Many women straighten their hair, or choose to use a weave, wig, or extensions to switch up their hairstyle. While this can be exciting, it’s important to remember that Afro-ethnic hair is different from Caucasian and Asian hair and has unique features. The hair shaft is structurally different in shape, tends to be more fragile, and is also susceptible to various skin conditions, including an itchy scalp. (1)
Why is my scalp itchy?
Regular wig wearers often experience an itchy scalp. This can be caused by the wig itself, skin reactions to the glue or tape used to keep the wig in place, and bacterial and fungal build-up from sweating under the wig.
Seborrheic dermatitis: A common cause of scalp itch
Seborrheic (seb-o-REE-ik) dermatitis is a common skin condition that affects your scalp. Symptoms may include (2):
- Skin flakes (including dandruff)
- Patches of greasy skin
It may be caused by (3):
- An overgrowth of yeast that naturally occurs on everyone’s skin called Malassezia
- Higher levels of androgens (a type of hormone)
- Increased sebum (an oily substance that lubricates the skin)
How to tame the itch
Because fungi thrive in moist, closed spaces with limited free flow of air, a wig potentially provides the perfect breeding ground for them. Although women with weaves and wigs often pat their hair to ease the irritation, it is best to tackle the root cause of the itch.
- Hair washing – it is a common practice amongst African women, to wash their hair less frequently because washing too frequently can lead to loss of essential oils needed by the hair to keep it healthy and shiny. (4)
However, infrequent hair washing may lead to product build-up on the scalp which may worsen seborrheic dermatitis. (5) You will need to wash your hair more often, and consider using an anti-fungal shampoo containing ketoconazole that will ease the itch. (6) This is especially important if your natural hair is being covered by a wig.
- Avoid hair oils – another common practice is applying pomades and oils to the scalp. Whilst this may be good practice for natural hair to mask dry flakes, these products often worsen scalp irritation. Instead, dermatologists advise the use of hair emollients (conditioners) on the hair shaft as opposed to the scalp itself. In other words, apply conditioner to the ends of your hair and avoid the root area. (7)
- Take proper care of your wig – wash your wig every week. (8)
If you have any concerns, speak to a trichologist (hair and scalp specialist) or dermatologist (skin doctor).