Does Psoriasis or Dandruff Cause a Scaly Scalp?


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A scaly scalp can be the result of numerous conditions such as; Seborrheic dermatitis, poor nutrition, psoriasis, dehydration or excessive use of hair products such as shampoos.

A scaly one is no fun! And even worse if it becomes itchy, red or inflamed for whatever reason. Having a white or yellow scale filled scalp is very common especially in teenagers and adults, but can also affect toddlers-however this kind is referred to as cradle cap.

A visit to the doctor can easily help to determine the underlying factor(s) that causes your scalp to be scaly.

Causes, symptoms, and treatment

This is a very common condition that affects the skin causing it to become inflamed reddish and to appear scaly. The condition can affect just a small part, the entire surface of the scalp as well as your forehead, behind and inside your ears and at the back of your neck also.

Scalp psoriasis

Psoriasis is a condition that affects the skin and is characterized by raised, flaky patches and scaly skin that resembles dandruff on the head. However, with psoriasis, the scalp has a silvery sheen and covered with dry scales, unlike dandruff.

Psoriasis can be one of the causes of a scaly scalp

Psoriasis can be one of the causes

According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, about 2-3% of the United States population is affected by psoriasis. Additionally, the American Academy of Dermatology asserts that for every person affected by psoriasis it usually develops on the scalp.


  • Dry Silvery white scales
  • Red, scaly and bumpy patches.
  • Dry scalp.
  • Hair loss-psoriasis does not directly cause hair loss; however, the constant scratching and picking on the affected area inclusive of the stress associated with the condition lead to hair loss.
  • Burning sensation, itching or soreness.


Treatment for scalp psoriasis involves the use of over the counter and prescription medications; however, the treatment recommendation usually depends on the severity of the condition:

Topical treatments

  • This includes the use of medicated shampoos and ointments that contain salicylic acid.
  • Coal tar products designed to slow the regeneration of skin cells-allowing the skin to regain normalcy, reduce itching and inflammations.
  • Systemic medication: in cases where topical treatments have failed, a systemic medication designed to work all through the body instead of a target area only are used.
  • However, new medications that target specific molecules within the immune system (work by correcting the overactive immune response) thus decreasing the cell production are also available.
  • Additionally, medications containing steroids are used to minimize itching and inflammation. However, these medications slow down the immune system thus increasing the risk of infection.

Light therapy

  • This is simply subjecting the affected area to UV light using a specific lamp that radiates UVB light in a controlled environment to eliminate burns or excessive exposure.


Its normal for the scalp to shed off dead skin cells, however, excessive crusting or flaking affecting it, commonly referred to as dandruff is a familiar cosmetic condition experienced by millions of people worldwide.



The condition is not contagious and normally isn’t a cause for concern but is generally mortifying and in some cases quite difficult to treat.

The condition is characterized by white, oily flakes of dead skin that can easily be spotted on your shoulders and hair. In some cases, the symptoms also include an itchy, scaly scalp.

According to Cleveland Clinic, dandruff is seborrheic dermatitis in adults while in babies it’s referred to as cradle cap. Apparently, seborrhea of the scalp (also referred to seborrheic eczema or seborrheic psoriasis) causes dandruff and is characterized by loose, white, crusty, scaly patches on the skin which may be accompanied by itching.


In most cases, dandruff doesn’t require any medical treatment, just over the counter dandruff shampoos, antifungal gels, creams or ointments and you can easily get rid of the condition.

However, if the conditions become severe making the scalp red and inflamed, it’s vital to consult a dermatologist or doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Scalp psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis somewhat share some of the symptoms and treatment options including the medicated shampoos, antifungal solutions or the topical corticosteroids.

However, psoriasis tends to be more persistent compared to the latter in terms of treatment and hence the need for phototherapy.

When it comes to appearance, the scales of scalp psoriasis are thicker and drier compared to those of seborrheic dermatitis, while psoriasis tends to extend beyond the hairline as well as affect other areas of the hairline.

Tips for managing a scaly scalp

  • Seek medical treatment: topical and systemic treatment medication is effective for treating the underlying causes of scaly scalps. Ensure you pay a visit to the doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
  • Be gentle with it: avoid vigorously scratching your head since it can lead to bleeding and even other infections.
  • Moisturize your scalp to improve the general appearance of the skin in the affected area.
  • If possible, identify the specific triggers that cause this problem and consider how to reduce or eliminate them completely from your lifestyle.


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