Psoriasis of the scalp - signs and symptoms

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition which affects the skin and causes the formation of red, flaky, crusty areas covered with silvery scales. Inflammation and redness around these affected areas is fairly common and in some cases the skin may even crack. The condition can affect skin on any part of the body, but is commonly found in areas such as the elbows, knees, scalp and lower back. The term scalp psoriasis is used specifically to refer to the condition when it appears across the scalp, or parts of it.

Psoriasis is caused by a speeding-up of your body’s natural skin-production process. Usually, the life cycle of your skin cells is around one month, as they slowly rise up after being produced in the deepest layer of skin before eventually reaching the surface and falling off as dead skin. In people with psoriasis, this whole process can take as little as 3 to 7 days. The visible symptoms of psoriasis are the result of skin cells that are not able to fall off after rising to the surface of the skin.

The condition can affect people of any age, but is most likely to develop in adults under 35 years old. Overall, around 2% of people in the UK are affected by psoriasis.

Scalp psoriasis symptoms

The exact symptoms of psoriasis depend on its type and vary from person to person, but some of the general complaints people experience include the following.

  • Patches of skin that are inflamed, red or raised

  • Scales or plaques on these red patches which are whitish in colour

  • Dry skin that may crack or bleed

  • Sensitivity and soreness in areas around the red patches

  • Burning and itching feelings around the red patches

The degree to which itchiness affects people can vary; some people find scalp psoriasis extremely itchy and uncomfortable, while others do not suffer from this symptom.

In very severe cases scalp psoriasis may lead to temporary hair loss. It isn’t the condition itself that causes the hair to fall out, but people who are suffering from an itchy scalp may find that they are scratching their head a lot, picking at dry skin or using overly harsh treatments. Worrying about the condition may also cause some hair to fall out. Fortunately, unlike with some other hair loss conditions, it is not permanent and hair does tend to grow back.

For most people, the symptoms of scalp psoriasis will come and go in cycles, with the most severe and uncomfortable symptoms persisting for a few days or weeks before clearing up and becoming much less noticeable. Scalp psoriasis symptoms will usually return at a later time, often as the result of a trigger, although sometimes the symptoms do disappear completely. People who find that their scalp psoriasis clears up completely are said to be in remission from it, although that does not mean the condition will not go on to return in the future.


There are a number of treatment options available for scalp psoriasis. A specific treatment plan may be recommended to you by a healthcare professional based on the severity of your symptoms, how effective previous treatment has been, how much hair you have and whether you have psoriasis elsewhere on your body. Treatment options can range from over-the-counter lotions, creams and shampoos to systemic prescription treatments and UV light therapy.

If you have scalp psoriasis, a therapeutic shampoo such as Polytar Scalp Shampoo with 4% Coal Tar, may help to ease your symptoms of itching and flaking. Coal tar is a keratolytic agent, which works to break down keratin in the skin, reducing the thickening and scaling associated with psoriasis. As psoriasis is a medical condition, speaking to a healthcare professional is also important, as they will be able to provide advice on the best treatment approach for you.