About all

Scalp dryness: What Causes Scalp Tenderness?

What Causes Scalp Tenderness?

We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission Here’s our process.

Healthline only shows you brands and products that we stand behind.

Our team thoroughly researches and evaluates the recommendations we make on our site. To establish that the product manufacturers addressed safety and efficacy standards, we:

  • Evaluate ingredients and composition: Do they have the potential to cause harm?
  • Fact-check all health claims: Do they align with the current body of scientific evidence?
  • Assess the brand: Does it operate with integrity and adhere to industry best practices?

We do the research so you can find trusted products for your health and wellness.

Read more about our vetting process.

Was this helpful?

Your scalp may feel sore due to different causes, including skin disorders, tension headaches, and some infections. Treatment can depend on the underlying cause.

Scalp pain can be caused by a number of things, from easy-to-treat dandruff to infection or infestation. Common symptoms include prickling, burning, or tingling sensations, as well as flaky, itchy skin.

Keep reading to learn more about the potential causes and what you can do to treat them.

Common causes of scalp pain include the following:

Skin disorders

Dermatitis is a common condition associated with a general inflammation of the skin. Symptoms include an itchy rash and swollen skin. You may also experience blisters, crusts, or flakes. These symptoms can be triggered by contact with many common things, such as:

  • certain metals
  • certain soaps
  • poison ivy
  • certain cosmetics
  • pollution
  • water
  • certain laundry detergents
  • certain hair products


Folliculitis, furunculosis, and carbunculosis are all infections of the hair follicles that can cause scalp sensitivity. These infections can be painful, sore, or warm to the touch. They often affect the back of the neck, the back of the scalp, or the armpit. Sometimes, pus can be squeezed out from these skin lesions.

Fungal infections of the scalp, such as tinea capitis and tinea versicolor, are most common in children and can cause hair loss.


What may look like flakes of dandruff could be lice. If you’re experiencing any itchiness or have red bumps that may crust or ooze, you should seek immediate medical attention. Lice is highly contagious and can live up to 30 days on your scalp or body. Lice eggs can live even longer.


A tension headache can also cause scalp pain. Stress, depression, or anxiety can cause or worsen your symptoms, making muscles tense.

Temporal arteritis

The temporal artery is a blood vessel that runs on the side of your head in front of your ear. Temporal arteritis is a condition in which the temporal artery becomes inflamed and very tender to touch. Symptoms associated with this condition include jaw pain, headaches, and visual disturbances.

Temporal arteritis most often affects older adults. This is especially true of those with a condition called polymyalgia rheumatica.

Other possibilities

Scalp pain can also be caused by:

  • sunburn
  • heat
  • cold
  • wind

This pain can also be worsened or triggered by hair loss. For women, hormones associated with the menstrual cycle may also contribute to scalp pain.

Those with naturally greasy or dry scalp are more prone to scalp pain and may even experience sensitive skin in other areas. You may also be more likely to experience symptoms if you:

  • are stressed
  • are anxious
  • are depressed
  • live in an area with a varying climate or cold temperatures
  • have allergies
  • have asthma

Treatments vary depending on the cause or symptom. Special shampoos like Selsun Blue or Head & Shoulders can help alleviate itchiness or dry, flaky scalp.

Change your shampoo, rinse your hair more carefully, and brush your hair gently. Ibuprofen or similar over-the-counter medication may help relieve inflammation or headaches that cause sensitivity.

Certain essential oils, such as lavender or rosemary, can help heal sores that may be causing scalp pain. However, applying undiluted essential oil to your scalp may make your symptoms worse. You’ll need to dilute it first.

To dilute the oil, mix 4 to 6 drops of essential per each ounce of a carrier oil. Sweet almond oil works well for the hair.

Before applying to your scalp, test the mixture on a small patch of skin, say, on your forearm. Wait 24 hours to determine whether your skin is going to have a reaction. If it doesn’t, it should be okay to use the mixture on your head.

Gently massage the mixture into your hair and scalp. Leave it in for 15 to 20 minutes, and then wash it out. You may need to apply a gentle shampoo up to three times and rinse well.

Depending on your symptoms, you may need to seek medical attention. If first-line treatments aren’t relieving your irritation, your doctor may prescribe stronger medication or special shampoo. If special care is needed, you doctor may refer you to a dermatologist.

Although some people naturally have a tender scalp, an underlying medical condition may also be causing your symptoms.

If your symptoms are severe and continue to persist, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor. Whether this can clear up in a few days or a few weeks depends on your symptoms.

Causes, Home Remedies, When to Seek Help

Anyone can get a dry scalp, including your baby. But it can be difficult to determine the cause of your baby’s dry scalp as well as how to treat it.

Read on to learn about the possible causes of dry scalp in babies and what you can do about it. As a rule of thumb, see your baby’s pediatrician if your baby’s scalp doesn’t improve or if it’s extremely itchy or irritated.

Dry scalp in babies may be linked to underlying conditions of the skin, such as seborrheic dermatitis or eczema. In some cases, you may also notice your baby’s scalp is drier during certain times of the year, or in response to their shampoo.

Below are the possible causes of your baby’s dry scalp, as well as the key symptoms to look for.

Cradle cap causes

One of the most common scalp conditions seen in babies is related to a condition called cradle cap. It’s also called infantile seborrheic dermatitis or “crib cap.”

This condition is not contagious and does not cause discomfort to your baby. It typically resolves on its own, though you can help loosen up the flakes with baby shampoos, mineral oil, and gentle brushing techniques.

Though the exact cause isn’t known, cradle cap is thought to be attributed to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. It’s also sometimes caused by the overgrowth of Malassezia fungi in sebum (oil) underneath the skin.

Cradle cap causes thick, oily patches on the scalp that may range from white to yellow in color. If your baby has cradle cap on the scalp, they may also have these patches in other oily areas of the body, such as their armpits, groin, and ears.

Baby dandruff

Dandruff can also cause a dry scalp. Unlike the more common appearance of cradle cap, dandruff is white, dry, and sometimes itchy. Dandruff may be genetic. If you have dry skin, your baby could have dry skin, too.

Overwashing your baby’s skin doesn’t cause dandruff. But if your baby has this condition, you may want to shampoo their scalp less frequently. Wash every other day instead of every day to prevent dryness from getting worse. Cold weather and low humidity can also worsen dandruff.

Allergies can also cause your baby to have a dry scalp, though this is less common. If the dry scalp is accompanied by a red, itchy rash, allergies may be the cause.

Baby eczema

Eczema refers to a number of conditions that cause inflamed, red, and itchy skin. In babies, the most common type of eczema is seborrheic dermatitis, which tends to develop after 3 months of age.

Other types of eczema in babies may include atopic dermatitis and contact dermatitis. While contact dermatitis involves symptoms that develop when the skin encounters an irritating substance, such as fragrances, atopic dermatitis tends to come and go. Atopic dermatitis is also hereditary, and can develop in babies as young as 6 months old.

If contact dermatitis is causing your baby’s scalp eczema, you may notice symptoms of red, inflamed skin after your baby comes into contact with products, such as shampoos or lotions with fragrances in them. Blistering and itching are also possible.

With atopic dermatitis, you may notice that the eczema isn’t confined to your baby’s scalp. You might also see symptoms in other areas of their body, particularly on the face. While eczema is usually red, the scales may have a dry appearance, too.

External causes of dry scalp in children and babies

Weather and environmental elements, lifestyle, and personal care products may also contribute to the underlying causes of dry scalp in babies. Possibilities include:

  • cold weather
  • low humidity
  • overheating and sweating from warm temperatures or sun exposure
  • baby shampoos and other personal care products that have fragrances or alcohol
  • detergents
  • allergens, such as animal dander

While a dry scalp may be noticeably drier, with white colored scales, cradle cap tends to cause oilier and crusty-looking scales. Cradle cap also tends to be yellowish or red in color.

Also, while cradle cap symptoms may appear on your baby’s face, not all underlying causes of dry scalp will spread to other parts of the body.

Once you’ve identified the cause of your baby’s dry scalp, it’s usually treatable at home.

Adjust your shampoo schedule

Shampooing your baby’s hair not only removes dirt and oil from their delicate strands, but it helps remove excess dirt and oil from their scalp, too. The amount of times you shampoo your baby’s scalp can vary based on their condition, though.

For cradle cap, shampooing daily can help remove oil and loosen the flakes on your baby’s scalp. All other causes of dry scalp may benefit from shampooing every other day to avoid excess dryness.

Use medicated shampoo

If adjusting the frequency of shampooing doesn’t help, you may want to try an over-the-counter medicated shampoo. Look for one that’s specifically formulated for babies.

For dandruff and eczema, look for anti-dandruff shampoos containing pyrithione zinc or selenium sulfide. More stubborn patches related to cradle cap may require stronger anti-dandruff shampoos, such as those containing tar or salicylic acid. Your baby’s doctor or a pharmacist can tell you which shampoo is best.

No matter which medicated shampoo you choose, the key is to leave the shampoo on your baby’s scalp for a minimum of 2 minutes. For cradle cap, you may need to repeat the process.

Use the medicated shampoo 2 to 7 days per week until symptoms improve, or as directed on the packaging. It may take up to 1 month for symptoms to clear up.

Try mineral oil

Mineral oil (“baby oil”) is thought to help loosen stuck-on flakes left on the scalp and help reduce symptoms of cradle cap. Although it’s a common home remedy, mineral oil hasn’t been proven to help.

If you want to try mineral oil, gently massage the oil onto your baby’s scalp before shampooing. For extra benefits, run a comb over the scalp to loosen the flakes. Let the oil soak in for a few minutes before rinsing off.

You can repeat this process for cradle cap before each shampoo session. As the flakes start to improve, you can reduce the frequency.

The key is to make sure you completely wash all the oil away. You can also leave a small amount of oil overnight and wash your baby’s scalp in the morning.

Massage on olive oil

If your baby has dandruff or eczema, you may consider an olive oil scalp massage instead of mineral oil. Use the same process as above, and be sure to rinse thoroughly.

Apply hydrocortisone cream

Hydrocortisone cream is available over the counter. It may help alleviate redness, inflammation, and itchiness. While it can help scalp eczema, it won’t necessarily help cradle cap or everyday dandruff buildup.

Speak with your baby’s doctor before trying this method. Hydrocortisone cream is generally safe for babies if not used in the long term.

Apply hydrocortisone to your baby’s scalp after shampooing and drying their hair. You can reapply one to two times per day as needed, or as recommended by your baby’s pediatrician.

If eczema is causing the dryness, hydrocortisone cream may improve symptoms within a week.

Depending on the cause, it can take several weeks for the dryness to go away.

If you don’t see any improvements at all within 1 week of treatment, it may be time to have a pediatrician look at your baby’s scalp. They might recommend a prescription-strength shampoo or a steroid cream to treat any underlying inflammation. If you don’t already have a pediatrician, the Healthline FindCare tool can help you find a physician in your area.

Also see your baby’s doctor if your baby’s scalp starts:

  • cracking
  • bleeding
  • oozing

These could be early signs of an infection.

Cradle cap can occur in babies and toddlers up to 3 years of age. If cradle cap is the cause, your child may continue to have a dry scalp until they’re older. Once cradle cap or dandruff resolves, it usually won’t return.

Some causes of dry scalp are chronic, such as eczema. Your child might need occasional treatments as they age.

Genetic factors, such as dry skin and allergies, may also persist throughout childhood and adulthood. If your baby’s scalp recovers, other skin symptoms may show up later in life, but treatments are available.

Preventing dry scalp in babies ultimately depends on the underlying cause, and it’s important to follow your treatment plan from your child’s pediatrician. As a rule of thumb, you can try the following preventive measures to help keep your baby’s scalp healthy:

  • wash and dry your baby’s hair regularly, using lukewarm water
  • gently brush your baby’s scalp and hair every day
  • use fragrance-free shampoos, lotions, and detergents only
  • avoid any known allergens, such as pollen and dander
  • keep your baby out of excessively warm or dry weather conditions
  • dress your baby in layers so they don’t sweat

Dry scalps in babies are normal and often treatable at home. In most cases, the underlying cause is cradle cap. Dandruff, eczema, and allergies are other possible causes.

If your baby’s scalp doesn’t improve after a couple weeks of treatment or if symptoms get worse, see your baby’s pediatrician.

Dry scalp – what to do?

Do you have very dry scalp? Have you tried all means, but nothing helped? This problem is familiar to many. And if you let everything take its course, the condition worsens over time: tightness, loss of elasticity of the epithelium and the occurrence of microcracks. Bacteria easily penetrate the dermis and cause irritation.

It makes no sense to rely on shampoos from the store. They are simply “teeming” with synthetic fillers. It is better to immediately contact a competent trichologist and not suffer from discomfort.

Dry scalp: causes

Dry scalp and itching, hair loss, dandruff – all this is the result of a malfunction of the sebaceous glands. At the same time, the composition of subcutaneous fat changes, the nutrition of the follicles worsens.

What can cause such a problem? As a rule, the main reason is improper care and exposure to external negative factors:

  • frequent coloring, blow-drying, perming;
  • dry indoor air;
  • prolonged exposure to the sun;
  • use of metal combs;
  • change of climatic conditions.

Hormonal imbalances, diets and stress also affect the condition of the hair and skin.

Dry scalp: treatment by a trichologist

Dry scalp can be the first sign of dermatological diseases (seborrhea, psoriasis, alopecia). Therefore, it is recommended to solve the problem with a dermatologist-trichologist. Firstly, the specialist will be able to exclude the infection, and secondly, to select individual care products with natural ingredients.

Get advice

It is necessary to treat dry skin on the head in a complex way. This is the approach used by the doctors of the IHC clinic:

  • restoration of metabolic processes – this will help manual therapy techniques, lymphatic drainage massage;
  • scalp hydration and nutrition – mesotherapy, biocapillary treatment;
  • home care – masks, balms and shampoos of the Miriam Quevedo and Laboratoires B. Prince professional series;
  • healing of the whole organism – reflexology and naturopathy.

Dry scalp: what to do?

The fair sex is more likely to suffer from dry scalp. This is the case when beauty is not without sacrifice. Give your hair a “rest”, at least for a while refuse hot styling, use a hair dryer, choose paints with a low concentration of oxidizer.

Your nutrition matters a lot. Eat vegetable proteins, foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (red fish, nuts, avocados). Drink pure non-carbonated water – this will restore the water-mineral balance of the epidermis.

Occupational therapy is the fastest and safest way to get rid of excessive dryness. Hundreds of patients are satisfied with the result of treatment in the clinic. Already at the first consultation, the doctor will give you recommendations and develop an individual plan of treatment.

how to understand what happens to the scalp

Dandruff or dryness – this question often arises. These problems look the same, but they need to be dealt with in different ways.


Healthy hair

dry skin


Photo: Legion-Media

For example, in case of dryness, you can resort to oils, but if you have dandruff, then an oil mask will only increase the number of scales. Or, say, a shampoo with salicylic acid: it helps to cope with dandruff, but dryness will only aggravate. See the dilemma?

It is very important to understand the difficulty you are facing. Doctors told how to do this – take their recommendations into service.

Who’s Who

“Dandruff is technically a symptom of seborrheic dermatitis, a type of eczema caused by the yeast Malassezia furfur,” explains dermatologist Rachel Cochran Gathers, MD. Seborrheic dermatitis flares occur for a variety of reasons, but the most common triggers are weather changes and stress.

Peeling is usually caused by dryness of the scalp, which may be accompanied by tightness, itching or redness. In terms of triggers, the most common culprits are cleansers and cold weather, as well as hormonal fluctuations, including those associated with age. In fact, everything that causes dryness of the skin of the face and body has the same effect on the head.


How do you tell dryness from dandruff?

You should carefully consider what falls on the shoulders and remains on the head.