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Scalp Problems - Topic Overview

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Itching, flaking, or crusting of the scalp may be caused by:

  • Cradle cap, an oily, yellow crusting on a baby's scalp. It is common in babies and is not caused by an illness. It does not mean that a baby is not being well cared for. See a picture of cradle capcamera.gif.
  • Dandruff, a shedding of the skin on the scalp that leaves white flakes on the head, neck, and shoulders. It may be a form of a skin condition called eczema, which causes increased shedding of normal scalp skin cells. Dandruff can also be caused by a fungal infection. Hormonal or seasonal changes can make dandruff worse.
  • Head lice camera.gif , tiny wingless insects that cause itching and raw patches on the scalp. Head lice are most common in school-age children.
  • Ringworm, a fungal infection of the outer layer of the scalp and in the hair. It usually causes a rash made up of circular patches with raised, red edges that resemble worms. The rash spreads from these edges, often leaving the center clear, giving it a ring shape.
  • Ongoing (chronic) skin conditions, such as psoriasis and seborrhea.
  • An uncommon, recurrent skin condition called lichen planus. This condition appears more often during stress, fatigue, or exposure to medicines or chemicals.

Painful sores, blisters, or bumps that develop on the scalp may be caused by:

  • Infection of the hair shafts (folliculitis) or the skin (such as impetigo).
  • An allergic skin reaction (contact dermatitis).
  • Viral infections, such as chickenpox and shingles.
  • A skin condition, such as acne.
  • A cyst, such as an epidermal or sebaceous cyst, a sac beneath the outer layer of the skin that is filled with a greasy white material. These cysts most often appear on the scalp, ears, face, back, or scrotum and are caused by plugged ducts at the site of a hair shaft. Other problems can develop if the cyst becomes infected.

Skin cancer can occur on the scalp, particularly in areas not well-covered by hair. It can destroy skin cells and tissues and, in some cases, spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Skin cancer may appear as a growth or mole, a change in a growth or mole, a sore that does not heal, or irritation of the skin. The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell skin cancer, squamous cell skin cancer, and melanoma.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: December 12, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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