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What is Scalp Psoriasis?

Psoriasis comes in various forms that can affect just about any and every part of your skin, including your scalp. Even though it might seem purely cosmetic, psoriasis can have serious effects on your overall health, not to mention your general mood and sense of self. Let’s take a closer look at scalp psoriasis, its symptoms, and how it can be treated.

What is Psoriasis?

While psoriasis is a skin condition, it is technically an immune-mediated disorder. The immune system mistakenly attacks healthy skin cells while also causing the overproduction of new skin cells. The result is an unnaturally sped-up lifecycle for your skin cells, causing them to grow on layers on top of each other. This can lead to the dry, red patches of skin, known as plaques, that are characteristic of psoriasis. These patches can be itchy, inflamed, and painful and vary in size and severity. They may appear as small spots of scaling or major breakouts covering large swathes of skin. Psoriasis also tends to come and go in cycles of flare-ups lasting several weeks or months followed by periods of remission.

What is Scalp Psoriasis?

What does scalp psoriasis look like? Scalp psoriasis can affect every part of your skin, but it most often appears on the knees, elbows, and scalp. About 50 percent of all psoriasis sufferers will have at least one flare up on the scalp. Scalp psoriasis is characterized by the formation of plaques on the scalp that may spread to the forehead, around the ears, and the back of the neck. Patches can be small and easily hidden with hair or large, thick, inflamed, and covering the entire scalp.

Other symptoms of scalp psoriasis include:

  • Dandruff-life flaking
  • A generally dry scalp that may crack
  • An itchy scalp that may interfere with sleep and daily activities
  • Bleeding caused by the dry, itchy scalp
  • General soreness and burning sensation

Scalp psoriasis can indirectly lead to hair loss if you scratch too hard or pick at plaques. However, this hair loss is temporary, and your hair should grow back once your scalp has fully healed.

Treatments for Scalp Psoriasis

Although there isn’t a known cure for psoriasis, treatments do exist that can reduce inflammation and itchiness and ease your symptoms so that you can feel confident and comfortable. Treatments generally have to be rotated and combined to prevent your psoriasis from growing accustomed to any singular medication.

Topical treatments for scalp psoriasis are the first line of defense. Most topical scalp psoriasis treatments usually come in the form of shampoos or creams and contain salicylic acid, coal tar, or clobetasol propionate. Salicylic acid helps your outer layer of skin shed and softens your skin. Coal tar can help to shed skin, slow down the growth of skin cells, and generally restore the appearance of skin while reducing itching and inflammation. Clobetasol propionate can be used as an initial treatment and for maintaining your skin once other treatments have kept the psoriasis under control.

If the scalp psoriasis is mild, your doctor may inject scalp lesions with steroid medications. While this is effective, these injections are used sparingly as they are easily absorbed by the body.

For more moderate to severe psoriasis, your doctor may prescribe systemic drugs that orally administered, along with topical treatments. Systemic medication can help to control skin cell growth from the inside out and may include oral retinoids, methotrexate, and cyclosporine.

Your doctor may also prescribe phototherapy or ultraviolet light treatment, which involves exposing the scalp to concentrated UV light for a set amount of time. UV rays can help to slow down the growth of the skin cells. This can be difficult with scalp psoriasis as hair naturally blocks UV rays. Unless you have sufficiently thin hair, you will have to part your hair in rows or even shave your head.

General Tips for Scalp Psoriasis

To get the most out of any scalp psoriasis treatment and to support your general comfort, try following these tips:

  • As hard as it can be, try your best to avoid scratching your scalp. Scalp psoriasis can get extremely itchy, but scratching too hard can result in hair loss, bleeding, and infection on top of making your psoriasis worse.
  • Related to the above, use your shampoos gently, avoiding harsh scrubbing or rubbing motions.
  • Remove scales gently. With treatment, they should come away easily when you wash your hair. Never pick your scales.
  • Try to keep your stress under control. We know that psoriasis can be stressful, but stress can also make psoriasis worse. It’s a vicious cycle, but try to find constructive ways to manage your stress.
  • For those using hair color, use milder hair coloring ingredients. Many of the hair coloring ingredients can be irritating and trigger a flare.
  • Use mild shampoos containing milder coconut based surfactants such as Cocamidopropyl betaine versus harsher detergent shampoos containing sulfates such as sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate that are more irritating and drying.

If you think you may have scalp psoriasis, please consult your doctor to get an official diagnosis and begin treatment.