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Scalp Redness: What It Could Indicate.

Several internal or external factors can trigger scalp sensitization and the appearance of redness. This irritation can be accompanied by several bothersome symptoms such as discomfort, tingling, or itching. In order to better manage these manifestations, it is important to understand their causes. Discover here the reasons that can explain the appearance of redness on the scalp and some tips to soothe them.

Summary
Published April 12, 2024, by Pauline, Head of Scientific Communication — 8 min read

A dry scalp.

Redness on the scalp does not necessarily indicate a dermatosis. Sometimes, it is simply the result of a dry skin, secreting little sebum and having a fragile hydrolipidic film. Moreover, there is a deficiency in natural moisturizing factors (NMF) in people with dry skin. These are a set of compounds with hygroscopic properties responsible for capturing and retaining water within the intracorneal matrix, the outermost part of the epidermis. All these elements can make the scalp prone to tightness, itching, and more broadly, redness.

How to take care of a dry scalp?

To alleviate redness and soothe irritations caused by a dry scalp, it is recommended to choose gentle shampoos and hair care products that contain soothing active ingredients such as bisabolol, phytosterols or rosemary oil. Also, prioritize hydrating and nourishing products, formulated with glycerin, squalane, and vegetable oils. A shampoo suitable for dry scalps should be able to gently cleanse without stripping the hydrolipidic film or attacking the corneal layer.

Seborrheic Dermatitis.

While a dry scalp can be prone to redness, excessive sebum secretion can lead to a similar outcome. Indeed, a sebum-rich environment promotes the proliferation of the fungus Malassezia and the onset of a seborrheic dermatitis. This chronic inflammatory skin condition is characterized by red patches topped with yellowish scales . Dead cells gradually detach from the scalp and resemble dandruff. Non-contagious, seborrheic dermatitis can be difficult to live with due to severe irritation, itching, and even burning sensations it can cause.

What to do in case of seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp?

The treatment of seborrheic dermatitis primarily involves the use of specialized shampoos prescribed by dermatologists. Those containing selenium sulfide (from 1 to 2.5%) are particularly renowned. Selenium sulfide is a antifungal agent that helps limit the proliferation of Malassezia and thus combat inflammation at its source. Shampoos based on salicylic acid can also be used in cases of seborrheic dermatitis. Thanks to its keratolytic activity, salicylic acid promotes the detachment and elimination of dead skin cells, which contributes to cellular renewal and the healing process of the scalp.

Contact Dermatitis.

Another common cause of scalp redness is the following: an allergic reaction, that is to say a contact dermatitis. This inflammation caused by an allergen results in red patches and itching. In some cases, eczema causes blisters and then scabs that eventually fall off. Contact dermatitis of the scalp is often due to a poorly tolerated shampoo containing harsh foaming agents (cocamidopropyl betaine), hair dyes (paraphenylenediamine), or perms (ammonium thiosulfate).

How to soothe a scalp irritated by a contact eczema ?

In cases of eczema, it is crucial to consult a dermatologist so that this health professional can prescribe an appropriate treatment. Contact dermatitis of the scalp is treated in the same way as that affecting the skin: with dermocorticoids. These are powerful anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive agents whose effectiveness in treating eczema has been the subject of multiple studies. In addition, we recommend that you be gentle with your scalp, using mild shampoos and gently massaging it during cleaning. To soothe itching, you can also apply cold compresses, thermal water, or certain essential oils such as tea tree essential oil and true lavender essential oil.

Psoriasis.

Often confused with eczema, psoriasis is a condition that can cause redness on the scalp. When it appears in this area, it is characterized by a rounded-edge erythema bordered by scales. This disease manifests itself through excessive cell renewal and an accumulation of epidermal cells, leading to local inflammation. Often of genetic origin, psoriasis occurs following a disruption of the immune system and an overly high concentration of T lymphocytes in the skin.

Scalp redness due to psoriasis: what to do?

An effective management of redness due to psoriasis involves a consultation with a dermatologist. There are currently many treatments for this skin condition, including gels to apply on the skin, oral medications, and non-drug treatments. Among them, we find notably dermocorticoids, vitamin D analogues, such as calcipotriol or calcitriol, anti-proliferatives that act against hyperkeratosis. Finally, UVA or UVB phototherapy has shown real effectiveness in recent years for treating psoriasis and improving the quality of life of patients.

A sunburn.

Exposure to the sun is indeed beneficial for morale, but UV rays can also cause a actinic erythema, more commonly known as sunburn. Slightly protected by hair, the scalp is not completely safe from sunburns, which manifest as redness, itching, burning sensations, sensitivity to touch, and sometimes blisters filled with fluid. These symptoms, usually appearing 8 to 24 hours after exposure, are the result of a inflammatory process leading to the dilation of blood vessels.

How to soothe a sunburn on the scalp?

Several measures can be taken to prevent sunburn on the scalp, such as wearing a wide-brimmed hat and limiting exposure to the sun in the early or late parts of the day, when UV rays are less intense. If redness has already set in, the priority is to cool the burn. To do this, the regular application of cold, damp compresses for 15 to 30 minutes is recommended. Additionally, certain soothing and hydrating ingredients like aloe vera gel or certain hydrosols such as Roman chamomile hydrosol can help soothe the scalp.

Sources

  • ZANOLLI M. Phototherapy weaponry in the treatment of psoriasis.Dermatologic Clinics(2004).

  • NALDI L. & al. Seborrheic Dermatitis. The New England Journal of Medicine (2009).

  • GOLDENBERG G. & others. Eczema. The Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine (2011).

  • BERTHELEMY S. Advice to a patient complaining of a sunburn. Pharmaceutical News (2013).

  • BORRADORI L. & al. Dermatology and Sexually Transmitted Infections. Elsevier Masson (2017).

  • SCHMELZ M. & al. Skin Barrier Damage and Itch: Review of Mechanisms, Topical Management and Future Directions. Acta Dermato-Venereologica (2019).

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