6 Things to Know About Scalp Psoriasis

6 Things to Know About Scalp Psoriasis

By  Sarah Handzel

In North America, as many as 2% of the population live with psoriasis, a medical condition causing red, itchy, scaly patches on the skin. Psoriasis is a chronic condition, and most people experience flare-ups throughout their lives. You may think psoriasis occurs only on the visible parts of the skin, but the condition can affect skin anywhere on the body.

For many, psoriasis affects skin on the scalp. And while some psoriasis patches may be easy to hide with hair, others may be large enough to be noticeable. Fortunately, scalp psoriasis is treatable. With your doctor’s help, you can develop a plan for managing the symptoms of scalp psoriasis.

Psoriasis doesn’t have to ruin your life—if you find the right doctor, determine the best treatment, and commit to living a healthy lifestyle, you can stay on top of your condition.

1. Scalp psoriasis is very common.

Research shows as many as 80% of people living with psoriasis have patches occurring on the scalp. Psoriasis patches may appear anywhere on the head and may even cover the entire scalp. For some people, scalp psoriasis extends beyond the hairline, affecting the forehead, neck, and the skin around the ears.

If you have scalp psoriasis, your symptoms may include:

  • Changes to your skin. The skin affected by scalp psoriasis may be discolored or inflamed. In some cases, skin gets thicker where psoriasis patches appear.

  • Dry skin. The skin of your scalp may be much dryer than normal. In some cases, dryness leads to cracking and bleeding.

  • Flaking. For many people, scalp psoriasis resembles dandruff. Flaking, scaly skin may be present—but unlike dandruff, scalp psoriasis is usually silvery-white in color. A silvery sheen may also be present on the skin of the scalp itself.

  • Itching. Most people with scalp psoriasis report itching, which is sometimes severe. According to one poll, 43% of people said that itching was the most bothersome symptom of scalp psoriasis.

  • Bleeding. Dry, itchy skin on or around psoriasis patches may lead to excessive scratching. If this occurs, your scalp may bleed. Scratching may also actually worsen psoriasis, making patches larger and the underlying skin thicker.

  • Burning or soreness. In places where psoriasis occurs, your scalp may be sore or feel as though it was burning.

2. Scalp psoriasis can occur by itself or as part of a larger flare-up.

It’s possible for scalp psoriasis to occur by itself—there doesn’t necessarily have to be a flare-up elsewhere on your body for scalp psoriasis patches to form. Like psoriasis elsewhere on the body, scalp psoriasis flare-ups come and go over time. While doctors don’t know exactly what causes a psoriasis flare-up, it’s thought the condition occurs in response to certain stressors or environmental triggers.

3. Psoriasis on the scalp may lead to temporary hair loss.

Because scalp psoriasis often causes intense itching, you may be more likely to scratch your scalp during flare-ups. But excessive scratching, or using force to remove psoriasis patches on your scalp, can damage your hair and lead to temporary hair loss. Fortunately, hair usually returns when flare-ups disappear.

4. You can still get your hair done if you have scalp psoriasis.

Many people with scalp psoriasis still get their hair done professionally. To date, there is no evidence that any hair dyes, sprays, or perms makes scalp psoriasis worse.

5. Scalp psoriasis may need different treatments.

Because the skin of the scalp is covered by hair, scalp psoriasis can be more difficult to treat. In many cases, the condition requires different treatments beyond typical skin medications. Your doctor may recommend medicated foams, sprays, or shampoos to help manage your symptoms.

6. New treatments are on the horizon.

Doctors are working diligently on new treatments to successfully manage scalp psoriasis. As personalized medicine gains traction, research efforts are shifting toward the use of certain immune system cells, called monoclonal antibodies, to stimulate the immune system to stop psoriasis patches from forming.

Living with scalp psoriasis can be challenging, but the condition can be treated with your doctor’s help. If you’re concerned about scalp psoriasis or are interested in exploring therapies that may work for you, talking with your doctor is the first step in finding effective ways to manage your symptoms.

Smart Skin Care for People With Psoriasis

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If you have psoriasis, you know it can be difficult to deal with super-sensitive skin. You might think twice before applying a new lotion in fear that it could cause a flare-up. Perhaps you avoid wearing a bathing suit because shaving just seems out of the question.

Thankfully, there are many things you can do to improve your skin and reduce irritation. Below are some basic skin care tips for people with psoriasis. And they won’t prevent you from hitting the beach.

Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize

If there’s one rule you should follow in skin care, it’s to moisturize. That means every day without fail. The best time to moisturize your skin—both affected and nonaffected areas—is after you’ve taken a lukewarm bath or shower. But you can reapply anytime during the day. Be sure to pack a moisturizer into your gym bag to apply after your workout.

Using a daily, over-the-counter moisturizer can help keep your skin soft and prevent it from cracking. It can also reduce scaling and lessen the tight, sore feeling that occurs with psoriasis. Moisturizers create a film on the outside of the skin, trapping moisture in. While moisturizers aren’t intended to replace topical treatments, they can actually help medications work better, and should be used along with them.

The most common forms of moisturizers are ointments, creams, and lotions. Ointments are thick and work well on scaly skin. But they can also be greasy because they contain a lot of oil. Creams and lotions, such as Cetaphil, are lighter than ointments but also soothe dry skin. Whatever moisturizer you choose, it doesn’t have to be expensive. Cooking oils and even shortening will work. Just try to choose one that is fragrance-free and make sure it is one you enjoy. You’ll be using it every day!

Relax Away Skin Troubles

Taking 15 minutes to soak in a lukewarm bath each day can do more than soothe your state of mind. It can also soothe your itchy skin and reduce redness. To help ease psoriasis symptoms, add oil, Epsom salt, Dead Sea salts, or oatmeal to the water. Just make sure you keep the water temperature lukewarm. Try to avoid using water that is too warm, as heat can increase itching and irritation. After your bath, gently pat your skin and apply moisturizer while surfaces remain moist.

Give Your Moisturizer Double Duty

Deodorant soaps and products containing perfume or detergents can irritate the skin and increase dryness. This is especially true of products that contain alcohol, which should be avoided. Instead, you can use your favorite moisturizer to clean your skin. Simply apply the product in the shower and gently rinse off. You can also buy over-the-counter medicated bath oils and shower gels. Some good choices include Oilatum, Balneum bath oil, or Elave shower gel.

See the Sun (in Moderation)

A little ultraviolet (UV) light can help improve psoriasis lesions. Sitting in the sun for a short while is all you need. Just be careful—too much sun can damage the skin cells and make psoriasis outbreaks worse. Cover the parts of your skin with sunscreen that aren’t affected by psoriasis. Check with your doctor before starting UV therapy.

Go Bare

Want to bare a little skin without the stubble? You don’t have to live with unwanted hair just because you have psoriasis. It’s fine to shave your skin; just be careful to avoid any lesions. Waxing can be more troublesome for some people because pulling out hairs can irritate the skin. This is especially true in the groin and underarm areas, which can be more sensitive to irritation and infection. For these delicate areas, you may consider a laser treatment to rid yourself of unwanted hair.

Be Patient

If your doctor prescribes a topical treatment for your skin and you don’t see any improvement, don’t give up too soon. Psoriasis lesions can take a few weeks to disappear. If you don’t see results immediately, that doesn’t mean it isn’t working. Give your skin a little time to heal and continue your bathing and moisturizing routine at home. Before you know it, you’ll have smoother, more comfortable skin.


Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III Last Review Date: 2017 Apr 18

Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. The content on Healthgrades does not provide medical advice. Always consult a medical provider for diagnosis and treatment. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

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