Itch, scratch, rub, massage, pinch, poke, scrape. They have all offered relief to an itch, but what damage could these actions be causing behind the scenes?
When we scratch our scalps we’re not thinking about the state of our fingernails, the sensitivity or our scalp or the breakage we may be causing to our hair. All we care about is instantly satisfying that itchy, irritating sensation, and therein lies the problem. With such a short-term goal of relief in mind, it’s hard to weigh up the long-term effects of constantly itching one’s scalp.
Dirty fingernails are the worst offenders, but they don’t deserve all the blame. Over the years I have seen combs, keys, pens and pencils, clips, pins, chopsticks, credit cards and even scissors being used to scratch an itch. None of these objects are known to be thoroughly cleaned all the time (although one would hope that the chopsticks are on the top of the list), so the likelihood that they are harbouring harmful bacteria to be transferred to the scalp is also high. Severe scratching can break the skin and transfer harmful bacteria, resulting in a messy, smelly and uncomfortable bacterial infection of the scalp.
My top tips for an itchy scalp
Don’t let it fester
Just because your friend says their scalp itches all the time and it’s no big deal doesn’t mean it’s normal. If your scalp is itchy, there will be a reason for it. Get it treated and the itch will go away and you will have reduced your chances of getting a bacterial infection to zero.
Get it diagnosed
Itching may feel all the same, but the causes can vary greatly, from the sensitivity of the scalp to oil to head lice infestations. Knowing what is causing your itch means you know the best way to treat it in the fastest time. There are specific products to be used on fungal infections such as ringworm and dandruff, bacterial infections such as folliculitis and infestations such as head lice and mites. Using the right product and treatment plan is paramount to treating the itch fast and preventing any further effects.
Know your scalp
If you have suffered from an itchy scalp in the past and have figured out the cause, it’s simple logic to avoid that in the future. If you are prone to a sensitive scalp there are a few things that you should consider avoiding as it can lead it irritation, such as oils or heavy hair dressings and perfumed shampoos and conditioners. If a product doesn’t say hypoallergenic on it, even if it is organic and “natural” it can still cause irritation if you are prone to allergies.
The more your scratch an itch, the more inflamed and irritated the skin becomes and the itchier it remains. The “itch-scratch cycle” can exaggerate a relatively simple and treatable condition into a serious infection that, if left untreated, can result in scarring and hair loss. Nobody should lose hair over an itch!
Teresa Angelina Richardson, MIT