If you’ve experienced the discomfort of scalp contact dermatitis, you’ll understand the painful frustration of dealing with itching, burning, and inflammation on your head. 

Those who choose to treat these symptoms later rather than sooner may find themselves dealing with crusty sores, blisters, or even hardened skin sections leading to hair loss. 

We can safely assume that nobody wants to venture into a worst-case scenario, so we’re taking a closer look at the causes, symptoms and treatment of scalp contact dermatitis. Here’s what you need to know, and the best course of treatment if you’re already suffering from this unfortunate condition.

Is Dermatitis The Same as Eczema?

The terms dermatitis and eczema are often used interchangeably, but there are differences to note. Strictly speaking, dermatitis is inflammation of the skin, whereas eczema is a particular skin condition characterised by dry, itchy and inflamed skin. Dermatitis can occur anywhere on the body, including the scalp.

It’s important to talk to a professional to get an accurate diagnosis when tackling skin conditions, especially those that occur on the scalp, as these can cause long-term damage to the delicate hair follicles. 

For example, seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic condition that most often occurs in oily parts of the skin (scalp, underarms , back) and requires different treatment than contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis occurs as a reaction to a specific irritant or trigger; therefore, it can be treated successfully once the irritant is identified.

Symptoms of Scalp Contact Dermatitis

Those who have suffered from various skin disorders will know first-hand that many conditions share several of the same symptoms, making it difficult to self-diagnose. Healthline tells us that contact dermatitis symptoms will display as:

  • Redness
  • Hives
  • Blisters or sores
  • Pain and burning
  • Itchiness
  • Inflammation
  • Stiff, thick, or leathery skin
  • Flaky skin

These symptoms can come on gradually over a period of time, or appear quite suddenly. It depends on what the irritant is and how your body reacts.

What Can Cause Scalp Contact Dermatitis?

As we’ve noted, contact dermatitis occurs as a direct reaction to a particular irritant, although it can be a cumulative effect of repeated exposure to a mild allergen.

The most common triggers of scalp contact dermatitis are:

  • Chemical hair dyes and straighteners
  • Fragrances
  • Hair products including oils
  • Hairbrushes

Our experience in the clinic highlights the use of oils on the scalp as one of the most common triggers for contact dermatitis observed in our patients. The illusion that a product is natural and therefore harmless needs to be addressed. 

Signs of hair or skincare product allergies will show up as irritation on your scalp, ears, and neck, and possibly your face and eyelids. Sadly, hair care manufacturers are very much aware of the potential issues that these ingredients can cause. 

One study notes, “​​A number of known contact allergens are used as ingredients in shampoos, and contact allergy due to shampoos is a well-known entity.”

Treating Scalp Contact Dermatitis

By now, it’s clear that the first step to treating dermatitis is to stop using whatever product is causing the reaction. This can be difficult to do at times; for example, your body may suddenly react to a shampoo that you’ve used for years, which means you automatically disqualify it as a potential trigger. 

Your next step should be to talk to a qualified trichologist who can assist in diagnosing your scalp condition accurately and offering the correct treatments and advice. They may suggest anti-inflammatory hair care products or other topical products which will assist with the fastest and safest healing process. 

They may suggest lifestyle changes that will prevent flare-ups, and home care products to provide gentle, daily care to your hair and scalp. (Remember, it’s not just shampoo that can irritate your skin; conditioners, gels, hairsprays and some hair accessories can all contribute to a skin reaction.)

Talk to the Professionals

We understand that skin conditions can be both uncomfortable and embarrassing. However, our professional team deal with these conditions daily, and we know exactly what to look for when it comes to matters of the hair and scalp.

If you suspect that you or a family member may be suffering from scalp contact dermatitis, please book a consultation with us as soon as you can. The earlier you get an accurate diagnosis, the sooner we can get you back on the road to recovery.

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