Scalp hypersensitivity: what can be done?

Sensitive scalp, also known as reactive, hyper-reactive, intolerant and irritable, is defined by the appearance of tingling, burning or prickling sensations with or without pain or itching.

This scalp sensitivity is triggered by various factors, which can be physical (ultraviolet radiation, heat, cold and wind), chemical (cosmetics, soap, water or pollution), psychogenic (stress) or, more rarely, hormonal (menstrual cycle).

This hypersensitivity (or hyperesthesia) of the scalp is most often caused by disease. However, the scalp is a relatively resistant area of the body and not very susceptible to disease. Despite this, a large number of people complain of having a hypersensitive scalp, suffering from various symptoms such as itching or irritating red patches and other headaches. And this can be chronic or episodic. 

What are scalp diseases?

The scalp is therefore a relatively disease-free area. However, here are the 4 main diseases that can develop there and cause hypersensitivity of the scalp, those feelings of discomfort or itching that are more or less bearable.

  1. Seborrheic dermatitis

The seborrheic dermatitis is a form of chronic eczema which develops primarily on areas of the body with a high concentration of sebaceous glands, primarily the scalp.

The most common symptom of seborrheic dermatitis is the development of a oily skin rash (oily dandruff in the hair) on the scalp. It can also appear on other parts of the face and ears. This rash is most often itchy. It is very common for the scalp to take on a white or yellowish colour and break off in dandruff squamous (aggregates of cells detaching from the stratum corneum). 

Seborrhoeic dermatitis generally occurs in adults. It also occurs in infants and is known as "cradle cap".

The most commonly recommended treatments for seborrhoeic dermatitis are anti-dandruff shampoos available from chemists. These shampoos contain active ingredients such as tar, selenium sulphide, salicylic acid, zinc and resorcinol. While these ingredients can help to eliminate dandruff and other flakes that clump together on the scalp and in the hair, they don't necessarily treat the causes of dermatitis. Note that not all of these skincare products are without risk to human health, such as resorcinol, which has been classified as an endocrine disruptor since 2020.

  1. Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a form of eczema which occurs when your skin comes into contact with an irritating substance. It can develop anywhere on your body, including your scalp.

The most common symptom of contact dermatitis is a skin rash which causes itching, red patches and sometimes even blisters.

Contact dermatitis is caused by irritants such as certain active ingredients contained in certain hair care products such as shampoos or hair dyes, or by certain allergens such as the preservatives contained in these same products.

Contact dermatitis and the associated hypersensitivity of the scalp often disappear on their own, or at least as soon as the scalp is no longer in contact with the external irritant that caused the attack.

  1. Folliculitis

Folliculitis is a condition of the scalp in which your scalp is damaged. hair follicles are infected by a bacterium, fungus or virus.

Folliculitis can be recognised by the appearance of small lesions resembling acne on your scalp. These lesions may be surrounded by a light red ring and, above all, the affected area becomes painful, itchy and can cause stabbing pains, with the scalp becoming hypersensitive and intolerant.

Folliculitis most often develops from bacteria contracted in spas, beauty salons and swimming pools.

Although it can be very unpleasant, causing itching and red patches, folliculitis usually disappears on its own and does not lead to serious health problems. In some cases, however, a treatment protocol may need to be put in place, including treatment with antibiotics, antifungals or antiviral drugs.

  1. Psoriasis

The psoriasis is a autoimmune skin disease which causes patches and scales to develop on your skin, including your scalp.

These plaques develop as a result of accelerated cell proliferation. Some people with psoriasis experience symptoms such as itching and burning in the affected areas.

Psoriasis does not directly cause the hair loss problems (alopecia). But by scratching the affected areas, sufferers can notice a gradual thinning of their hair.

What is allodynia?

Allodymia is also sometimes (wrongly) classified as a scalp disease.

Allodynia is in fact a sensation of scalp pain (or skin) triggered by a factor that is not usually considered to be painful. These factors are classified into three families:

  • Mechanical factor : when the pain is caused by moving an object on the scalp.
  • Touch factor when the pain results from a simple gentle touch or slight pressure on the scalp.
  • Heat factor : when the pain results from changes in temperature, sometimes even very slight ones, such as those caused by gusts of wind.

Normally, our nerves send messages in the form of electrical signals between our brain and our scalp or skin. Allodynia occurs when the nervous system is not working as it should. There is a problem with the way the nerves send and receive messages. The cause of allodynia is therefore a malfunction in the communication between our brain and our scalp (or any other area), causing exacerbated sensitivity in a given area.

However, it should be noted that allodymia affects a very small proportion of the population and most often occurs as an inconvenience associated with a health problem such as :

  • an illness (usually diabetes), 
  • drug treatment (chemotherapy), 
  • severe deficiencies in vitamins D or B, or alcohol abuse (hence the expression "avoir mal aux cheveux" ("to have a sore head") used in everyday language to describe our condition after a night of drinking).

How can I soothe an inflamed scalp?

Inflammation of the scalp is very unpleasant, but it can be very painful. 3 simple gestures are enough to calm them until they can be treated permanently:

Gesture 1: Use hair care products (shampoo, conditioner, etc.) that are as gentle as possible.

Gesture 2: Rinse your shampoo with cold water. Cold water will have a vasoconstrictive effect that will slow down the pro-inflammatory phenomenon common to hyper-sensitive and irritated scalps.

Action 3: Space cosmetic manipulations and other hair treatments such as colouring as far apart as possible, and preferably choose plant-based colours.

Which oil is best for soothing the scalp?

Plant oils are often recommended to soothe hypersensitive scalps. The most frequently recommended are olive, aloe vera or coconut oils.

But there are many natural active ingredients (particularly essential oils and plant extracts) which have powerful anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that complement each other very well. What's more, they can be used in a variety of ways, the use of vegetable oils alone can, over time, have the opposite effect to that desired, due to the occlusive power of these products.

So, rather than using vegetable oils alone, at Clauderer we prefer combine several natural ingredients which work in synergy to provide rapid, long-lasting treatment for sensitive, painful or irritated scalps.

At Clauderer, these natural active ingredients are combined in products we call milks. The results of using Laits Clauderer to treat scalp pain, itching and irritation are usually very rapid and long-lasting.

Jean-François Cabos

Jean-François Cabos is the creator of a unique hair care method based on the research he coordinated, which led to the publication of the book "Cheveux, Racines de Vie" with Hélène Clauderer by Robert Laffont (Collection "Réponses/ Santé").

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