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The scalp is one of the few areas of the body that we don't usually think about, unless there's a problem. Weather, environmental factors, medications and chemical soaps can damage and destroy the sensitive skin of the scalp.

DRY, ITCHY SCALP
Dry, itchy, tight-feeling scalps are most often seen during hot, summer months. Chlorine buildup, hot heads and sunburn can all wreak havoc on normally happy scalps. Dry scalps have symptoms such as:

Itchiness
Flaking
Scaling
Uncomfortable tingling

Dry scalps can be treated with condioning shampoos and treatments and are usually self-limiting. Itching can be relieved with the use of topical or oral antihistamines.


DERMATITIS AND PSORIASIS
Dermatitis and psoriasis can appear in many places, including the scalp. Most often caused by topical medications, chemicals, metals in jewelry, allergic reactions, stress and changes in the environment, they can be difficult to treat. Common signs and symptoms include:

Flaking, white scales over reddish patches
Itching
Clusters of sores
Lesions that itch or ooze
Pain or discomfort
Cracks and fissures on the scalp
Bright red, weeping areas

During flare-ups, it's important to minimize your risk factors. This means setting aside chemical based soaps and shampoos, perfumes, cleaners and anything else that may have caused the irritation. Hair should be cleansed with normal shampoo or prepared formulas. During shampooing, use fingernails to loosen scales on scalp. Shampoo and rub scalp for at least five minutes each day. Itching and pain can be eased with the use of OTC cortisone creams, lotions containing menthol or camphor, and topical antihistamines. Exposure to sunlight is sometimes also helpful.

DANDRUFF
Dandruff is nothing more than bits of dead skin that peel away from the scalp. It can progress to more serious conditions, such as eczema. Symptoms of dandruff include:

Dry, flaking scalp
White flakes on shoulders
Itchy scalp

Experts recommend shampooing with a dandruff shampoo once every three days, and using your regular shampoo at least one per day.

RINGWORM
Ringworm of the scalp is a fungal infection common in school-age children, though it can affect anyone. Symptoms of ringworm are:

Patchy hair loss
Scaling on the scalp
Itchy scalp

Ringworm is best treated with a prescription from your family doctor. Most cases of ringworm are treated internally and clear up within several weeks to one month.

DRY SCALP
An irritated scalp can be caused by hair styling products, excessive exposure to heat or cold and other elements of the environment. Dry scalp makes itself known through:

Itchy, flaking skin
Red, irritated patches
Tightness

Dry scalp will usually cure itself with time. You can speed treatment by using a gentle shampoo daily, cutting back on chemical hair care products and usage of blow dryers and protecting your scalp from harsh weather conditions like sun, wind, rain and cold.

ECZEMA
Eczema affects skin on the scalp and body. Often, it occurs for no apparent reason, though it can be triggered by food allergies, wool clothing, lotions and ointments, soaps and detergents, and plant matter. Symptoms of eczema are:

Severe itching
Small blisters with itching
Thickening or scaling from chronic inflammation

Eczema is not always curable. Sometimes, treating the problem will allow for long symptom free periods. Ointments and creams containing coal tar are especially helpful for serious cases of eczema. Antihistamines can aid in decreasing itching and cortisone or coal tar shampoos can relieve minor irritation.

LICE
Lice are often spread in young children through direct contact. An itchy scalp, small, grainy nits stuck to the shaft of hair follicles and gray or yellow white specs in hair can all indicate a lice infestation. Lice, clothing and furniture should be treated with specially formulated shampoo and cleansers.

PREVENTING SCALP TROUBLE
Protect yourself from the sun during summer months by wearing a hat or using hair products that contain sunscreen.

TIGHT, close fitting hats can prevent the scalp from being able to breathe. Try loose-fitting caps made from breathable material. Also, avoid hats made from mesh-like material, which allow the sun's harmful rays to penetrate through small openings.

MASSAGING or kneading the scalp while shampooing will help to improve circulation, and keep scalp pores clear.

SCALP masks are beneficial for those with long term scalp conditions.

AVOID irritation to the scalp from saltwater and chlorine by immediately rinsing hair when finished swimming. The longer chlorine and salt are in contact with your scalp, the more drying out your scalp does. Follow hair rinses with conditioner. If this doesn't work, try wearing a bathing or swimming cap in the water.

USE hairdryers and other hot styling aids less often and you're less likely to suffer from dry, irritated scalp conditions.