate, protect and soothe.  Personally, for those with dermatitis, I prefer butters to oils.

[1] Image Source:


Comment #1 (Posted by an unknown user) Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
thank you
Comment #2 (Posted by an unknown user) Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingempty Unrated
Comment #3 (Posted by Nelly) Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
Kudos. I did'nt know all this...
Comment #4 (Posted by K Williams) Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingemptyratingemptyratingempty Unrated
I've had this since I was 12 and it lasted all throughout my relaxed years and its still hear with me in my natural years- there is no cure- only ways to minimize the 'break outs'

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