Signs You Have A Sensitive Scalp & How To Find Relief

Does your scalp ache while brushing or tugging your hair? Is it borderline painful to scrub your hair in the shower? Unfortunately, these are telltale signs of an oversensitive scalp. Hypersensitivity occurs when your scalp feels tender to touch, seemingly out of nowhere. There are many reasons for a tender scalp, most of which are rarely serious, yet you should not ignore symptoms if they continue to cause irritation or grow worse over time.


Some individuals report sharp pain, while others only experience mild discomfort. It is also possible to feel sensitivity only in certain areas as opposed to your entire scalp. In serious cases, scalp sensitivity can also be a secondary symptom to hair loss which leaves the skin vulnerable to the elements. So, how do you know if you're really dealing with a sensitive scalp, or something else?  Let's deep-dive into the major symptoms of sensitivity, what causes them, and what treatment options are available.

The main signs of a sensitive scalp

The signs of a sensitive scalp vary slightly depending on what's causing your sensitivity, but the main red flags include a burning or stinging sensation. You may also experience pain, itching, and dryness.


The top cause is contact dermatitis, or inflammation of the skin, which occurs due to an allergic reaction to certain haircare products, water quality, and even air quality (via Healthline). In many cases, dermatitis manifests as an itchy rash accompanied by blisters, crusty patches, or flaky skin. Applying oil to the scalp in excess or for long periods of time can also lead to sensitivity by trapping dirt and bacteria, according to a 2012 study published in the International Journal of Trichology. If this is the case, you may experience general irritation and tenderness in the area.  

A tender scalp may also appear as a symptom of an underlying medical condition. For instance, autoimmune disorders such as scalp psoriasis result in dryness and irritation, per Cleveland Clinic. Atoptic dermatitis or eczema can also lead to scalp sensitivity, which may reveal itself through inflammation and itchiness. 


Aside from skin conditions and infections, a sensitive scalp sometimes occurs due to tension. Accompanying symptoms of this kind of scalp sensitivity include headaches or migraines.

Treatment and remedies

For those who partake in frequent hair oiling, stop applying oil for several weeks to a month and make note of any changes to your scalp. If your sensitivity decreases, try to avoid oiling regularly and use a detox or clarifying shampoo to completely break down the excess oil whenever you choose to oil your scalp. If oiling is not your issue, then swap out haircare products one at a time to see if your symptoms improve. In many cases, a specific ingredient causes scalp rashes and irritation due to dermatitis. Similar to hair growth oils, products with heavy oils such as curl creams, mousses, and masks should be cycled out to determine if your scalp reacts to certain products.


When symptoms persist or worsen, it is time to visit your general practitioner. A health professional will examine your scalp to check for infections or lice infestations, which can also cause sensitivity. Biopsies and blood tests are sometimes used to pinpoint the exact cause of the issue. They may prescribe a medicated shampoo or ointment to calm symptoms, or an oral medication to treat infection.