Eczema on your head: what can you do?
Skin conditions like eczema are difficult at the best of times, both for the sufferer and if they are very young, for their parents.
There are things that you can’t eat, can’t wear, bath products and creams you can’t use, and temperatures that you cannot cope with. Everywhere you turn there seems to be yet another thing ready to cause a flare-up. At best you are hot and itchy, at worst you are also scabbed, bleeding and self-conscious about your scars. Is there nothing worse than eczema?
You could have eczema on your head.
Eczema on your scalp comes with a whole new set of problems. Your hair follicles are just the start of it. Eczema on your head is harder to treat, harder to live with, and even harder to hide, than eczema on other parts of your body.
When my son was around two years old his head became completely covered by eczema. We were already dealing with it on his arms, legs, and torso, and felt like we get it under some kind of control. Fortunately, his hair was reasonably short.
It started as what I thought was delayed cradle cap, with red, scaly patches and flaky skin. But these could not be discouraged from forming, and very quickly all joined together to be one big hard super-scab. I knew that you dealt with eczema by putting on steroid cream and then thick, greasy moisturizer, but how to cope when these won’t penetrate the crust?
If you have dealt with this sort of problem, I have probably completely grossed you out. But if you have had eczema on your head before, I can imagine you out in the internet-verse nodding, and saying ‘Oh my god, yes!’
At this point, we had to take my son to the hospital (not his first trip for the skin condition) because it was becoming infected, and I didn’t know what to do. It turns out what you had to do was wet and completely soften the crust and rub it off his head, until the skin was red raw, and could be treated with the topical creams.
Needless to say, my little son despised this whole process and screamed the place down. It was heartbreaking, for everyone involved. I swore (not for the first time in his little life) never to let it get this bad again.
What if you are older, and have a head full of hair?
As eczema-sufferers get older their hair gets thicker and longer, and eczema of the scalp becomes harder to cope with. You will have an itchy head all of the time, which it is very difficult to ignore. The more you scratch, the more people around you wonder if you have head lice, or what else might be wrong with your head.
Repeated scratching lifts up flakes of skin, which then sift through hair as dandruff. The older you are, the more you become embarrassed about this flaking, and how your classmates or colleagues feel about it.
What is scalp eczema?
It turns out that scalp eczema, cradle cap, and dandruff are all related, so it is more common than people realize. Technically called seborrheic dermatitis, this is defined as a chronic, recurrent, inflammatory skin condition with flaking skin and a red rash. Some people will have it appearing in their eyebrows at the same time.
The symptoms include red, scaly and flaky patches, greasy or waxy spots, and blisters, oozing or weeping at times. If you scratch the spots repeatedly then your skin can change color upon healing, and may not tan or grow hair as well as other parts.
This condition, like most eczema, comes and goes. It is not contagious. A lot of people will find it flaring up in winter, because of constantly covering your head when outside, and too much humid air or central heating when you are inside. In the warmer months, you tend to give your scalp more fresh air and sunlight, which can help keep the condition under control.
It can be caused or flared by any of the following:
- Air conditioning or central heating
- Response to some medications
- Stress or depression
- Excessive sweating
- Dry skin
- Reaction to fabrics like wool
- Acne or other skin conditions
- Greasy hair or oily skin
- Low Vitamin D
- Hormonal changes such as pregnancy or menopause
It occurs wherever there are extra-active sebaceous glands on your scalp. Sometimes rash-like lesions form on the scalp ranging in delightful colors from yellow to pink to brown, which form crusts and cause the skin to stick to the hair.
While mostly it can be treated with natural or over-the-counter products, it can become infected. If the skin is cracked and weeping and starts to smell bad, it has become infected from secondary bacteria, which is when things get really concerning and you need to see a doctor and may need a course of antibiotics.
It is very common in babies, but most people will grow out of it at this point. For some lucky people, it shows up in puberty or in middle-age.
The joy of a haircut
Getting your haircut with this condition has additional stresses. One sufferer described having his hairdresser lift small pieces of scalp off at the same time as cutting his hair. A lot of sufferers find that keeping their hair short has benefits, however, as it is easier to treat. This means more haircuts more often, so maybe find one that deals kindly with conditions like yours.
Because hairdressers have seen everything before, you might find one who has some really helpful advice about how to treat your scalp, so don’t let self-consciousness stop you from getting your hair done when it’s needed.
How do you treat it?
Even if you have short hair, eczema is still treated with creams and greasy moisturizers, and often with wet dressings. Can you imagine smearing thick, oily creams through your hair, and then covering with a wet bandage, and then heading off to school or work? Although usually people only do this at night; you can massage oil into your scalp and then sleep with a silk cap on your head.
In order to be treated properly, you end up using enough greasy products to look like Ross in the middle seasons of Friends, like he had permanently stepped out of the shower.
Like we had to do with my son; you have to remove the crusts and dead skin to treat the skin underneath. You can’t just heal the gross stuff on top and make it stick back down like normal scalp. The crusts and flakes need to be removed from your scalp by softening, then exfoliating and exposing the clean scalp, which is then treated with ointment to reduce the irritation. Your doctor may prescribe a steroid cream to help you treat it, and you can also get prescription shampoos that really help.
Steroid creams are to be sparingly used on the scalp and face however as they can thin the skin in these areas.
While you may be tempted to avoid this, getting the flakes up off your head and out of your hair is actually good for you. It just doesn’t look that great. Try using a fine-tooth comb in the shower after you have shampooed and lift as much as you can off.
Eczema is very sensitive to most bathing products and you can’t use soap. Regular shampoos are out. You will need to try various products to find one that doesn’t irritate your scalp, and it is likely that the one that works is expensive, and doesn’t even smell that great. Dandruff shampoos can help a lot of sufferers but can irritate others, so find that one feels gentle for you. Using dandruff shampoo two or three times a week can get it under control and relieve the inflammation, itch, and flakes. I like ArtNatural products, they are well known for making skin sensitive products that are 100% Natural. I buy mine from AMAZON, I’ve included a link for you.
Clean your scalp well often, but don’t use very hot water.
So what can you do?
Different things will work for different people. Some of the better ingredients to look for include:
- Coal tar which contains salicylic acid, and works by softening the protein keratin on the skin and allowing the dead skin cells to lift off. It is oil-soluble and anti-inflammatory.
- Tea-tree oil which is antifungal and antibacterial and can be used to wash the scalp.
- You could also make your own treatment from coconut oil and your favorite essential oil, such as cedarwood, lemongrass, rosemary or lavender.
- Zinc which is another antifungal and antibacterial agent which has been shown to have great effects on a lot of people with scalp eczema
- Apple cider vinegar, which you can pour onto your scalp after shampooing and massage in for about five minutes, then rinse. The vinegar rinse can be very good at getting out oil if you have soaked your head in this first.
- Other natural products that people recommend include emu oil, aloe vera gel, witch hazel, shea butter, and ginger.
You can make some changes to your lifestyle as well which may help, including:
- Increasing your intake of antioxidant-rich food, including berries and leafy greens
- Using a humidifier at home or in the office to dry out the air
- Increase your gentle exercise, especially if you can get some sun in during the process
- Take up stress relief or relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga
- Increase your vitamin supplements and Omega 3 oils
- Take a zinc supplement
- Increase your intake of anti-inflammatory foods such as garlic, ginger, flaxseed, avocado, banana or apple cider vinegar
- Reduce foods which can cause inflammation or flare up allergies including processed oils, fried foods, dairy, refined sugar, trans fats and refined wheat products
- Drink more water and reduce your intake of alcohol and caffeine
- Increase your intake of coconut water, green tea, and homemade juices
And are there any positives to life with eczema-head?
Of course! Besides the oddly therapeutic power of removing your own satisfying scalp flakes, often your partner will love doing this for you too! While at times it may feel like all you can see, the people who love you will not see it or be bothered by it, except be sad to know that it is annoying you. It is never as bad from the outside as it feels like from within.
Washing well, especially with natural products, will leave you clean, fresh and sweet smelling. You might find you are a lot more huggable and kissable when you smell this good.
My son, and after him my daughter, both suffered from eczema as little ones. The scalp eczema cleared up after they were toddlers, but we are halfway through elementary school now and we are still dealing with it all over their bodies. While I’m sure it is testing for them at times, I find that they are turning into lovely-natured human beings because of it.
Their levels of kindness and empathy know no bounds. When they see other children with any kind of affliction, big or small, I can explain it as ‘That’s like your eczema.’ Then they know the other child is not contagious, sometimes has a hard life dealing with his affliction, but is a friendly person despite it. Who most likely just wants to play with them.
Eczema will show you a greater understanding of the world, and a greater appreciation of people who really love you for you. And it’s very hard to feel bad about that.
This website and blogs provides general information and discussion about and medicine, health and related subjects. The words and other content provided in this website or blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other health care worker, GP or Doctor.
Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog or in any linked materials.