Sore Scalp, Hair Loss: What Gives?

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For many women, a sore scalp and hair loss go hand in hand. As if the hairloss wasn’t enough, a sore, sometimes burning, irritated scalp enters the picture. Or, the hair loss comes after experiencing a sore scalp for awhile.

One of my readers asked about scalp soreness and hair loss earlier this month, and I promised her I’d do some digging. I know plenty of fabulous women in the hair loss community so I asked them for their take on it. Many of the women have experienced a sore, painful scalp during their hairloss journeys. I asked them what causes it (to the best of their knowledge) and what their experiences were like with it. Because I have not experienced this myself, I’ve asked their permission to copy and paste their responses so that you can read feedback “direct” from them. I’ve corrected some instances of grammar or spelling errors, but all of these experiences are as true-to-form as possible in hopes that this will help some of you!

I was excited to see that Nizoral shampoo and Benadryl have really helped some!

“It could be LPP or subcutaneous lupus. I had a red, bumpy, HOT scalp the first 9 months of hair loss. That’s the reason I did 3 biopsies. It gets hotter as the day goes on. With a negative result from biopsies it is then considered in your head and they want to put you on Elavil. They do believe it is psychological (derms) even though we damn well know it’s not. Or is it? I’m just so glad it gone. I wanted to die it was so awful.”

“It could also be something as simple as Seborrheic Dermatitis which is totally treatable, or an allergic reaction to something that she needs to remove from her house or diet… has she seen a derm?”

“I was also tested for scarring alopecia which can cause scalp redness and burning.”

“Sometimes if the hair loss is rapid or in times of heavy shedding, there can be scalp pain like tingling or burning. I had that – it was like I could feel every follicle! I never found anything that helped, it just went away when the shedding slowed down.”

“My scalp hurts all the time. I can hardly brush my hair. Although its like a soreness. Feels like bruising. It gets better when I take anti-inflammatories but [the relief] never lasts. I was given a steroid to put on it but never really used it because it was messy. I don’t know what’s wrong with me except that I was told I have fibromyalgia. I’m also being tested for some other stuff because my joints are all inflamed.”

“I suffered with burning scalp, as well as pain and soreness. This was in the beginning of my hair loss or when I first began to notice it. I came here for help. A friend told me to buy Nizoral shampoo (hard to find, try Amazon) and wash whenever I felt it, and also take 1-2 Benadryl. It really helped me. There were times the shampoo was enough. I was so thankful to her for this, I’m happy to share and hope it helps her.”

“I have Lichen Planopilaris, which is an autoimmune disorder. If someone has redness and an itchy scalp with hair loss, those are the symptoms. Treatment is low dose antibiotic (similar to what is used to treat acne) and topical steroids. I think the earlier you catch it the better. If someone is having these symptoms, they should get a scalp biopsy and try to see a derm who is a hair loss specialist.”

“Felt like sunburn and poison ivy on my head at the same time. No diagnosis, but after an ER visit docs recommended that I try Benadryl when the flare-ups happened. I did and it helped.”

“Lauren, I just read all the comments and there are now two of us where benadryl helped. I was shedding 300-500 hairs a day (150-200 in my bed when I would wake up and then non-stop watershed during the day. Once the shed slowed (3 + months) I didn’t have so many of these unbearable attacks. I also tried tea tree oil on my scalp at night. Benadryl seemed to help the most.”

“For me it was hormones….going on birth control and synthroid leveled my hormones and stopped the scalp pain!”

Potential Remedies for a Sore Scalp with Hair Loss in Women

It seems many women have had success with Benadryl (I can see how that might help with an itchy scalp, or an inflamed one) as well as with Nizoral shampoo. The Nizoral is actually an anti-dandruff shampoo and can help with the same symptoms the Benadryl does: itchy scalp and inflamation.

From what I understand, these symptoms can be devastating…for less than $20 for these two products, I would definitely try them out.

What have your experiences been with scalp pain? Do you tend to have an itchy scalp with your hair loss, or is it more of a burning, bruised or sore sensation?

29 thoughts on “Sore Scalp, Hair Loss: What Gives?”

  1. Devastating is how I would describe it! Constant throbbing pain, on top of the fact that I am going bald! I’m going to try Nizoral and PRAY that I be able to adjust my mindset to work with what I have.

  2. I have been experiencing progressive hair loss for 3 years. It is devestating. I used to have gorgeous thick hair. My scalp always feels painful and appears red. I have tried spiro, prp, steroid injections, full bloodwork panels, a scalp biopsy diagnosis was androgenic alopecia along with telegen effluvium. The hairloss comes and goes- it will stop shedding and start to regrow only to fall out again. I am devestated and don’t know what else to do. I can’t conceal it anymore

  3. I had a car accident several years and suffered really bad whiplash and neck pain. I was sent to a neurologist because my scalp hurt as well. He said it was nerve damage and the nerve ends were nearer the surface. Since then I’ve had a sore tender pink scalp and some hair loss. It’s very worrying because doctors don’t know how to treat it. I find it too much of a coincidence that this happened after the whiplash accident.

  4. I have been losing my hair for about a year and a half. I do have a red scalp that can be painful at times, especially when I get these red painful bumps. I also have these headaches on the top of my head. Something else that I’m wondering about, I get this phantom “odor” in my nose after the painful bumps and when I notice the most hair falling out. I’m not sure how to describe it, it’s not overly offensive, but it’s not something that I would purposely smell if given the choice. Maybe a strong perfume that smells okay to start, but then you start to not like it the more that you smell it. Anyone else? It’s freaking me out.

  5. So glad I found you!
    I had surgery 5 months ago, and I’ve been loosing my hair since by thr handful. I’ve tried cortisone shots in my scalp and it helps for a while with the “on fire” scalp, but I don’t want to go back for treatment every week, since it’s not really helping with the hair loss.
    I have shoulder length hair and usually pull it back, but it hurts so much to move my hair that I’m considering cutting it short. Has anyone found that shorter hair helps? My logic is that if it’s shorter then there should be less pull on the hair. Hope someone was brave enough to cut their hair, and is willing to share.

  6. I’m so glad I found this blog! Thank you. I’m 37, and a female dealing with the same unpleasant issues. My biggest fear is that 1 or both of my two daughters will have to deal with this as well. I have tried almost everything. I’ve been researching DHT blockers. Apparently it’s what people with genetic hairless need to take. We’ll see if it helps. I appreciate all of the tips. This has been the most useful information I have found yet….and I have searched high and low. :'(
    Thanks again!

  7. Thank you Lauren & all others who commented with such helpful information. I’m going to try everything suggested here, for sure, as I’m desperate. I’ve had 2 biopsies of my scalp that came back negative and the diagnosis was early female alopecia. No other female in my family has this problem. My scalp is pink/red and burns constantly. It is becoming increasingly difficult to style my hair so that it covers the balding, which is mainly in front, on the top of my head. I stopped coloring my hair a couple of years ago, hoping that was the cause of my problem, but still no change, the balding & burning are continuing to worsen. As a woman, “going bald” for no known reason can be devastating. If any of the suggestions I’ve read about here make a difference in my situation, I’ll be sure to post again to let you all know.

    • I totally get it my heads on fire and I’ve been losing hair for over a year. I can’t take it anymore it’s so disgusting comma I’m a hairdresser and I still can’t figure out all my doctors say it’s nothing or I have some type of a alopecia but it’s very disturbing and very suicidal all I do is sit on the couch and I don’t even move out of the house because I don’t want people to see me. I’ve always been very sexy and a hot blonde and now it looks like a piece of shit with horible thinning hair, I need help.
      Hopefully someone has an answer

      • I’m so sorry you are feeling this way, Janis, hang in there. If you ever decided to wear helper hair, being a hairdresser you’ll be able to make it look 100% natural, easily.

        • I am a hairdresser also going through the same problem androgenetic alopecia. Experiencing itchy burning scalp and face with eyebrow loss also. I am on spiro for the past 2 months. I have had the hair loss for 1 year. Its horrible. Denise

      • I’m sorry, I’m having the same problem, I’ve lost half of my hair, mostly crown, bald area on the very top, very thin. I have red areas that are painful, burn, itch, white hot feeling. I’ve had 2 biopsys, different prescriptions, steroids, it’s only gotten worse. – I don’t like getting out either. I don’t go anywhere without a hat. It affects everything. It’s devastating. Your not alone though. I feel alone; but, we aren’t. It’s not only the hair loss, it’s the pain, and no one being able to get a handle on it, get it better.
        I’m trying castor oil and rogaine. I’m hoping the rogaine doesn’t do more damage, I’m really nervous about it. I loose hundreds and hundreds of hairs a day. I think the rogaine is making the shedding worse. I’ll keep this site posted if I find anything that helps or a diagnosis. I’ve only been doing rogaine and castor oil not quite 2 weeks. My redness and irritation has been there over a year, and has gotten larger in size along with the hair loss area.

  8. Do you think something in the environment can cause hair loss and burning scalp. Mine started after I moved into a new house .I am the only one in the house experiencing this.we had the house checked for mold there was no mold.I had allergy testing but had no reaction.Just wondering if this is a possibility?

    • I personally don’t think so but I’m curious what others think. Stress can obviously cause it, but I think it’s largely driven by anything that affects our hormone levels…so certain medications and the food we eat.

      • Is it best to get off the pill a sim experiencing this I’ve tried 3 different pills over the last year and the burning gets worse .. but I’m scared of the Dred shed

      • That’s interesting I have experienced a burning scalp and hair thinning I had breast cancer in 2014 and I am now taking anastozole to control estrogen but I have had an hysterectomy last December so is my body producing enough estrogen to warrant taking the anastozole

    • I have Had a similar thing. I have never had hair loss before, but I moved into a new house, and the house is near aN industrial estate, I had baking smells, plus diesel fumes, lots of tragic. These smells effected me, I couldn’t breath properly, and constant throat irritation, even had the flu the first year.
      I realise it’s the environment and the house, I am preparing the house for sale, as I’m worried about my hair loss and wrinkles on my face….all in 2years. I have never been ill before that.
      Hope it helps

  9. Hi Lauren!
    I just want to say how helpful your site has been to me. I’ve been going through hair loss for the past few months. I was put on spironolactone about a week ago and have just started noticing a burning/itching sensation on my scalp. I’m not sure if this is the dreaded ‘shed phase’ starting, but I’m pretty scared! I will start using the recommended products above to see if they help.
    And again, thank you for all your posts and insight. It’s great to know I’m not alone.


  10. Hi Lauren,

    I stumbled on your blog research, thanks to a google search for hair loss. Anyway, I wanted to say that I really appreciate you sharing your journey. It has been encouraging to read your story and see how you have been coping by actively finding ways to manage it.

    I have a couple questions for you – I have been reading castor oil is great for hair thinning/hair growth. If you google castor oil for hair growth, you’ll come across many sites raving about this oil. I was wondering if you have ever tried it? If so, did it help?

    Also, can you provide an update on how your Paleo diet is going? Have you found that it has helped with hair loss/hair growth?

    Thanks so much!

    • I haven’t done much research into castor oil – if you try it, let me know! As for Paleo, I wasn’t officially on it long enough to notice a difference when it comes to hair (and all bets were off when I got pregnant!). Since the hair cycle is soooo long, you have to really commit to something for at least six months to see results, unfortunately.

  11. Hi Lauren. Thanks so much for writing about burning scalp/tenderness. I actually came across your website while I was deep in a burning/hair loss phase. I started to experience burning on my scalp about 3 months after an unexpected injury that resulted in surgery. All in all, the burning and hair loss for about 3 months which resulted in a 25-30% loss in hair. I should also mention my burning was not limited to my scalp – my cheeks, ears, eyelids, and forehead used to burn so badly. Also, the hair that didn’t fall out became very dry and discoloured. I went to my GP, orthopedic surgeon and even a neurologist and no one could offer a guess as to what was happening – other than STRESS. Of course I was stressed – my head was on fire and hair was falling out! I don’t have an explanation but I firmly believe it was related to the surgery – perhaps the anesthesia. My hair has been growing back for the last 3 months and I am sooooooooo grateful. Never again will I ever complain about having a bad hair day!

    I admire your bravery Lauren!



    • I’m going through something very similar now. Though it might not be the same I’m so relieved to hear that your problem got better and have gained some hope for myself as well. Thank you for sharing your story!

  12. Hi Lauren,

    I want to thank you and all of your guests who chimed in on hair loss and sore scalp.
    To answer and respond to some of the input, I will share. I did have a biopsy. The reason I wanted one was because I thought I might have Lichen Planopilaris, because I had been diagnosed with lichen planus in the past. The dermatologist asked them to look for it. The biopsy came back only with, consistent with androgenetic alopecia. I have also been diagnosed with Seborrheic dermatitis off and on through the years and now know that this is a life long condition. I have dealt with terrible itching at times and have been using Nizoral three times a week for about six months, this has helped the itching. I also use a natural shampoo occasionally. Recently, I read that scalp massage may help the soreness. Not just running your fingers around your scalp, but placing them firmly on the scalp and moving the skin/scalp. This helps get blood flowing. If you look up scalp massage on line I am sure you can find techniques. I have been trying this and I feel this has helped me alleviate some of the soreness/sensitivity. I have not tried benadryl and I appreciate the recommendation.

    I am able to find Nizoral at my local Target, along with the other dandruff shampoos.

    I greatly appreciate the feedback and also that I am on the right track with what others are doing to help their scalp sensitivity. I too have read that it could be psychological, but I do not believe it. This started for me at the same time my hair loss/thinning started. I believe there is a correlation.

    Thank you again for all you do to help others.



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