Signs You Have Clogged Hair Follicles & How To Save Your Scalp

Maintaining a clean scalp might seem easy if you're simply showering, shampooing, and brushing your hair. However, the trick to a healthy scalp goes far beyond the basics. The truth is that hair follicles can get clogged rather easily due to trapped sweat, bacteria, or even a natural overproduction of a protein called keratin, per Healthline. Even if you think you have a proper hygiene routine, clogged hair follicles can creep up due to a variety of reasons, ranging from medications and diet to hair products or even something as simple as touching your hair too much.


The good news is that clogged hair follicles can be unclogged. You simply have to take the right steps to identify if your hair follicles are in distress. Then, after you identify the triggers, you can work to eliminate them. Here are some signs that your hair follicles might need some extra care and what you can do to have a healthy scalp.

Your scalp feels itchy and dry

An itchy scalp is never fun and can be a pain to deal with. If you find yourself constantly scratching your head, then look to see if you have red or inflamed bumps on your scalp. Small clusters of itchy red bumps and pimples are generally a sign of folliculitis, which is essentially clogged or inflamed hair follicles (per Mayo Clinic).


Typically, an itchy scalp is often accompanied by dryness or even flaking. However, this is not to be confused with dandruff, which has more to do with shedding skin cells too fast rather than your scalp not holding enough moisture (via Greatist). A good way to differentiate between the two is to check how big your scalp flakes are and how dry your scalp feels. If the flakes are smaller and your scalp feels naturally dry rather than oily, then chances are that you have irritated hair follicles. This is important to check for because having clogged hair follicles over time can affect scalp health and lead to further irritation, hair damage, and hair loss.

There is a build-up of products left in your hair

Product build-up is inevitable when we use a lot of hair products or even wait too long to wash our hair. Yet, this build-up is often a tell-tale sign that you may have clogged hair follicles. Usually, product build-up doesn't happen overnight nor does it have to happen with every hair product that you use. Instead, it is more likely to happen over time after using thick hair gels, creams, oils, and anything heavy that might contain non-water-soluble silicones, and hence have a hard time coming off in the shower, according to Function of Beauty.


Continuing to use these heavy products for long periods of time can interfere with the natural oils in your scalp. The effects of this can resemble your hair getting greasy shortly after washing, an itchy or flaky scalp, dull and brittle hair, and in severe cases, even hair loss. This is why it's crucial to check both the heaviness of your hair products (be especially wary of thick hair waxes) and to avoid toxic ingredients like sulfates or formaldehyde that are known to be harmful to your hair.

You experience pain in your scalp region

You know that feeling of relief after you take out a tight ponytail or bun that was causing shooting pain in your scalp? Well, imagine that pain never really goes away. If you find your scalp pain lingering and just feeling uncomfortable when moving your hair around, then chances are something deeper is going on with your scalp. "Scalp conditions can be caused by a number of internal and external factors, so it's difficult to classify them," says Dr. Kari Williams, licensed cosmetologist and board-certified trichologist, in an interview with American Salon. However, a few different reasons include constantly wearing tight hairstyles, stress, dandruff, and you guessed it, inflamed and clogged hair follicles.


If your scalp pain is indeed from your hair follicles, an antibacterial cleanser or, in some cases, even antibiotics can be necessary to unclog them. This, in turn, should minimize your scalp pain. However, if left untreated, scalp pain can continue to worsen and even affect hair growth. This is why it's necessary to consult your doctor if you are experiencing continuous scalp pain.

You have excessive hair shedding

If you notice more hair shedding than usual, your hair follicles could be to blame. This can look like clumps of hair falling out when you brush it or even your locks no longer growing at the rate that they usually do. It is only natural for the pores in our scalp to get clogged with products, sweat, and oils. Yet, if we allow this to linger, then the quality of your hair can be compromised. The dirt lingering on our scalp can cause follicles to stop growing. This can result in both hair thinning and overall hair loss.


Just like healthy skin, a healthy scalp also needs to detox in order to get rid of dead skin cells. This can be done by exfoliating your scalp with a scalp scrub or even an exfoliating shampoo. It is also crucial to brush out tangles in your hair as soon as possible and to use hair growth oils like castor or rosemary oil that are known to help with hair shedding.

You need to change up your hair washing routine

How often do you really need to wash your hair? Both over- and under-washing your hair affect your scalp. While experts agree that there is no exact number of times per week that you should be washing your hair, it is important to be mindful of how often you do. "It depends on your hair texture, your natural-oil production, etc. But paying attention to the little signs your hair is giving you can help you come up with the best washing schedule," says celebrity hairstylist Tonya Le to Insider.


If your hair is really frizzy or seems dried out, then you are probably washing your hair too often and stripping your scalp of its natural oils, causing a flaky and irritated scalp. On the other hand, if you have days of dry shampoo built up in your hair to the point where it is causing flaking, then you should probably rinse out your hair. 

You should also consider the type of shampoo that you're using. It's probably best to avoid shampoos that have high amounts of silicone in them as this can really promote product build-up and quickly dry out your scalp (per Today). Instead, try to opt for shampoos and conditioners that cater to sensitive scalps and contain products like coconut and tea tree oil or aloe vera extract that will nourish your scalp and promote hair growth.


You use too much heat on your hair

Most of us are never happy or satisfied with the way our hair looks. This results in us reaching for styling tools like blow dryers, hair straighteners, and curling irons to achieve that voluminous blowout. Unfortunately, the shiny beautiful hair that we are after gets only more tampered with when we add heat. Heat can cause damage to both your hair and scalp, causing dry and damaged hair. In fact, it's common for heat styling products like blow dryers to cause bubble hair. This is when the high heat from the blow dryer used on wet hair causes your scalp to dry out all while trapping moisture in your strands that boil the water molecules in your hair, causing fragile hair that can easily break (per Head & Shoulders).


In order to avoid fried hair and a dried-out scalp, it's best to minimize your use of hot hair tools. When you do style your hair, make sure to always apply a heat protectant. It's important to also spray heat protectant near your scalp if you plan on using heat near the top of your head. Generally, it is also recommended to use the heat styling tool at lower temperatures below 300 degrees. If you find that your hair and scalp are already suffering from heat damage, then it is best to stop styling your hair until you can restore it back to good condition.

It might be your medications

Medications are the one thing on this list that we can't always control. Nonetheless, it's important to find out if your medication is prone to cause hair loss or affect your scalp in any way. Of course, this also depends on what kind of medication you are taking and how you respond to it. While this can vary from person to person, certain medications like blood thinners, antidepressants, beta blockers, and blood pressure medications can promote increased hair shedding which results in hair thinning or hair loss. Since these medications are typically used to treat conditions like thyroid, blood pressure, autoimmune diseases, and cancer, it is best to talk to your doctor to come up with a plan to tackle hair loss. Apart from this, any form of hormonal birth control is also known to be linked to hair loss due to the hormone progestin, per Medical News Today.


Being aware of your medication's potential effects on your hair and scalp is the first step to prevention. The good news is that once you've gotten your health under control, medication-induced hair loss can be reverted by adjusting your medications with your doctor's help. However, taking supplements for hair growth and extra care of your scalp can also go a long way to help reduce the amount of hair that you lose during this time.

Your diet could be the culprit

If a healthy head of hair is what you desire, then the food on your plate should be very important to you. This is because proper nutrition is crucial for a healthy scalp and hair growth. This means reaching for foods that are high in Vitamin C, D, and E, as well as zinc that can help keep your hair healthy. You can even find a great source of healthy fats and nutrients that help your hair in fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and eggs.


"The hair is the very last system in your body to receive nutrients (as it is one of the least essential), so if your body is not receiving adequate nutrients, your hair will likely be affected," says trichologist Stephanie Sey to Daily Mail. This is why staying away from artificial sweeteners and greasy and fried food is important, as the excess sugar or salt in these foods can hamper the protein and natural oils in your hair. This can cause your hair to lack luster and appear dry and brittle. Excess soda and coffee can also stunt hair growth and therefore, should be consumed in moderation. Essentially, the foods that you choose to consume on a day-to-day basis can largely impact the condition of your scalp and hair.


You're shaving your head the wrong way

If you're someone who prefers a buzz cut, then take note of the way you shave your hair in order to not irritate your hair follicles. It's no surprise that a rough shave can give rise to red itchy bumps and ingrown hair, and shaving your head is no different. These angry bumps can give rise to clogged hair follicles that are not only annoying to deal with but also ruin the look of your buzz cut all while causing damage to your scalp.


The truth about a shaved head is that it can be hard to take care of. Plus, your scalp still requires just as much, if not more, care with a shaved head. To ensure that you shave your head properly and avoid clogged hair follicles, you can start by using a gentle exfoliator to prepare your head for the shave. If your hair is too long to swiftly take out with a razor, then be sure to also trim it first. Then you can apply shaving cream and then use a sharp blade to carefully shave your hair. Just be sure to go against the grain of your hair and use a clean blade. Follow up with moisturizer right after your shave in order to take proper care of your scalp.

You might have to stay away from hair dye

Changing your hair color can be fun. Yet, it's crucial to check the ingredients in your hair dye before applying it to your scalp. Often, hair dyes contain an ingredient called paraphenylenediamine, which can irritate your hair follicles and cause itchy red bumps (per Skintherapy Skincare & Acne Clinic). This is why natural hair dyes that contain henna can be a better alternative if you wish to have a better alternative to color your hair.


Hair dye is typically composed of chemicals, which means that there is a whole host of ingredients that can trigger an allergic reaction or cause irritations and rashes. Further, if you bleach your hair, then you are typically making it more susceptible to irritation. Bleach typically works by breaking down and weakening the bonds in your hair. This makes it easier for wind, dirt, and other external factors to easily penetrate the hair and clog your hair follicles. For this reason, it might be best to stay away from hair dye altogether. 

You're constantly touching your hair

It can be hard to keep track of how much we touch our hair. Oftentimes, we put our hand to our head in order to rest it. Running your fingers through your hair can also be a coping mechanism when you're feeling fidgety or nervous. However, this unintentional behavior when done too much could harm your scalp and even cause your hair to be greasy. "The oils and dirt that collect on your fingers and palms of your hand will deposit into wherever you're touching your hair, and usually that's along the front hairline around your face," says Trey Gillen, hairstylist and artistic director for Sachajuan, to Well+Good. This can lead to clogged pores that often present themselves as a greasy or oily scalp.


When it's not our hands that are constantly touching our hair, it can also be the hair accessories that we love. We're talking about your favorite headband, baseball cap, or even hair clips that, if worn continuously and not cleaned thoroughly, can cause irritation to your scalp. Generally, it's best to be aware of what we are putting on our heads in order to maintain a healthy scalp.

You're not exfoliating your scalp

If you are not exfoliating your scalp at least once a week, then you're doing it wrong. Our scalps house our beloved head of hair that can easily get clogged with dirt, dead skin cells, oils, and products. This is why, just like our skin, our scalps need exfoliation. "Scalp exfoliation helps to create a healthy environment for the hair to grow by cleaning out anything that might be clogging or blocking the follicles," explains Gretchen Friese, trichologist for BosleyMD, to Real Simple.


There are two ways to exfoliate your scalp: physically and chemically. In order to physically exfoliate your scalp, you can seek the help of scrubs like a charcoal or refreshing sea salt scrub and also tools like a scalp brush or massager to really work the exfoliator in there. On the other hand, chemical exfoliants can come in the form of peels and masks that contain active ingredients that clean your scalp without all the extra work. However, this can also be a little trickier to use as it's crucial to follow the peel's directions very carefully in order to avoid a chemical burn.

Taking time to exfoliate your scalp at least once a week can really stimulate hair growth and give you overall smoother and silkier hair. Just be sure to be gentle when massaging your hair and, of course, avoid scrubbing near any open sores or wounds on your scalp.


Remedies for your clogged hair follicles

Having clogged hair follicles on your scalp can be painful and embarrassing to deal with. Yet, it's crucial to attempt to clear breakouts on your scalp for the sake of your hair. For this reason, attempt to avoid picking at red and angry bumps on your scalp. Instead, you can start addressing the problem internally and then work your way externally. This means you can try to cut down on your greasy food intake and ensure that you are drinking plenty of water daily.


Once you've analyzed your inward habits, you can look toward the products you use on your scalp every day. Until you have identified what exactly is causing irritation to your scalp, try to keep the number of products that you use on your hair to a minimum. It may also help to start using a clarifying shampoo that is designed to break down product build-up and excess residue on your scalp. Shampoos with apple cider vinegar or tea tree oil can help do the trick to clear your scalp. In addition, try to eliminate scalding hot showers that could cause further damage, and opt for lukewarm water to rinse your hair. A warm washcloth applied to your head can help ease the pain that arises from clogged hair follicles.


When to visit a dermatologist

If the extra TLC isn't helping to slowly reduce the angry bumps and irritation on your scalp, then a visit to the dermatologist is likely warranted. They can help you to identify how bad the clogged hair follicles on your scalp are and then take the necessary course of action, whether that is simply prescribing antibiotics and products to help with the pain and irritation or, in severe cases, surgery if you have an open abscess or bumps that need to be drained (per WebMD).


As a general rule of thumb, if your scalp is causing you pain for more than two weeks, then it's probably best to visit the doctor in order to find out what could be causing it. Of course, it's equally as crucial to take precautions and maintain a healthy scalp at home. This includes indulging in healthy habits like changing your pillowcases often, being mindful of the hair products that you use, and taking overall good care of your scalp.