Psoriasis is a common skin condition that causes skin cells to quickly build up on the skin’s surface. This buildup results in flaky, silver-red patches that feel itchy.
Sometimes these patches can be painful and may crack and bleed. Often, this condition affects the scalp, forehead, back of the ears, and neck. In this case, it’s called scalp psoriasis.
Scalp psoriasis is a chronic condition, meaning that it tends to come and go over time. Often, it’s triggered or worsened by certain factors such as:
- drinking alcohol
It’s important to treat scalp psoriasis and monitor symptoms for other conditions. Research has linked scalp psoriasis with chronic inflammation, which occurs with other health issues such as:
- insulin resistance
- high cholesterol
- heart disease
Most doctors recommend topical medications, light therapy, and medications that affect the entire body to treat scalp psoriasis. But it can help to combine medical treatment with home remedies to help reduce scalp psoriasis symptoms.
How to treat scalp psoriasis at home
It’s important to note that home remedies can help ease symptoms but they’re not proven cures. The following home treatments are generally safe and may help you reduce the symptoms of mild to moderate scalp psoriasis. Those with more aggressive forms of the condition should consult a doctor before starting home treatment.
Aloe vera is a plant known for its skin-healing properties. Creams that contain 0.5 percent aloe can help reduce itching, inflammation, flaking, and redness on the scalp. This cream should be applied up to three times per day to keep skin moist. It may take up to a month to start feeling and seeing positive effects.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar may help reduce itchiness associated with scalp psoriasis. Try applying organic apple cider vinegar to your scalp a few times a week.
You can dilute the apple cider vinegar 1-to-1 with water. Rinse the skin after applying to prevent irritation. Don’t try this treatment if your skin is cracked or bleeding. You should see results in several weeks.
Baking soda is a quick and easy treatment for an itchy scalp. Take a small glass of water and stir in one tablespoon of baking soda. Then use a cotton pad or washcloth to apply the mixture onto the area of your head that’s affected. You can even pour the solution onto your head to relieve itching and inflammation under your hair.
Chili peppers get their heat from a compound called capsaicin. German researchers have found some evidence that products with capsaicin can help reduce the pain, redness, inflammation, and flaking caused by psoriasis. But more research is needed to understand exactly how it works.
Products containing capsaicin may sting skin. Avoid applying to open wounds and touching your eyes, genitals, mouth, and other sensitive areas after handling capsaicin cream.
Coconut or avocado oil
Coconuts and avocadoes are filled with healthy fats that boost skin health. Massage a few drops of either type of oil, cool or lightly heated, onto your scalp and put on a shower cap. Wait 20 minutes, remove the cap, then wash your hair as usual. This can reduce and remove some of the scaling associated with the condition.
Garlic has strong anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants that improve skin condition, while preventing skin infections. While it’s smelly, it does appear to reduce scalp psoriasis symptoms.
Mix pureed or pressed raw garlic with aloe vera cream or gel in a ratio of 1-to-1. Put the mixture on the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes. After, rinse with cool water. This treatment is safe to use daily.
Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon grape)
Also called barberry or Oregon grape, Mahonia aquifolium is an herb that affects the body’s immune response. Because of this, researchers believe it may help treat scalp psoriasis by reducing inflammation and other symptoms. Look for creams containing 10 percent concentration.
Adding a cup of raw ground unflavored oats to a warm bath and soaking for 15 minutes may help reduce your scalp psoriasis symptoms. Oats are especially effective for itching, inflammation, and flaking. Be sure to keep the affected area fully submerged when bathing.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, taken in the form of fish oil and plant-based supplements such as flax may reduce inflammation. While the effects of omega-3s on scalp psoriasis aren’t proven, it appears safe and perhaps beneficial to take up to 3 grams of omega-3s daily.
Sea or Epsom salt
Soaking your whole body, including the affected part of your head, in warm water with dissolved sea salt or Epsom salt may reduce scalp psoriasis symptoms. Try to stay in the tub for 15 minutes and apply a moisturizing cream to your affected skin when you get out of the tub.
There are many specially made, nonmedicated over-the-counter shampoos used to treat scalp psoriasis. The most effective include those that contain the herb witch hazel, or those that contain 2 to 10 percent coal tar or anti-inflammatory salicylic acid. Use as directed on the bottle.
Tea tree oil
Tea tree is a plant believed to treat inflammatory skin conditions. It works as an antiseptic and can alleviate the inflammation and redness associated with scalp psoriasis. Be aware that some people are allergic and sensitive to tea tree oil, and the substance has been linked to hormone changes in some people.
Turmeric is an herb well known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Those with scalp psoriasis may reduce symptoms by taking a daily turmeric supplement, or by trying to incorporate more turmeric — fresh or powdered — into their cooking. Taking 1.5 to 3 grams of turmeric each day is considered safe and possibly helpful.
Sunshine may help relieve some symptoms of scalp psoriasis. Put on sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and spend 10 to 15 minutes in the sun. Consider spending time outside in the morning when the sun is less intense.
Talk to your doctor first if you’re taking medications for your scalp psoriasis, as some may make you more prone to sunburn.
What causes scalp psoriasis?
Scalp and other forms of psoriasis occur when the immune system doesn’t work properly. Skin cells grow too quickly, growing within days rather than weeks. The body can’t shed these skin cells quickly enough to match the new growth. They pile up on the skin’s surface, causing psoriasis.
People with family members who have scalp psoriasis are more likely to have the condition themselves. Those with HIV, stress, obesity, and those who smoke are also more likely than others to have this condition.
Common triggers that set off or worsen flare-ups of scalp psoriasis include:
- infections, including strep throat or skin infections
- skin injuries, such as cuts, scrapes, insect bites, or severe sunburn
- alcohol use
- vitamin D deficiency
- some medications, such as lithium, high blood pressure drugs, antimalarials, and iodides
Scalp psoriasis vs. dermatitis
Scalp psoriasis and dermatitis are both common skin conditions affecting the scalp. These conditions share some of the same treatments and symptoms, including redness and flaky skin. However, these conditions have different causes and your doctor will be able to tell them apart.
Signs of scalp psoriasis include silver-red scales on the skin that often extend beyond the hairline, with itching and sometimes pain. With dermatitis, you may notice reddish skin covered by white or yellow scales, along with dandruff and itching. Treatment for psoriasis is often more aggressive than that for dermatitis.
When to see a doctor
If you suspect you have scalp psoriasis, you should schedule an appointment with a doctor. They may examine your scalp to rule out other conditions before sending you to a dermatologist for further evaluation and treatment.
Scalp psoriasis is a chronic skin condition caused by issues with the immune system. While it’s important to seek medical treatment for this condition to prevent complications, you can add home remedies to your treatment plan to reduce symptoms and better manage your scalp psoriasis.