Your Guide to Sensitive Scalp: Causes and Treatments

Our scalp, despite having numerous nerve endings and sensory receptors, can be pretty hardy and robust. It serves as a protective barrier, providing protection from physical trauma and the sun’s UV rays, as well as assists in temperature regulation.

However, some may experience a sensitive scalp with concerning symptoms such as itching, redness, tenderness and bumps. In more serious cases, one may even experience bleeding, dandruff or hair loss. 

What can cause a sensitive scalp, and how can it be treated? Read on to find out more.

Symptoms of sensitive scalp

Burning feeling: A sensation of burning on the scalp, which may range from mild discomfort to intense heat or pain.

Stinging/prickly: Feeling of stinging or prickling sensations on the scalp, often accompanied by a heightened sensitivity to touch or external stimuli.

Tightness: Sensation of tightness or tension in the scalp, as if the skin is stretched or constricted, leading to discomfort.

Itching: Persistent urge to scratch the scalp due to irritation or inflammation, which can result in redness, flakiness, or even bleeding if scratched excessively.

Discomfort: Overall discomfort or unease experienced on the scalp, which may include a combination of burning, stinging, tightness, or itching sensations. This discomfort can impact daily activities and quality of life.

Skin conditions

Various skin conditions can lead to inflammation and irritation, causing a sensitive scalp. Common skin conditions include:

  • Seborrheic dermatitisSeborrheic dermatitis, commonly known as dandruff, is a skin condition that presents as inflamed, scaling skin and a sensitive scalp. Although its exact cause is unknown, it is said to be caused by a yeast overgrowth called Malassezia.
  • Psoriasis — Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that involves the rapid reproduction of cells, causing sensitive and thick, discoloured patches of skin (plaque), including the scalp. It is chronic, and can come and go.
  • Contact dermatitis — Contact dermatitis refers to an inflamed and sensitive scalp caused by contact with an irritant or substance that triggered an allergic reaction. Aside from a sensitive scalp, the skin can also appear blistered and discoloured. 
  • Folliculitis — Folliculitis is a fairly common skin condition where the hair follicles become inflamed, often due to an infection or blockage. 
  • Tinea capitis — Tinea capitis, also known as ringworm, is a fungal infection of the scalp. This leads to a sensitive scalp and even pus-filled nodules. 
  • Eczema — Eczema can have a sensitive scalp as a symptom when you experience flare-ups caused by an irritant or allergen. It is a skin condition that results from a defective skin barrier. 
  • Lichen planus — Lichen planus refers to a type of rash-like skin inflammation caused by an abnormal response to certain medications.
  • Neurodermatitis — Neurodermatitis, also known as lichen simplex chronicus, is a skin condition that presents as thickened, scaly patches, with itchy and sensitive skin. 
  • Sunburn — A sunburn is caused by skin damage from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Sunburnt skin is often associated with skin barrier damage and nerve sensitivity, causing a sensitive scalp. 

Allergic reactions

A sensitive scalp caused by an allergic reaction is referred to as allergic contact dermatitis (ACD). When the scalp comes into contact with a specific allergen, an immune response is triggered, causing skin irritation and inflammation. This is often identified with itching, soreness, redness, and a rash with distinct borders. 

Common allergens that could trigger an allergic reaction include:

  • Latex —  Can be found in  some hair bands or headbands.
  • Fragrances — Often added to hair care products, such as shampoos, conditioners and serums.
  • Nickel — Can be found in hair accessories, like headbands and clips.
  • Preservatives — Preservatives like methylisothiazolinone (MI) or formaldehyde-releasing are commonly found in shampoos and other hair care productions.
  • Plant allergens — Certain plant allergens or herbs are added to natural shampoos and conditioners.
  • Insect bites and stings — Insect bites and stings can cause inflammation and influence skin sensitivity.

Pay attention to your scalp. Allergic contact dermatitis symptoms are a sign of your body telling you about an allergic reaction and adverse skin reaction. Allergic contact dermatitis triggers differ for each individual, and it is important to identify and avoid them.

Consult a specialist for a proper diagnosis and examination. A patch test can also be performed to determine the specific allergen causing your allergic contact dermatitis symptoms.

Contagious infections

Ageing is a natural phenomenon that changes your body over time. It also brings about shifts in your hormones and hair. Your hair follicles may change, affecting the colour and density of your hair. The hair growth cycle shortens, the hair shaft becomes finer, and hair loss occurs. The number of hair follicles on the scalp may also decrease, leading to thinning hair.

To help improve the health of your hair follicles and the quality of your hair as you age, you may include oral supplements in addition to a healthy diet, use gentle hair care products and avoid harsh styling techniques.

Dry scalp

Just like other areas of the skin, a dry scalp can cause sensitivity and discomfort for a variety of reasons:

  • Skin barrier impairment — A dry scalp can compromise the skin’s natural barrier, making it difficult for our scalp to retain moisture and protect against external irritants. This disruption leads to microinflammation of the scalp and makes it more prone to irritation. 
  • Itching and flaking — A sensitive scalp could cause itching and scratching, further exacerbating the inflammation and damaging the skin further. 

A dry scalp has difficulty retaining moisture and producing sebum. Try opting for moisturising and gentle hair care products, such as shampoos specially formulated for a dry and sensitive scalp. It also helps to limit how often you shampoo your hair, so as not to strip it off its natural oils. 

Chemical treatments

Chemically treating your hair by dyeing, bleaching, straightening or perming it can lead to a sensitive scalp. This is because many hair treatments contain harsh chemicals that can cause irritation to the scalp and weaken the scalp’s natural skin barrier. 

Scalp sensitivity can also be caused by chemical burns and overprocessing, which are more likely people do these treatments on their own:

  • Chemical burns — Improper use of these chemical treatments, such as leaving them on the scalp and hair for too long, can cause chemical burns. This damages the scalp, leading to sensitivity and discomfort. 
  • Overprocessing — Subjecting your hair and scalp to chemical treatments too often or for prolonged periods of time can lead to scalp irritation and increased skin sensitivity. In severe cases, scalp burns may occur, and, if repeated, damage to the skin can compound over time.
  • Improper aftercare — When doing DIY hair treatments, following proper aftercare instructions (i.e. hair restoration products) are just as important as the treatment itself. As the scalp becomes more sensitive post-treatment, taking the right steps to protect it and encourage its recovery are paramount.

Avoid excessive exposure to these harsh chemicals by spacing out your chemical treatments to give your scalp time to recover. Ideally, opt for salon treatments done by professionals instead of DIY treatments at home to prevent overprocessing your hair and chemical burns.

If you’re looking to dye your hair, you might be worried about the effects of the colour treatment. That’s why at TrichoLab we offer our Organic Hair Colouring treatment.This ammonia-free and PPD-free treatment allows you to have your ideal hair colour while minimising damage to your hair and scalp. This treatment is also allergen-free, lowering your risk of contact dermatitis.

Stress and anxiety

Although they are not fully understood, psychological factors, such as stress and anxiety, have been shown to cause scalp sensitivity as well. Some reasons for this include:

  • Increased blood flow — Intense stress and anxiety trigger the release of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which also lead to an increase in blood flow. In certain cases, this response can cause sensitivity in the scalp.
  • Weakened immune system — Chronic stress and anxiety can weaken the immune system, which makes you more prone to scalp and hair issues, and slows healing.
  • Psychosomatic symptoms — Sometimes, psychological stress and anxiety can show up as physical symptoms, including skin and scalp sensitivity. Pre-existing dermatological conditions may also worsen.

Our psychological state and whole-body health are largely intertwined, making managing stress and anxiety paramount in ensuring our wellbeing. You can try practising mindfulness and stress reduction techniques to calm your mind and reduce stress levels.

Hormonal changes

Hormones can greatly influence scalp and hair health, and not only cause scalp sensitivity, but play an integral role in regulating the hair cycle and follicle structure. Women may find their scalps more sensitive during their periods, menopause, pregnancy or postpartum because of the hormonal shifts.

An influx of stress hormones, particularly cortisol, can lead to inflammation and indirectly cause scalp sensitivity as well.

Underlying medical conditions

Painful, severe or prolonged scalp sensitivity should warrant a visit to your doctor as it could be a sign of underlying medical conditions, such as:

  • Psoriasis — As mentioned earlier, your scalp sensitivity may be indicative of psoriasis, which will require proper long-term management. 
  • Neurological disorders — Your scalp sensitivity could be caused by irritation or compression of the nerves from a neurological condition. This will require further testing from a neurologist or brain and spine surgeon.
  • Tension headaches — Extreme cases of tension headaches could cause scalp sensitivity and pain when pressure is applied. 
  • Skin infections — Skin infections – bacterial, fungal or parasitic – can cause inflammation and irritation, which, in turn, causes scalp sensitivity and discomfort. 

Although rare, a sensitive scalp can also be a sign of more serious medical conditions, such as skin cancer or melanomas. Skin cancer on the scalp may not cause any pain, but can have symptoms such as tenderness or itching. If you notice any new mole-like marks that suddenly appear or change in shape, please consult a doctor immediately.

Good hair care habits for sensitive scalp

  • Identify what’s causing your sensitive scalp — It is a good habit to be mindful of any new hair care products you’ve recently introduced into your routine or allergies you may have. Identifying what’s causing your sensitive scalp is the first step to finding out how to mitigate the issue, get the right treatment, and restore your scalp health.
  • Avoid over-brushing your hair — Over-brushing can irritate the scalp and cause  sensitivity. It also helps to opt for larger-toothed combs to lessen hair breakage, and put less stress and tension on the scalp while brushing. 
  • Avoid combing your hair while it’s wet — Wet hair is more susceptible to breakage, causing damage and sensitivity to the hair shaft when combed through. Combing your hair when wet may also require more effort and, hence, puts more tension on the hair follicles.
  • Sensitive scalp shampoo — Opt for gentler shampoos specially formulated for sensitive scalps. These are less likely to have allergens or irritants, and have moisturising and anti-inflammatory properties that will help soothe your scalp. 

Sensitive scalp treatments at TrichoLab

Sensitive Reduction Treatment

Get relief from sensitive scalp with our 90-minute Sensitive Reduction Treatment. It has no downtime and is specially formulated to calm inflammation and boost scalp immune function. Tthis anti-irritant treatment features a blend of niacinamide, vitamin B5, oat protein, and green tea extracts. These powerful ingredients work together to soothe irritation and protect the scalp from further sensitivity, ensuring optimal comfort and well-being.

Key benefits

Removes build-up: Clears away environmental impurities and build-up, promoting a clean and refreshed scalp.

Anti-inflammatory: Soothes redness and irritation, providing immediate relief and comfort.

Itch prevention: Prevents itching and discomfort, allowing for a calm and tranquil scalp environment.

Protection: Shields the scalp from further irritation and sensitivity, promoting long-term scalp health.

Hydrating Exfoliating Treatment

TrichoLab’s Hydrating Exfoliation Treatment is a 60-minute treatment that combines the benefits of hydration and exfoliation to leave your scalp feeling refreshed and renewed. It has no downtime. 

A hyaluronic acid peel is used alongside gluconolactone and plant enzymes to treat the scalp. By effectively sloughing away dead scalp cells and product build-up while maintaining optimal moisture balance, this treatment unclogs pores, controls oil production, and delivers natural antioxidants for enhanced scalp health.

Key benefits

Dead cell removal: Gently exfoliates to remove dead scalp cells, promoting a clean and revitalised scalp.

Pore unclogging: Clears pores of impurities and build-up, allowing for improved scalp health and hair growth.

Natural antioxidant: Delivers antioxidants to the scalp, protecting against environmental damage and promoting overall scalp health.

Oil control: Regulates oil production, preventing excess oiliness and promoting a balanced scalp environment.

Balance moisture levels: Ensures optimal moisture balance, keeping the scalp hydrated and nourished.

Safe for sensitive scalps: Formulated with sensitive scalps in mind, this treatment is gentle yet effective and suitable for those with sensitive scalp types.

Immunolock Scalp Treatment

Immunolock Scalp Treatment is a specialised therapy tailored to address the unique needs of irritated and sensitive scalps, providing instant relief and fortifying the scalp’s defences against environmental aggressors.

Our Immunolock Scalp Treatment deeply cleanses and nourishes the scalp, featuring a specialised mask infused with potent botanicals including tea tree oil, chamomile extract, organic dandelion, and more. These ingredients work to soothe irritation, relieve discomfort, and strengthen the scalp’s natural barrier.

This treatment is also ideal for those experiencing oily or itchy scalp concerns or simply seeking a detox for scalp rejuvenation.

Key benefits

Scalp detox: Cleanses the scalp thoroughly, eliminating impurities and toxins to foster a healthier scalp environment.

Intense hydration: Delivers deep hydration to the scalp, replenishing moisture and restoring vitality.

Customised treatment: Tailored to your specific scalp and hair needs, ensuring a personalised approach to scalp care.

Nourishment and revitalisation: Nourishes the scalp and revitalises the hair, promoting overall hair health and radiance.

Sensitive scalp treatment in Singapore

At TrichoLab, we understand the unique needs of individuals with sensitive and dry scalps. Our specialised treatments are designed to provide gentle yet effective solutions for scalp discomfort, irritation, and sensitivity.

Book a consultation to learn more about TrichoLab’s sensitive scalp treatments.

FAQs

To reduce sensitivity in your scalp, opt for gentle hair care products and practices while incorporating soothing scalp treatments to help alleviate sensitivity.

Good options for sensitive scalp care include mild, fragrance-free shampoos and conditioners, hypoallergenic hair care products, and naturally soothing ingredients such as aloe vera or chamomile. Ingredients like oat extract and tea tree oil are also known for their soothing properties.

Yes, hormonal changes can contribute to scalp sensitivity. Fluctuations in hormone levels, such as those that show up during puberty, pregnancy, or menopause, can affect the scalp’s oil production and sensitivity.

The price range for sensitive scalp treatment in Singapore will depend on the type of treatment and any additional services included. At TrichoLab, our sensitive scalp treatment starts at $198.