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Skin Problems & Treatments Health Center

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Scalp Problems

Your scalp often plays second fiddle to your hair. Until it starts begging for attention, that is. With several common conditions, your scalp may itch and get irritated.

Dandruff

Little white flakes signal an old-fashioned case of dandruff. It can be annoying when the flakes fall on a dark shirt. Dandruff is simply a buildup of shedding dead skin. We don’t know the cause, but it may be due to a fungus on the skin.

You can’t catch dandruff from someone else, and it isn't dangerous, but it can be itchy and a bother. Luckily, there’s no redness or scabbing of the scalp.  

There’s no cure, but it’s fairly easy to control by washing your hair more often with a medicated shampoo. Pick one with one or more of these ingredients:

  • Coal tar (Neutrogena T/Gel, Tegrin)
  • Zinc pyrithione (Suave Dandruff Control, Pert Plus Dandruff Control, Head & Shoulders)
  • Salicylic acid (T-Sal, Sebulex)
  • Selenium sulfide (Selsun Blue)
  • Ketoconazole (Nizoral A-D) available as a 1% over-the-counter shampoo or a 2% prescription-strength one

You may need to try two or three products to clear up your dandruff. If it doesn't go away after a few weeks of using a special shampoo, see a doctor. You may need a prescription-strength shampoo.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

Dandruff is a mild form of seborrheic dermatitis. In more severe cases, you’ll see a reddening of the scalp and a lot of oil. The result is a greasy look and feel. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it’s common in those with oily skin or hair, acne, or psoriasis.

Cradle Cap

This form of seborrheic dermatitis affects infants, typically in the first 6 months. It causes greasy, yellowish scales or crusts on the scalp. Although it may frighten parents, cradle cap is not a sign of a more serious infection, and it will usually clear up by the baby's first birthday.

For treatment, try rubbing your baby's scalp softly with baby or mineral oil to loosen the scales. After a few minutes, wash your baby's hair with a gentle baby shampoo. Then brush the scalp very gently with a soft brush to loosen the flakes. If a regular shampoo isn't working, ask your pediatrician about a medicated one.

Head Lice

Lice are an unpleasant but all-too-common part of childhood. More than 12 million Americans get them every year, and most are between the ages of 3 and 11. Once lice find their way into a school or summer camp, they spread quickly as children share combs, brushes, and hats.

Lice are wingless insects about the size of a sesame seed. They feed on blood, and the females lay their eggs on the hair close to the scalp. Although they don't cause serious illness, they are something that children -- and their parents -- would rather live without. Having lice doesn’t mean a child is dirty, as they can pop up in anyone’s hair.

WebMD Medical Reference

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