Scalp pain: 8 possible causes (and what to do?)

scalp pain

To have "bad hair" is a situation that many people encounter frequently. In fact, that pain you feel in your scalp is a signal alarm. It's your body telling you: be careful, something abnormal is happening around here! Because yes, having an overly sensitive or painful scalp is not not normal ! It's a situation pathological which requires specific support.

To remedy, the first step is to identify its origin. We therefore present in this article 8 possible causes of scalp pain, as well as their treatment and the right actions to adopt on a daily basis to relieve and prevent it.

Scalp anatomy

The scalp is the part of the skin that covers the skull. Like the rest of the skin covering, it consists of three layers:

  • The epidermis: the most superficial layer, made up of several superimposed layers of flattened cells like cobblestones and reinforced by keratin (keratinized pluristratified squamous epithelium).
  • The dermis: located under the epidermis. It is made up of connective tissue (collagen fiber, elastic fibers, etc.) and contains blood vessels as well as nerve fibers.
  • The hypodermis: deepest layer. It mainly contains fat-rich fat cells. It is also richly vascularized.

What differentiates the scalp from the rest of the skin is its richness in hair follicles. Each hair is associated with a "pilosebaceous apparatus" comprising a piloerection muscle and a sebaceous gland (secreting sebum).

Scalp pain: what is it?

Le leather hairy is ultimately only part of the largest organ of the human body, this physico-chemical barrier that protects us from various attacks from the external environment: the skin.

Like any other skin area, the scalp can be the site of different pathologies that can manifest themselves in symptoms such as redness, pruritus (itching) and of course the pain.

Generally, it is an increase in sensitivity, with unpleasant or painful sensation of the scalp to the touch or when brushing the hair. One can also have to deal with authentic spontaneous pains strongly embarrassing with the daily newspaper.

Scalp pain: 8 possible causes

Do you have scalp pain? The culprit is probably in the following list:

1. Certain daily practices and aggressions

The scalp is exposed to all kinds of external aggressions on a daily basis that can result in pain:

  • Pollution : different particles from our polluted environment are deposited daily on our scalp and trigger multiple chemical reactions there with the production of free radicals. These are the cause of "oxidative stress" which alters the structure of the scalp, as well as any other skin area, which results in accelerated aging of the skin and possible pain.
  • The sun : the sun's rays dry out the epidermis of the scalp and dehydrate it. This makes it more sensitive, sometimes with the appearance of pain.
  • The swimming pool : the chlorine contained in swimming pool water is deposited on the scalp and dries it out. In the long term, feelings of tightness and pain may appear, especially in subjects with a sensitive scalp.
  • Seawater : like the sun, seawater dries out the skin and makes it sensitive.
  • Hair tied too tightly: certain hairstyles abuse the scalp which is sometimes pulled in all directions. The pulling and shearing forces created cause scalp pain and even so-called “tension headaches”.
  • The extension port: Wearing extensions, the weight of which pulls on the hair all day long, is also a source of pain.
  • Repeat brushings: same principle as the two previous factors, it pulls on the hair and the scalp.
  • Frequent and prolonged wearing of motorcycle helmets: the helmet presses the hair against the scalp in different positions, which causes pulling forces as well as a decrease in blood circulation.
  • The use of products that are too aggressive: the majority of hair products (shampoos, conditioners, creams, gels, lacquers, dyes, etc.) contain harsh and harsh chemicals in their composition. Used long term, they attack the different layers of the scalp, which promotes pain.
  • Excessive hair washing: washing your hair too frequently alters the microenvironment of the scalp, especially with the use of harsh hair products.
  • The use of metal hairbrushes: it causes small repetitive skin lesions, inflammation and pain.

2. Stress and anxiety

There are muscles that insert into the bones of the skull, just below the scalp. Stress promotes tensions muscle which stimulate the nerve endings of these muscles and trigger pain.

Moreover, glands pilosebaceous (sebaceous glands associated with hair) are influenced by various stress-related hormones. As a reminder, an imbalance in sebum production causes a irritation of the scalp and therefore pain.

This explains the fact that scalp pain usually occurs after a stressful day or during times of great stress.

3. Poor blood circulation

The scalp is vascularized by a network arterial formed by the temporal, occipital, internal frontal, posterior auricular and suborbital arteries. A venous network flowing into the jugular veins follows much the same pattern.

The integrity of this système irrigation is essential for healthy hair and scalp. Thus, any factor hindering blood vascularization in the scalp will increase the risk of suffering from pain, alopecia (loss of hair)...

4. Dietary deficiencies

The skin is made up of rapidly renewing cells. A skin cell lives approximately 28 days before dying and peeling off. This is how our skin is continuously regenerated.

In order to maintain this high level of activity, our body needs different nutrients such as proteins, good fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, trace elements...

Some shortcomings food can manifest as a hypersensitivity ou pain scalp:

  • Iron deficiency,
  • zinc deficiency,
  • Magnesium deficiency.

5. Scalp psoriasis

Le Psoriasis is a disease inflammatory chronic which is manifested mainly by cutaneous symptoms. It is one of the most frequent dermatological pathologies. 1.5 to 3 million French people would suffer from it.

In psoriasis, well-demarcated rounded or oval red plaques covered with thick white scales appear on the skin. They are preferentially localized at the knees, elbows, around the umbilicus or lower back.

The localization of psoriasis plaques at the level of the leather hairy is also a common form of this disease. The lesions generally begin to appear at the nape of the neck and then spread to the periauricular regions (around the ears) and the scalp.

In many cases, the scalp psoriasis is not accompanied by any symptoms. But it is often the cause of itching or pain. This is why it is useful to look for plaques of psoriasis in front of pain in the scalp.

6. Seborrheic dermatitis

La dermatitis seborrheic is a disease inflammatory chronic of the skin which is manifested by scaly erythematous lesions (redness and scales). Its causes are not yet clearly identified, but we know that a champignon microscopic called "Pityrosporon Ovale" or "Malassezia furfur" plays a key role in the appearance of an inflammatory reaction with scalp pain in predisposed subjects (oily skin, particular immunological background, stress, obesity, excessive sweating, etc.).

7. Horton's Disease

La Horton's disease is a inflammatory arteritis (inflammation of the wall of the arteries) which affects all the blood vessels, but particularly frequently the aorta and its branches, in particular the external carotid artery and the temporal artery.

This disease is strongly suspected in the event of the appearance of spontaneous pain in the skull (especially at the level of the beats), a hypersensitivity ou scalp pain (especially when styling), pain in the jaw (especially when chewing).

Its diagnosis is based on the anatomopathological examination of a temporal artery biopsy. The treatment, which is mainly based on corticosteroids, must be implemented as soon as possible in order to prevent the risk of blindness and other serious complications!

8. Arnold's Neuralgia

La Arnold's neuralgia, a particular form of facial and cranial neuralgia, is pain of nerve origin caused by compression of the occipital nerve (also called Arnold's nerve). She realizes a pain (burning type, electric shocks) in the neck which radiates in the head and in the scalp which can last several weeks.

The treatment of Arnold's neuralgia is based on the prescription ofanalgesics to relieve pain andnonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce inflammation at the compressed nerve.

To learn all about Arnold's neuralgia, see the following article. 

What to do with scalp pain?

When the pains of the scalp are secondary to a given pathology, it will be enough to treat the latter to get rid of it. Thereby :

  • In case of nutritional deficiencies: supplement with iron, zinc or magnesium… And adopt a balanced diet and varied.
  • In the face of psoriasis of the scalp: shampoos, lotions or foams based on dermocorticoids derived from vitamin D. There are other treatments such as immunosuppressants and biotherapies which represent the basic treatment of the disease.
  • In the face of seborrheic dermatitis: the local application of antifungals such as imidazoles and ciclosporin in the form of shampoos, creams or foaming gels.
  • In the face of Horton's disease: prescription of analgesics and corticosteroids such as prednisone.
  • In front of Arnold's neuralgia: treatment is based on analgesics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Injections of corticosteroids or anesthetics are sometimes useful to relieve pain. As a last resort, one can consider surgery which consists of stimulating Arnold's nerve using electrodes in order to create a non-painful sensory impulse which will make it possible to reduce the pain of the same nerve.

When the pain is not secondary to a pathology, it is generally the consequence of external aggressions or bad lifestyle habits.

Here are some tips to relieve scalp pain:

  • Use gentle and natural hair products without detergent in order to avoid further attacking the scalp.

Last updated on 2024-06-18 / Affiliate links / Images from the Amazon Partners API

Last updated on 2024-05-25 / Affiliate links / Images from the Amazon Partners API

  • Brush your hair daily without pulling them in order to spread the sebum over all the hair fibers and to avoid its stagnation at the level of the roots. It is advisable to use a soft hairbrush made of vegetable fibers such as silk or boar bristles.
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  • Short or long fine hair: The brush is suitable for caring for both short to mid-length hair and long hair; it gives hair a silky shine.
  • Gentle scalp massage: Gently massages the scalp without damaging it, improving blood circulation – Glides through fine hair in a gentle and pleasant way.

Last updated on 2024-06-18 / Affiliate links / Images from the Amazon Partners API

  • Massage your scalp regularly to stimulate micro blood circulation and spread sebum.
  • Hydrate painful areas with floral water using an atomizer or using aloe vera to soothe them.
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  • Avoid washing your hair too frequently in order to preserve the capillary microenvironment, thus avoiding the risk of dehydration and dryness.
  • Avoid hair extensions as well as repeated brushings and certain cuts that pull too much on the hair.
  • Avoid long exposure to the sun : bring a hat to protect your hair and scalp from the aggressions of the sun's rays.
  • Wash your hair well after swimming whether at sea (salt water) or in the swimming pool (chlorine).

In addition to all these measures, it is important to practice regular physical activity, have a healthy diet and stay away from stress for perfectly healthy hair and scalp!


[1] RJ Sabouraud, Scalp Diseases: I-[IV]…, flight. 3. Masson and Co., 1910.

[2] M. Fourquet, E. Boyer, N. Laborde-Laulhé, B. Lavignolle, and O. Gille, “Treatment of Arnold's occipital neuralgia by mesotherapy”.

[3] M.-A. Richard-Lallemand, “Inventory of scalp psoriasis”, in Annals of Dermatology and Venereology, 2009, vol. 136, p. S34‑S38.

[4] G. Quéreux, “Seborrheic Dermatitis”, EMC-Dermatol.-Cosmetol., flight. 2, no 3, p. 147-159, 2005.

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