Although skin psoriasis can affect almost anyone, it’s most common in adults under 35 years old. According to statistics published by the NHS, approximately 2% of the UK population has scalp psoriasis, making the condition very common.
The severity of scalp psoriasis varies greatly from person to person. For some, the irritation and discomfort caused by the condition is relatively minor. For a small minority, scalp psoriasis can have a major impact on day-to-day happiness and quality of life.
To help make living with psoriasis more bearable, we’ve answered the key questions that people have about the condition, including:
- Common symptoms
- Signs it’s time to see a doctor
- If you can cure scalp psoriasis
Shampoo is one of the most common and effective types of psoriasis scalp treatment. It’s available over the counter in many stores. We explain how it helps treat your condition, along with highlighting the other major treatments for scalp psoriasis.
Read on for an overview of everything you need to know about scalp psoriasis.
What is scalp psoriasis?
Scalp psoriasis is a condition that affects skin within the hairline, but it can extend to the forehead, ears or neck. It causes red, flaky crusty patches of skin that can get incredibly sore.
At its worst, scalp psoriasis causes these red patches of skin to thicken up and become covered in silvery scales. A study has also shown that people with psoriasis have a higher risk of non-melanoma skin cancer.
Scalp psoriasis happens when your immune system becomes damaged and sends faulty signals to your skin cells, causing them to grow too quickly.
The most common place to find psoriasis is on your scalp, with over half of all sufferers reporting the condition occurring in this area of the body. However, you can get psoriasis anywhere on your body, with other commonly affected areas including your elbows, knees, and lower back.
Most people are only affected by small patches of psoriasis. That said, in more severe psoriasis cases, some people develop large patches of psoriasis which can get extremely itchy and sore.
Scalp psoriasis is different from having eczema on the scalp, although the treatment options can be the same.
What causes scalp psoriasis and what triggers it?
The underlying cause of scalp psoriasis is the immune system sending faulty signals to your skin cells. Scalp psoriasis is genetic, but the exact causes are different for everyone. Common triggers include:
- Cold and dry weather
- Other infections
- Reaction to certain medications
- Trauma to the skin
- Excessive alcohol consumption
It’s a common misconception that psoriasis is contagious. This is not true; you can’t catch psoriasis by coming into contact with someone who has the condition. In fact, psoriasis is hereditary, which means if someone else in your family has or has had the condition, you are more likely to get it too.
Symptoms of scalp psoriasis
In the case of mild scalp psoriasis, you may only find small patches of fine scaling. In moderate to more severe cases, the symptoms of scalp psoriasis include:
- Scaly, red, bumpy patches
- Silvery-white scales
- Dandruff-like flaking
- Dry scalp
- Burning or soreness
- Hair loss
Scalp psoriasis and hair loss
Scalp psoriasis and hair loss are something many people with the condition worry about, but the condition itself does not lead to hair loss. With severe scalp psoriasis, heavy scratching, rubbing, and picking large scaly spots can cause temporary hair loss. The good news is that in the vast majority of cases, your hair grows back after scalp psoriasis clears.
Best treatments for scalp psoriasis
At present, there is no cure for scalp psoriasis. However, over-the-counter and prescription treatments can help you manage the symptoms.
The most common treatments for scalp psoriasis come in one of three categories: shampoos, steroid creams or home remedies.
Over-the-counter psoriasis shampoos
Over-the-counter medicated shampoos for scalp psoriasis work by helping to make scales softer and easier to peel off. There is a wide range of shampoos that are designed for treating psoriasis. These are the main types of psoriasis shampoo UK sufferers can use:
- Neutrogena T/Gel Shampoo
- Alphosyl 2 In 1 Shampoo
- Nizoral Anti-Dandruff Shampoo
- Capasal Therapeutic Shampoo
When studying the label of scalp psoriasis shampoos, look for one of the two following active ingredients: coal tar or salicylic acid.
Shampoos that contain coal tar slow down the growth of skin cells and help reduce the scaling, hardening, and thickening of the skin that is associated with scalp psoriasis. Shampoos with salicylic acid work in a similar way, helping you to shed dead skin. Both help to ease itching and reduce redness on your scalp.
Before using an over-the-counter shampoo for scalp psoriasis, it’s a good idea to loosen your scales with a soft brush or fine-tooth comb. Next, wet your hair and work the shampoo into a lather, then leave to soak for the amount of time stated in the instructions. Repeat the process at least twice a week until your scalp psoriasis clears up.
Steroid treatments for scalp psoriasis
Steroid creams — also called topical corticosteroids — are used to treat moderate and severe cases of scalp psoriasis. Effective steroid-based treatments for scalp psoriasis include:
Topical steroid creams for scalp psoriasis work by reducing inflammation. This slows down signals from the immune system telling the body to produce more skin cells, which, in turn, reduces itching.
One of the things to keep in mind when using a topical treatment is that you can experience skin withdrawal symptoms if you use the medication for a long period of time. These withdrawal symptoms include burning and redness.
Because they are topical corticosteroids, steroid creams for scalp psoriasis should only be prescribed by a doctor or licensed pharmacist prescriber. If you think you need to use topical treatments for your affected skin then speak to a doctor or pharmacist.
Natural remedies for scalp psoriasis
Although it’s important to note that home remedies are not proven cures, the following treatments have all been reported to help ease some symptoms of scalp psoriasis.
Aloe vera - As a plant that has antibacterial properties, aloe vera can help reduce the itching, inflammation and flaking caused by scalp psoriasis.
Coconut or avocado oil - The natural fats of both avocado and coconuts can help keep skin healthy. Simply add a couple of drops of either oil to your scalp, then put on a shower cap. After 20 minutes, remove the cap and wash your hair. This is known to reduce the itching and redness associated with scalp psoriasis.
Garlic - Another ingredient with anti-inflammatory properties and packed full of antioxidants, garlic can help treat psoriasis and other skin conditions. Mixing pressed garlic with aloe vera is a commonly used home remedy. Like using coconut or avocado oil, simply rub the mixture onto your scalp, leave for 20 minutes, and then wash your hair.
Turmeric - This well-known herb contains curcumin, an ingredient that helps to heal wounds and reduce inflammation. If you have scalp psoriasis, introducing 1 to 3 grams of turmeric into your cooking can help alleviate the symptoms.
Vitamin D - Getting a sufficient amount of vitamin D is hugely beneficial for your health. And spending some time in the sun may help lessen the symptoms of scalp psoriasis. If you plan on spending more than 15 minutes outside, it’s advisable to put on sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 30.
Note: If you have moderate or severe scalp psoriasis, it’s always best to seek the professional advice of a trained doctor before trying a natural remedy.
How to cure scalp psoriasis permanently
Because scalp psoriasis is a chronic skin condition, there is no cure. For this reason, it can be tempting to delay seeing a doctor. However, in the following cases or situations, it’s highly advisable that you consult your doctor for advice:
- You notice red, cracked or irritated skin in a new area
- You are still scratching or the itchiness gets worse
- You’re planning on going on holiday
- You develop swollen, painful or stiff joints
Living with scalp psoriasis
Scalp psoriasis treatment focuses on controlling the symptoms and preventing flare-ups. You can help prevent scalp psoriasis from spreading by:
Using moisturising creams
Scalp psoriasis symptoms get worse if your skin is dry. Regularly moisturising your scalp with creams and lotions can help keep your skin moist and prevent your skin from flaking and getting itchy.
Avoiding cold and dry weather
Climate has a big effect on scalp psoriasis. Cold weather tends to make the symptoms worse for a large number of people with the condition. Warm weather, on the other hand, often helps to improve scalp psoriasis symptoms.
Many people with scalp psoriasis say stress often triggers severe flare-ups. Exercise, eating healthily, meditating, and listening to soothing music are all great ways to reduce stress.
Not using certain medications
Tell your doctor about all the other medications that you take. Some drugs are known to make the symptoms of scalp psoriasis worse. Common examples include beta-blockers and medications for heart arrhythmias.
Scalp psoriasis is a chronic condition with no cure. But you can make living with the condition much more manageable by getting the right advice and using the right treatments.
If you’re suffering from a skin condition like scalp psoriasis then you can get support from National Psoriasis Foundation, a non-profit organisation that helps people like yourself.
You can also contact The Independent Pharmacy to get a free consultation and find out what the most appropriate treatment is for your condition. Starting an online consultation with us is quick and easy — and you can even receive the medication you need the very next day.