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Experiencing Scalp Psoriasis? Learn How To Treat and Reduce Hair Loss

Calm an itchy scalp by using medicated shampoo, avoiding blow-drying and resisting the urge to scratch

Closeup of a head with scalp psoriasis

No one likes dry skin or dandruff, but scalp psoriasis can be a whole different challenge.

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Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder that causes skin cells to form faster than normal. With an increase in inflammation, these skin cells pile on to each other, causing silver or red itchy plaques to form on your skin.

If you have psoriasis, you can show signs of the disorder in your nails, on your knees or elbows and other parts of your body. Additionally, about 50% of people who have psoriasis show signs of the disorder on their scalp.

Dermatologist Christine Warren, MD, explains some of the unique challenges that come with scalp psoriasis — and how to prevent psoriasis hair loss.

What causes hair loss from psoriasis?

Can psoriasis cause hair loss? Yes, in response to an increase in inflammation, your hair follicles can become weak and brittle. Paired with an itchy, dry scalp, you might feel inclined to scratch or pick at the scales caused by psoriasis.

“When you do that, you can make your scalp psoriasis worse,” says Dr. Warren. “As you try to relieve your symptoms with scratching, you could actually be causing some hair loss.”

Because of the inflammation, hair can fall out on its own, but further agitation can speed that process along.

Is it permanent?

Can hair loss due to psoriasis grow back? If the condition is adequately treated, scalp psoriasis hair loss is usually only temporary.

“The only reasons it possibly wouldn’t grow back are if you had chronic, severe scalp psoriasis that was left untreated or you had scratched so much or you had done so much damage, you were bleeding or causing sores on your scalp — and that could lead to scarring,” explains Dr. Warren. “But if we can calm the psoriasis down, treat it and get it under control, then in most cases, we can get that hair to regrow.”

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How to prevent psoriasis hair loss

So, how do you overcome all the discomfort and itchy feelings associated with scalp psoriasis without making it worse or furthering hair loss? Dr. Warren offers several tips to help manage symptoms.

1. Avoid scratching or picking scales

“As you’re rubbing or scratching your scalp, it’s causing your hair to break,” says Dr. Warren.

Overall, you should avoid touching your scalp. But if you have to relieve some of that itchy feeling, gently rub the area with the soft part of your fingers.

2. Keep your fingernails trimmed

To avoid picking or unintentionally scratching your scalp, keep your fingernails trimmed.

“It can sometimes feel like it’s impossible to resist scratching, but you can do less damage to your skin and your hair if your nails are trimmed,” advises Dr. Warren.

3. Rely on gentle hair care

Gently comb your hair and don’t try to use the bristles of your brush or comb to forcibly lift the scales on your scalp. Concentrate on your hair itself and don’t apply too much pressure when combing, washing or drying.

4. Use medicated shampoos

Stronger shampoos can be prescribed, and there are some over-the-counter options specifically for psoriasis. Often, these shampoos contain salicylic acid. They soften the scale on your scalp and help loosen it so you don’t have to remove it forcibly.

“Salicylic acid breaks down some of that scale, which is basically dead skin cells,” explains Dr. Warren.

5. Use a conditioner after every shampoo

But medicated shampoos can dry out your hair, so it’s important to use a conditioner after you use them. Anytime your hair becomes drier, it’s going to be more brittle, which is why it’s important to be gentle and follow up with a conditioner.

6. Avoid blow-drying

As much as possible, allow your hair to air dry because your scalp is already dry from the psoriasis or medicated shampoo.

“If your hair is drier than usual during your treatment, allowing it to air dry is preferred,” notes Dr. Warren.

7. Consider prescribed treatments such as ointments, lasers and injections

Your healthcare provider can prescribe a number of topical medications that can be applied directly to your scalp to assist with decreasing the amount of scales you have. Topical steroids come in a variety of types, including lotions, solutions and thicker ointments. These can help clear some of the scales without damaging your hair.

But for more difficult cases, there are also handheld laser treatments and steroid injections available.

“Many patients need something more because their scalp psoriasis is stubborn,” says Dr. Warren.

If you have moderate to severe psoriasis, you might also be prescribed oral or injectable medications to target psoriasis, not only on your scalp, but also on other parts of your body, nails or joints.

8. Wear a hat when you’re outside

A bad sunburn can increase inflammation or a flare-up of psoriasis on your scalp, so remember to wear a hat when you’re outdoors.

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9. Avoid drinking and stress-inducing activities

“Different people have different triggers for psoriasis, and unfortunately, these aren’t things you can always completely avoid,” says Dr. Warren.

Since heavy drinking and high stress levels can be common triggers that cause psoriasis to flare up, it’s important to avoid these triggers when possible and practice relaxation techniques when you start feeling stressed.

Bottom line?

When it comes to psoriasis and hair loss, it’s easy to confuse scalp psoriasis with dandruff or a mild rash. Unfortunately, in most cases, psoriasis is a lifelong condition that can flare up at any time.

If you’re experiencing a consistently itchy scalp, finding white or gray scales, and over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoo isn’t working, you should see your healthcare provider about treatment for scalp psoriasis and hair loss.

“The primary goal here is to seek treatment and help manage your scalp psoriasis to decrease the possibility of hair loss,” says Dr. Warren.

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