Definition - what is a rash?

Rash is a collective term for changes in the skin that are itchy, burning, or painful. This can affect any skin area and can therefore also be found on the scalp. There are many different causes of skin rashes, including viruses, bacteria, allergies and many more.

Because of the thicker hair, the scalp has some special features that can cause rashes. The therapy is a little more difficult than on other parts of the body, as creaming is often not possible.

Causes of a scalp rash

There are innumerable causes of skin rashes because the skin is exposed to the environment.
One possibility are allergic reactions to care products, for example.
Furthermore, head rashes are also possible in the context of neurodermatitis.
Various viral diseases, bacterial inflammations, and fungal infections also trigger skin rashes.
The causes can be located directly on the scalp or elsewhere in the body and only accidentally lead to rashes in the head area.

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Read more about the Causes of a rash.

Rash from shampoo

There is a huge selection of different shampoos in the supermarket. Each has a slightly different composition and different additives.
Some people have very sensitive skin and are allergic to most shampoos and develop rashes. An allergy-friendly shampoo should be used for this.
Other sufferers only react to very specific additives and can try to get rid of the rash by changing the shampoo normally.
Frequent use of shampoo can also lead to rashes, as the natural protective barrier of the skin is destroyed and the scalp dries out.


The diagnosis of a scalp rash is twofold.
The rash itself is determined by a visual diagnosis and the person affected can describe whether there is itching or burning and whether any special events took place before the onset.
The second part of the diagnosis is isolating the cause. Allergy tests and detailed questioning of the person affected are possible in order to filter out shampoo changes, frequent washing or other symptoms. In most cases of infectious diseases, there are other symptoms, such as a sore throat or fever. A possible vacation trip to tropical countries should also be inquired about.

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Symptoms of a scalp rash

The main symptom of a scalp rash is itching and sometimes a burning sensation. Vacancies are also possible, which then lead to pain. Most of the dry spots with reddish discoloration and pustules are visible. Some of these spots may be visible at the hairline.
Infections also lead to other symptoms, such as fever, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat and malaise. Furthermore, the skin flakes more and these flakes are also visible on the pillow. Depending on the type of rash, there is also increased hair loss.

The symptoms can vary in severity and do not always have to occur all.

Itching from a scalp rash

Itching is the main symptom of skin rashes and is also found on scalp rashes. In most cases, the skin is dry and flaky, which leads to increased itching. The allergic reaction as such is also associated with itching.
In children, frequent scratching is an indication of itchy skin rashes, but head lice must also be considered for differential diagnosis.
The itching does not have to be constant and can also be increased at certain times. Scratching often exacerbates the itching.

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Pimply rash

Depending on the cause of the rash, the rash may be accompanied by purulent pimples.
Pimples are rarely encountered in allergic reactions.
In some sufferers, the scratched pustules can become inflamed with purulent inflammation and are therefore very similar to pimples.
A so-called superinfection of rashes with bacterial pathogens can also lead to pustules and pimples.
If you sweat heavily, pimples can also appear on the scalp, which also occur more frequently as rashes.

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Learn what to do about scalp pimples.

Swollen lymph nodes

In most cases, swollen lymph nodes are a sign of an immune response in the body. Lymph nodes are found in many places in the body and are also present on the back of the head and behind the ears. They are part of the body's healthy defense system and cannot be felt without swelling.
If you get a rash from an infection, the lymph nodes swell. The lymph nodes remain movable and can be painful. Most of the time, the lymph nodes are enlarged on both sides.
With some systemic infections, the lymph nodes in the neck area can also swell. These infections include both bacterial diseases and viral diseases such as mumps or measles. With these diseases, the rash can also spread to the head.

Hair loss

The skin is built up in several layers. In the so-called dermis, the hair is anchored with its roots. This is also where the follicles are located, from which hair can grow again if they fall out or tear out.
When the skin is irritated and dry, the skin can no longer hold the hair in place. Longer hair, in particular, which is heavier and also under greater strain when combing, then falls out.
In the case of rashes, the skin is severely attacked and is additionally stressed by scratching. Those affected often report increased hair loss. This is particularly evident on the pillow and in the brush. In severe rashes, reaching in with your hands is enough to pull out large amounts of hair. The hair grows back as soon as the irritation subsides.
With chronic rashes, such as atopic dermatitis on the head, the hair can appear thin and not grow back completely.
The ointments, which are supposed to soothe the rash, can initially increase the hair loss before the rash subsides. These drugs also include cortisone.
The hair does not usually fall out completely, it is just thinned out.

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Rash on the face and forehead

Rashes do not stick to the hairline but also spread to other parts of the body.
In rashes caused by systemic allergies and neurodermatitis, the eyelids are often also affected.
Intolerance to shampoos and other care products also often affect the forehead, as shampoo gets there when washing.
In infectious diseases, the rash often begins on the face and only later spreads to the whole body and scalp. On the face, too, the rash often shows itself as dry skin, redness and pustules, which itch heavily. The rash is often accompanied by increased acne in teenagers. Some pustules can also lose wound fluid and become crusty.

The rash is easier to treat on the face and forehead than on the scalp.
Nourishing creams without perfume can soothe dry skin.
Cortisone ointments can also help reduce the rash and relax the skin.
In the case of infectious diseases, the rashes heal by themselves, while chronic rashes require longer-term treatment.

Find out about the Rash on the face and its causes.

Rash on the neck

As with the forehead, the scalp rash can reach the nape of the neck. Rashes that can be found all over the body can also occur in the neck area. Increased sweating can also cause rashes and itching in the neck.

The skin can be cared for here with moisturizing ointments without perfume. In the case of more severe rashes, cortisone can also be used here to soothe the skin.

Get more information about the Rash on the neck.

Treatment of a rash on the scalp

Therapy changes depending on the cause of the rash.
In the case of intolerance and allergies, it is often enough to leave out irritating substances. Shampoo should be replaced by well-tolerated, fragrance-free shampoos and other products such as hairsprays should be avoided for the time being.

Treating scalp rashes is a little more difficult than treating other areas of the body.
Usually, rashes are treated with moisturizers first, but this doesn't work well because of the hair.
Ointments containing cortisone, which locally weaken the immune system and thus curb allergic reactions, are less suitable for use there.
Alternatively, systemic drugs can be given. These include first of all antiallergic drugs, which can reduce the reaction and the rash. In extreme cases, cortisone can also be given systemically. However, this comes with many side effects.

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In atopic dermatitis patients, regular light therapy can also lead to an improvement in the symptoms.

In the case of infectious diseases, the rashes heal themselves and the itching can be soothed locally with ointments.

Learn more about

  • Treatment of skin rashes with ointments and creams.
  • Light therapy for psoriasis

Rash on the scalp in the baby

In addition to the causes that occur in adults, there are a few other possible causes of scalp rashes in babies.

A rash is the cradle cap. Maternal hormones cause the skin's sebum glands to be overly active and the baby to have dense flakes on the scalp. The dandruff will come off after a few days with a little baby hair. Cradle cap does not itch and heals on its own. As a support, the parents can wash the baby's hair regularly with baby shampoo.

A newborn rash can also cause scalp rashes in babies. This shows up as small yellow pustules all over the body and usually occurs a few days after giving birth. The rash heals after two weeks at the latest.

A fungal infection can lead to ringworm on the scalp. This is a very itchy change in the skin, which can be purulent or crusty. The rash can be treated with antifungal ointments.

With all itchy rashes, gloves can be put on the baby at night so that the baby cannot scratch.

If the rash on the baby's scalp is unclear, a pediatrician should always be consulted and possible treatment clarified.

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