Dealing with a sensitive, flaky or itchy scalp

Probably around 20% of my customers, both male and female, have an itchy and/or flaky scalp. As I section through the hair, I can see the irritated scalp: red, blotchy and flaky. Sometimes this is all over the head, sometimes just in places. Common underlying causes include: eczema, psoriasis, seborhoerric dermatitis and folliculitis. At the recent Introduction to Trichology day at the Salon International trade exhibition, I had a chance to ask some trichologists (scalp specialists) where the best place to start is when dealing with this type of thing.

1.       First-line anti-microbial shampoos: dandruff is often caused by a naturally-occurring yeast, Malassezia getting out of control. Shampoos containing anti-yeast compounds are often effective (, 1). Well-known brands include Head and Shoulders. Capasal Therepeutic shampoo was mentioned as useful as a first-line approach.

2.       Consider an antimicrobial and anti-irritant shampoo: the next line of shampoos contain both anti-yeast ingredients, detergents that are not too stripping of natural oils and ingredients which calm the irritated skin. Two shampoos were mentioned: Philip Kingsley’s ‘Flaky and Itchy scalp shampoo’ and Tony Maleedy’s Juniper scalp therapy shampoo and conditioner. Both Philip Kingsley (late as of Oct 2016) and Tony Maleedy are registered trichologists (scalp specialists).  The Philip Kingsley range is widely available in department stores and Tony Maleedy’s range is at the Lloyds pharmacy in Selfridges in London and online (

3.       Avoid sodium laureth/lauryl sulphate (SLS) shampoos: SLS is the primary detergent in most shampoos, shower gels and soaps. It’s usually the second ingredient in the list after water. SLS effectively strips the skin of sebum/oil and the dirt/dust/skin particles which adher to the oils. While being effective at cleaning, this ingredient is too effective, in that it also removes too much oil and can be very drying. A better detergent is ammonium laureth sulphate, or even better, sodium isothionate.

4.       Use a hairdryer! Unless your hair dries naturally in 5 mins or less, prevent the prolonged damp environment which encourages yeast/fungus growth (It’s the same with your feet!). Use a hairdryer and give the roots a dry-off, even if you leave the ends of the hair damper. Especially important in winter J

5.       Consider a GP or trichologist visit. If you’ve done all that and are still suffering, try a visit to your GP or a certified trichologist ( Trichologist visits involve a cost of course, but an itchy sore scalp is also not good to live with. GPs vary in their knowledge of skin and scalp conditions – consider printing off this info and going through what your actions so far have been.

Feel free to ask me more questions. I’ve included most of what I know here, but will always try to point you in the right direction.

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