Safe Ways to Care for Your Hair When You Have Psoriasis

Medically Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on September 14, 2023
5 min read

A visit to the salon can put a smile on your face and give your self-esteem a little boost. Don’t let scalp psoriasis keep you from these simple pleasures. There are plenty of ways your hairdresser can safely care for your hair, whether you're getting a cut, color, or both.

When you go to a salon, you may feel embarrassed about your condition. Remember that experienced hair stylists have seen it all, including scalp psoriasis. Be sure to give your stylist a heads-up about it, as well as any products or ingredients you’re sensitive to.

And what about home hair care? The key is to use the right products and styling techniques. If you plan to color your hair yourself, a few simple steps can help to protect your scalp from irritation.

When you call for an appointment, tell the salon about your psoriasis and ask if you can see a stylist who has experience with it. Many stylists are trained to deal with scalp conditions.

If your hairdresser isn't familiar with the condition, make sure they know that psoriasis isn’t a fungal infection and it’s not contagious.

When you get to the salon, the first part of your hair appointment should be a consultation. That’s the time to talk about your psoriasis if you haven’t already.

Tell the stylist about any products that you know work well for your scalp. And let them know whether certain products or styling methods cause problems for you.

For example, blow dryers might make your scalp feel extra dry. Your hairdresser can help you choose a style that you can let air dry.

Whether you're at the salon or at home, medicated shampoos with coal tar, salicylic acid, or hydrocortisone may reduce flakes and itching.  

Use these products exactly as directed. Since they work on your scalp, not your hair, separate your hair into sections and apply them at the roots.

Always use warm, not hot, water to wash your hair.

To avoid overly dry, brittle hair, alternate between medicated shampoos and a regular, gentle shampoo. If your stylist uses a regular shampoo, use your medicated product for your last shampoo before you visit the salon. 

Use a non-medicated, moisturizing conditioner every time you wash your hair.

Ask your hairstylist to be extra-gentle when cutting and styling your hair. If they comb or brush too hard, it can scratch your scalp. That can make your psoriasis flare up.

Stay away from tight hairstyles, like ponytails and braids that pull. This can irritate your scalp, worsen your psoriasis, and even lead to hair loss.

Beware of hairstyles that require you to often use heat-styling tools like flatirons, hot rollers, and curling irons. When you do use these tools, take care not to pull on your hair. And don't let them touch your scalp. A burn could lead to a psoriasis flare.

If you're having a flare, don't get a blowout. Also, don't perm, relax, or color your hair until your condition settles down.

When in doubt about a hair service, ask your dermatologist. They can help you find a hair-care routine that works for you.   

Many hair dyes, hairsprays, and other products are safe for people with psoriasis. But to be sure, your stylist should always do a patch test before using a new one.

If typical hair dye irritates your scalp, there are a few options that may be gentler on your skin.

Highlights. Unlike all-over color, highlights don’t reach your scalp.

Henna. Pure, 100% henna is a natural alternative to chemical-laden hair dyes. It can tint your hair red or reddish-brown. You should avoid so-called black henna (real henna is a shade of orange). It may contain irritating ingredients.

Other plant-based dyes. Some “natural” boxed dyes contain pigments from a variety of plants, such as buckthorn, hibiscus, and rhubarb.

Anyone can have a skin reaction to hair dye, even when the product is natural. But one common ingredient, paraphenylenediamine (PPD), seems to be the culprit in most hair dye reactions. These can be mild or quite serious.

Mild irritation. Within about 48 hours, your scalp, neck, forehead, ears, or eyelids may get irritated or inflamed. Other signs of mild irritation include:

  • Redness
  • Blisters
  • Dry or cracked skin
  • Burning or stinging sensation

Allergic reaction. If you’re allergic to PPD, you may notice:

  • Itching or swelling of the face or scalp
  • Itching or a rash elsewhere on your body
  • Generally feeling ill

If you have a severe allergy, you could have a serious reaction within minutes called anaphylaxis. A few warning signs include swelling of the eyes, lips, and feet; swelling of the mouth, tongue, or throat; and feeling lightheaded or faint. If you notice these, call 911 right away. If you have an epinephrine autoinjector­­, use it, then call 911.

What if you need to dye your hair during a psoriasis flare? If you have a “can’t miss” hair color appointment on your calendar (say, right before a wedding), do everything you can to prevent a flare from happening.

Keep up with your psoriasis treatment. For scalp psoriasis, treatment may include one or more of the following:

  • Medicine applied to the scalp
  • Medicated shampoos
  • Scale softeners
  • Injections
  • Light treatments
  • Medication

Control your stress. These science-backed strategies can help restore calm when stress creeps in:

You may also want to share these psoriasis-friendly styling and coloring tips.

  • Use a dye barrier (like petroleum jelly) on your hairline and ears to protect the skin.
  • To safely remove hair color from skin, apply oil (baby oil or coconut oil, for example) and gently massage the area.

If you’re going to dye your hair at home, start with a patch test: Dab some dye on your skin and wait to see if you have a reaction. If your skin shows any sign of irritation or you start to feel ill, toss the product and try a different one.

Even if you pass the patch test, you should still follow these important steps to lower your odds of skin irritation.

  • Don’t leave the dye on longer than the recommended time.
  • Wear protective gloves, even if you don’t have psoriasis on your hands.
  • Rinse all the dye out of your hair.