Feeling the urge to incessantly scratch at your scalp can really drive a woman wild! Intense scalp itch is distracting, draining, and it can ruin your sleep. On top of all that there’s a link between itchy scalp and hair loss.
How is itchy scalp and hair loss related?
Scratching at our scalp can damage strands of hair and cause breakage. Even more seriously it can lead to hair growth disrupting inflammation as well as cause damage to the hair follicles. These consequences combined lead to hair that looks unhealthy and thin or patchy. If left unchecked, all that scratching can lead to permanent hair loss.
What’s up with all of the itching? There are a number of causes of itchy scalp (also referred to as scalp pruritus). Getting an accurate diagnosis from your doctor should always be the first step, followed by digging into the root-causes of your itchy scalp and hair loss issues (more tips on that towards the end of this article).
Here are some of the top causes of scalp itch (1,2):
- Eczema (also called atopic dermatitis)
- Scarring alopecia (also called cicatricial alopecia)
- Lichen planus (including lichen planopilaris)
- Seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff (read more about how these causes scalp itch and home remedies to try here)
- Dry skin
- Stress and anxiety (called psychosomatic scalp itch)
- Neuropathic scalp itch (for example caused by diabetes or shingles)
Not included in this list, but still a very common cause of itchy scalp and hair loss, is sensitivity to chemicals in personal care products and/or product build up. Make sure to read my post about safer hair care options here and download my free dry shampoo guide here.
How to avoid itchy scalp and hair loss
We can’t fix a problem that we don’t understand. That’s why it’s so important to dig into the root-causes that are behind the symptoms that you’re experiencing; it’s so much more effective and efficient to correct the underlying imbalances that keep us from feeling our best versus playing whack-a-mole with symptoms as they arise.
Here are the top lab tests for people who are experiencing itchy scalp and hair loss. Working with practitioner trained in Functional Medicine is the best way to determine which lab tests are right for you.
- GI Map: This is a stool test that is able to evaluate your digestion, as well as look for gut dysbiosis (including bacterial, fungal, and parasitic overgrowth). Many people overlook gut testing because they don’t feel that they have symptoms of stomach issues. However, I’ve had many clients who were surprised by their results despite having “normal” digestion. This test has also been really helpful for those struggling with histamine issues which is a key mediator of scalp itch.
- DUTCH Complete: DUTCH is an acronym standing for Dried Urine Test for Comprehensive Hormones and the ‘complete’ package includes an assessment of adrenal health (testing the cortisol and cortisone daily pattern) and sex hormone testing. For women with scalp itch, the comprehensive assessment of estrogen metabolites can be helpful as estrogen dominance and histamine issues are frequently associated. Hormones also control sebum production and can indirectly influence our skin microflora, potentially making us more susceptible to scalp infections such as Malassezia.
- Fasting glucose and fasting insulin: Especially important if your doctor suspects neuropathic scalp itch. If that’s the case, they may also want to test your glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) which looks at how well your body has managed your blood glucose levels over the last 90 days.
- Full thyroid panel: Thyroid health is very closely linked to hair health and low thyroid can also contribute to dry, itchy scalp. Testing TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) is not enough to understand whether your thyroid and thyroid hormones are functioning optimally. You can read more about the tests that I like my clients to speak to their doctors about here and here.
- Organic acid testing: Organic acids are sensitive markers for nutrients that tell us whether your body stores are optimal. There are many nutrients involved in the hair growth process – both directly and indirectly – so a full nutrient work-up might be a good place to start.
- Fatty acid panel: This advanced testing looks at the levels of different fatty acids (think, omega-3s and omega-6s) within the body. Having the proper balance is not only important for fighting inflammation and balancing hormones, but is also key to promoting scalp health. We need the proper fatty acid balance to prevent a dry, flaky scalp.
Have you experienced scalp itch and hair loss? Make sure to follow me on Instagram and introduce yourself!
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