During menopause, many women notice that they have an itchy scalp.
Itchy skin, is one of the more commonly reported symptoms during this transitional phase. The medical term for itchiness is “pruritus”. It can happen anywhere on the body, including the arms, legs, face, groin, and, in particular, on the scalp.
If you’re suffering from an itchy scalp during menopause, it’s important to address the cause and find a solution. Constant scratching at your scalp can exacerbate hair loss, another common symptom of menopause. So, to keep your hair looking as thick, full, and healthy as possible, it’s best to stop the itching in its tracks.
I’ve noticed that my own scalp has become itchy and flaky during my menopausal transition, and many of my readers also complain of the same issue.
But why does this happen, and what can we do to find relief?
In this post, I’ll examine the various factors that can cause an itchy scalp during menopause. Plus, I’ll share 7 solutions that can either ease the itching, or put an end to the problem for good.
What Causes An Itchy Scalp During Menopause?
Like many of the symptoms of menopause, an itchy scalp during this transitional time is caused by a decrease in the body’s natural production of hormones, in particular, estrogen. This type of itching is often accompanied by flaking skin and dandruff.
Estrogen is a sex hormone that is responsible for regulating our reproductive system. But it also plays a significant role in many other bodily processes, including maintaining the health of our skin.
Here’s how a reduction in estrogen can cause an itchy scalp:
Estrogen stimulates the production of collagen, which keeps our skin soft, strong, supple, and hydrated. When collagen levels fall, our skin becomes dryer, weaker, and less supple. These skin changes can directly cause an itching sensation on the scalp.
Reduced Blood Supply
A drop in estrogen also decreases the amount of blood supply that reaches the outermost layers of our skin. This can lead to numbness, tingling, and itching.
Reduced Sebum Production
Estrogen helps to regulate the body’s production of sebum, natural oils that keep our skin moisturized. So, when estrogen levels plummet, so does sebum production. This further exacerbates dryness and causes the scalp to itch.
One of the potential side effects of menopause is an increase in the stress hormone cortisol. Stress affects the health of our skin, and can lead to increased dryness, flaking, and itchiness of the scalp.
Poor Nutrient Absorption
Research shows that hormonal fluctuations during menopause can affect the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals. This can lead to deficiencies which can directly impact the skin, and cause an itchy scalp.
Many menopausal women take medications to manage their symptoms, and some of these medications can cause side effects, including an itchy scalp.
Other Causes of An Itchy Scalp During Menopause
During menopause, hormones can play a large role in an itchy scalp issue. However, several other factors could also be to blame, including:
Shampoos and Other Hair Care Products
When the strength and elasticity of the skin on your scalp are compromised, ingredients in hair care products can permeate the skin more easily and cause irritation.
You may even have an allergy to one of the ingredients in your shampoo, conditioner, or hair color. One of the most common allergens that can cause an itchy scalp is a compound called paraphenylenediamine (PPD)2 which is found in many different brands of hair dye.
When my scalp became itchy and flaky, I noticed that the days I washed my hair, the problem seemed to get worse. So, I took a thorough look at the ingredients in my shampoos, and found that most were laden with harsh chemicals.
It was clear that these ingredients were exacerbating my already compromised scalp, and so, I ditched these products in favor of more gentle alternatives. While this didn’t solve my itchy scalp problem entirely, it certainly reduced my symptoms.
Psoriasis affects 7.4 million people in the USA and more than 125 million people worldwide. There are several different types of psoriasis; however, the most common is plaque psoriasis. The symptoms include intense itching, patches of thick, reddened skin, and flakes of dry skin.
According to research, around 80% of psoriasis sufferers will experience flare-ups on their scalp. And in some cases, other areas of the body aren’t affected, making it difficult to pinpoint what’s causing the symptoms. Since the scalp is usually covered in hair, many people don’t notice the telltale red patches that come along with the condition, which can lead to delays in diagnosis.
Scalp ringworm is a type of fungal infection known medically as tinea capitis. It can affect anyone, including menopausal women, and it spreads easily from person to person.
Scalp ringworm is often confused with psoriasis. And just like scalp psoriasis, scalp ringworm can be tricky to diagnose since hair obscures many of the visible signs of the condition.
Most often, it appears as a case of severe dandruff accompanied by itching. If left untreated, it can lead to inflamed bumps, hair loss, and bald patches.
Sometimes, issues with your thyroid can cause itchy skin, particularly in the scalp region.
This is especially true for sufferers of hyperthyroidism, however, it can also occur in women with hypothyroidism, too. Other scalp-related side effects that thyroid issues can cause are dry, flaky skin, frizzy hair, and hair loss.
The conditions above are just some of the causes of an itchy scalp, but many other possible underlying conditions present similar symptoms. So, if you’re concerned about an itching scalp, the best course of action is to visit your doctor or a certified dermatologist. They can perform a thorough assessment, identify the cause, and prescribe a treatment plan that works for you.
7 Solutions for An Itchy Scalp
To treat an itchy scalp, the first step is to identify the underlying cause. If your symptoms are due to one of the medical conditions listed above, your doctor or dermatologist can prescribe medication, such as antifungals, topical steroids, or a medicated shampoo, that can help.
However, if your itchy scalp is simply a side effect of menopause caused by a reduction in estrogen, there are still plenty of ways to reduce your symptoms and find relief. Here are some things that worked for me.
Avoid Harsh Chemicals
During menopause, the skin on your scalp can become much more sensitive to irritants. So, switch to natural, organic shampoos and conditioners that don’t contain harsh chemicals.
Likewise, avoid using chemical hair dyes that may come into contact with your scalp.
Switching to more gentle hair products has been the single most effective intervention for my own itchy scalp problem. So, I recommend everyone with the same issue starts here.
Keep Your Head Covered
Consider wearing a hat or another type of head covering when you are outside to protect your scalp from the elements. This is particularly important on sunny days when UV rays can further damage and irritate your already inflamed scalp.
Make An Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) Rinse
Apple cider vinegar is a versatile natural treatment for a variety of skin conditions, including an itchy scalp.
Research shows that ACV has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antifungal properties. So, not only does it calm and soothe itching, but it also helps to treat the root cause of many underlying skin conditions.
I use a soothing at home treatment made from one part ACV, and one part warm water. After shampooing, I rinse my hair in clean water, and add the ACV mixture as a final rinse. Since I’ve started following this protocol, I’ve noticed a definite reduction in itchiness and flakiness. And as a bonus, my hair also looks healthier and shinier, too.
Apply Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is naturally soothing to the skin and can help to eliminate the dryness that makes an itching scalp worse. Plus, it also has potent antifungal and antimicrobial properties, making it one of the most popular natural treatments for scalp ringworm.
So, whatever the cause of your itchy scalp, applying coconut oil to the affected area can help alleviate the symptoms.
That being said, I find that coconut oil makes my hair look greasy when I apply it directly to my scalp. So, I use this protocol in the evenings before I go to bed.
I like to warm the coconut oil on the stovetop first, then gently massage it onto my scalp and through the roots of my hair. After I’ve applied the oil, I cover my hair with a shower cap to keep it from staining my clothes and bedsheets. As an extra precaution, I also place an old towel under my head when I lay down to protect my pillowcases.
Use Zinc Pyrithione Shampoo
Research suggests that people who have an itchy scalp and dandruff also have a higher concentration of histamine on their skin compared with those who don’t suffer from these symptoms.
Thankfully, a common ingredient in anti-dandruff shampoos, known as zinc pyrithione, has been proven to lower histamine levels and make itching less severe.
You can find zinc pyrithione-containing shampoo in most drug stores; however, the concentration of this anti-itch ingredient varies from brand to brand. So, do your research before choosing a shampoo, and experiment with how often you use it. Some people find that washing their hair with zinc pyrithione shampoo every day helps to keep their symptoms at bay, whereas others only need to use it once or twice a week. Personally, I use it 1-2 times a week and find that this is enough.
Soak Your Scalp in Colloidal Oatmeal
Colloidal oatmeal is one of the most popular natural treatments for all kinds of skin itching, including an itchy scalp caused by menopause. Colloidal oats are simply oats which have been blended to a fine powder. This helps to release cellulose and fiber contained within the oat.
To harness these benefits most effectively, mix the colloidal oats with warm water and apply the mixture to your scalp as thoroughly and evenly as possible. Let the solution sit on your scalp for 10-15 minutes before rinsing away with clean, warm water.
You’ll likely notice a soothing effect straight away, plus, the colloidal oats will leave a protective barrier across your skin, preventing further irritation and inflammation.
Avoid Over Brushing and Heat Styling Your Hair
If you’re concerned that your itchy scalp could lead to hair loss, it’s important to be gentle with your hair.
Try to avoid blow drying, straightening, and curling your hair with heat-based appliances. Also, avoid over-brushing, and never brush your hair when it’s wet. This can lead to further breakage and damage.
If your itching scalp is caused by hormonal fluctuations, then your symptoms will probably begin to taper off once you reach menopause. Eventually, they should disappear for good.
However, if your itching scalp is caused by another condition, such as psoriasis, you won’t find relief until you address the underlying cause.
The urge to scratch is a natural response, but if you scratch at your scalp too often, you could cause permanent damage, including scarring and hair loss.
So, it’s important to limit scratching as much as possible. Try keeping your fingernails cut short to minimize any damage to the surface of your scalp. You can also try gently scratching a different part of your body to distract your attention away from the problem zone.
If your itchy scalp is a strictly hormonal issue, HRT can help. HRT works by topping up the depleted hormones that your body no longer creates. And so, many of the most common symptoms of menopause, including a dry and itchy scalp, can be significantly improved.
However, HRT isn’t for everyone, and this type of medication comes with a risk of side effects. So, talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits before deciding if this is the treatment plan for you.
An itchy scalp is one of the lesser talked about symptoms of menopause but it affects a large number of women. If it wasn’t for my own research into menopause, I might not have connected the dots that my itchy scalp was due to the hormonal shifts of menopause.
So, if you’re scratching your head more frequently and noticing a newfound dandruff problem, consider whether menopause could be to blame.
Thankfully, there are several ways to treat the issue and provide long-lasting relief.
Remember, an itching scalp can be a symptom of menopause, but it can also be caused by various underlying conditions. So, if you’re in any doubt, visit your doctor.