Sensitive, sore scalpView all articles

Sensitive & Sore Scalp - What Causes Scalp Pain and How to Treat It

Have you ever pulled your hair out of a tight ponytail to relieve the tension, only to realize that the tension in your hair is still there? Or have you noticed more dandruff than usual? Is your scalp tender to the touch? These issues are all different indications of a sore scalp.

There are many factors that contribute to a sensitive scalp; some may be more serious than others. But let’s face it, the main thing we want to do is make the pain stop. Luckily, there are various sore scalp treatments you can do to relieve your scalp sensitivity or pain.


What Is a Sore Scalp?

A sore scalp is typically characterized by dandruff flakes, itchiness, irritation, redness, pain to the touch, and sometimes an infection or a medical condition.

Scalp sensitivities may come and go, but because hair is so unique and haircare is so personal, it’s important to know your personal reasons for experiencing scalp soreness. Read on to find out what may be causing your scalp pain and sore scalp treatments you can incorporate into your hair care routine to alleviate your pain.

Possible Causes of Scalp Pain

Scalp Pains

Scalp pain is usually a result of a skin condition or a sensitivity to a hair routine. Let’s dive into some of the most common causes of scalp pain and what their symptoms are.

Scalp Pains

Allergic Reaction to Ingredients

Ingredients in products you use may be the ultimate culprits to your skin sensitivities without you knowing it. You could be using products that have general irritants or specific ingredients that do not mesh well with you or the pH of your scalp, leading to scalp tenderness and pain.


After being out in the sun for an excess amount of time, you may realize that you have an unfortunate sunburn. While most of us remember to apply our SPF to our bodies, we may forget that the skin under our hair is exposed to the sun too. Have you ever gotten a sunburn where your hair part is? I have, and it’s not cute or fun. Your skin will likely be sensitive for a couple of days until the burn fades or the top layer of skin peels (also not fun).

Hair Extensions

If you have hair extensions, they may be causing your scalp sensitivity. Extensions weigh down your hair, and the added weight may lead to scalp pain. Irritation and itching of the scalp may occur, and that’s when you know the pain in your scalp is caused by your hair extensions.


Dandruff is a very common condition that is characterized by the scalp flaking. Luckily, it’s not contagious, it’s just unfortunately embarrassing. The scalp flakes may be irritating, leading to excess itching, which could result in a tender scalp.

Tension Headache or Tight Hairdos

Chic, slicked back hairdos are very trendy right now. Unfortunately, the tension that the hair experiences from this look may cause scalp tenderness. If you wear your hair up in a tight bun or ponytail often, it could be to blame for your tension headache.

Hair Washing Routine

How often you wash your hair can play a role in having a tender scalp. Scalp sensitivity can be caused by washing your hair too often, especially if you are using sulfate shampoos. You might accidentally be stripping your scalp of its natural oils. Pain in the scalp can also be happening because you are not washing your hair often enough and there is excess oil buildup at your roots.

Irritation From Bleach or Other Chemical Treatments

A sensitive scalp can be due to constantly dyeing your hair or using harsh bleach products. Hair dyes and bleaches are very drying and often damaging to the hair, and as a result, your scalp may be sensitive, red, or irritated.

Causes That May Require Medical Attention

Some causes of scalp soreness may need to be treated by a medical professional. These conditions include, but are not limited to:

  • Psoriasis - This is a skin disease that causes itchy, scaly patches. The patches may be mildly uncomfortable or painfully sensitive. There are treatments for scalp psoriasis, but no known cure.
  • Folliculitis - The inflammation of hair follicles, ultimately causing sensitivity of the scalp in that area, is known as folliculitis. While most mild cases go away on their own, more severe cases require antibiotics.
  • Eczema - Also known as dermatitis, eczema is characterized by dry, itchy skin, and rashes. It is related to skin inflammation, and this may cause a particularly tender scalp.
  • Alopecia areata - This condition has symptoms of patchy hair loss or balding. Though the hair loss from alopecia areata is usually not permanent, the condition itself doesn’t have a cure. If you think you may have this condition, you can read more about alopecia here.

How Can You Treat a Sore Scalp?

I know you want to relieve your tender scalp pain. So, how can you make your sore scalp symptoms go away? Sore scalp treatments vary from person to person. Figuring out exactly what’s causing you pain is the first step. Then, you can more easily address your tender scalp issues.

Exfoliate Gently

If product build up or flakes are your biggest scalp sensitivity problem, the best thing you can do is stimulate your hair follicles by using a good scalp exfoliant. Many people understand the importance of exfoliating their skin to avoid dead skin cell build up. The concept of a scalp scrub is kind of the same. Work the scalp scrub into your hair with your fingers, or better yet, use a scalp brush to exfoliate that build up away. This sore scalp treatment is the ultimate self-care. Plus, stimulating your hair follicles is great for hair growth!

Avoid Harsh Hair Treatments

Take a break from chemical treatments, extensions, and harsh ingredients that can irritate a tender scalp further. Avoid bleaching and toning your hair, as well as wearing extensions that feel heavy on the scalp. Embrace your natural hair for a bit to give your scalp time to recover and alleviate some of the tenderness.

Choose Natural Hair Care

The ingredients in your hair dye may be at the root (no pun intended) of your sensitive scalp issues. Opting for natural hair care products may be the best route to take when looking for something gentle for your hair. Check the ingredient labels of your shampoos and conditioners to see if they are certified organic or formulated without any allergy-causing perfumes and sulfates, silicones, or drying alcohols. The simpler the ingredients, the better for the scalp.

Accessorize Smartly

If hair elastics and super tight ponytails are the reason behind your scalp pain, make the switch to a product that holds your hair more gently. I love these hair rings because they don’t damage my hair, but still keep my hairdos in place. And the best part? No pain in my scalp!

Another thing that is easy to oversee is how clean your hair styling tools and brushes are. These can harbor bacteria, fungi and other irritants that cause scalp problems. Learn more about how to wash your hair brushes here.

Use Hydrating Products

Find products that are specifically formulated for sensitive hair and scalp – these tend to be very hydrating. Products that soothe and moisturize your hair will get rid of pain in the scalp associated with redness, irritation, or dryness. A hydrating shampoo is a great sore scalp treatment and can also re-balance the pH levels of your scalp.

Find the Right Hair Washing Routine

If your scalp is dry and itchy, it may be irritated from overwashing or there may be too much product built up at the roots. Whether you have determined you are washing your hair too often or not nearly enough, learn how to choose the best shampoo for your dry scalp. This simple switch in your hair care routine may be the change that your scalp needs to feel relief instantly.

Try our hair test

Products tailored for your hair

Take test

Best Products for a Sensitive Scalp

There are hair products specifically made for treating scalp sensitivities. While there may be some trial and error in finding the ones that treat your scalp correctly, keep in mind there is a whole hair care category dedicated to scalp care. Scalp treatment products are tested and proven to alleviate various scalp sensitivities.

Here are some of my absolute must-haves for the ultimate sore scalp treatment:

Scalp Exfoliation Products

Scalp Delight™ Detox Scrub is my personal favorite scalp scrub because it’s gentle, but effective, leaving your scalp clean, but not stripped of natural oils. Oh, and it’s certified organic, too. For best results, pair it with Scalp Delight™ Detox Conditioner suitable for dry, itchy and sensitive scalps thanks to it's lightweight, purifying and soothing formula.

As mentioned before, using a scalp scrub in conjunction with a scalp massage brush is the ultimate way to say goodbye to flakes and build up on your scalp.

Natural Shampoo

I try to stay away from shampoos with harmful ingredients like parabens, sulfates, or silicones. I have my hair washing routine down to a couple times a week because that’s what I found works best to keep my hair pH healthy and balanced. Split Fix™ Shampoo is perfect because it fits my criteria. Plus, it comes in various formulas (like for thinning hair, blondes, and curls) to fit a variety of hair types.

Dandruff Shampoo

If your scalp is not only sensitive but you're suffering from itchy dandruff too, then you will need a special shampoo targeted towards treating dandruff. Instant Relief™ Dandruff Shampoo is a sulfate-free, antimicrobial anti-dandruff shampoo that instantly soothes a sore scalp, clears away flakes, and balances healthy moisture levels. It is formulated with antimicrobial dermosoft® decalact MB and organic tea tree oil, as well as plenty of soothing ingredients such as organic aloe vera and glycerin. To find out more, read this article about anti-dandruff shampoos.

Scalp Soothing Treatment

For days when my scalp is particularly dry and itchy, I use a Instant Relief™ Scalp Spray to provide my tender scalp with instant soothing hydration. This natural treatment effectively clears away flakes, soothes scalp irritation, and restores the optimal moisture and acidity balance of your scalp.

Hydrating Spray

With the summer quickly approaching, I like to protect my hair a little extra when I go outside to avoid scalp sunburn or sensitivities. The Sun Defense Hair Mist is a favorite of mine because of its natural UV filter that protects hair from the sun. It’s also formulated with Phytessence™ French Oak. Thanks to its powerful antioxidant capacity, this ingredient reduces the harmful effects of oxidative stress involved in skin and scalp aging, making this product a perfect scalp treatment.

Gentle hair accessories

I like using products that are gentle on my hair, not only when my scalp is sore, but all the time. Hair rings are the perfect way to make sure my hair stays in place and isn’t irritating my scalp by being too tight on my hair.

When To See a Doctor

If you try to switch things up in your hair routine and your scalp pain is persistent, or you are experiencing hair loss, scaling, or burning, it may be time to see a doctor or dermatologist. While a lot of sources of scalp pain may be easily treatable, it’s best to get an expert opinion to ensure that you are doing what works best for your hair and scalp health.

Scalp care is a journey, so don’t forget to be patient with yourself, your skin, and your hair.

Sensitive & Sore Scalp - FAQs

  • 1. What are the main causes of scalp sensitivity?

    Causes can range from allergic reactions to hair products, sunburn, hair extensions, improper hair washing routines, and irritation from chemical treatments like dyeing or bleaching

  • 2. When should I seek medical attention for scalp sensitivity?

    Persistent scalp pain, hair loss, scaling, or burning sensations may indicate underlying medical conditions like psoriasis, folliculitis, eczema, or alopecia areata, warranting consultation with a doctor or dermatologist.

  • 3. How can I treat a sore scalp at home?

    Home remedies include gentle scalp exfoliation, avoiding harsh hair treatments, opting for natural hair care products, using gentle hair accessories, hydrating the scalp, and adjusting hair washing routines.

Trusted by you


4 out of 59,400+ reviews

Related articles

View all articles
  • Fedtet hovedbund

    Struggling with oily hair and scalp? How to get rid of greasy hair for good!

  • Tør hovedbund? 10 tips til at slippe af med en tør og kløende hovedbund

    Dry Itchy Scalp? 9 Healthy Scalp Habits You Should Practice

  • kløende skæl

    Dandruff: What Your Dry, Flaky Scalp Is Trying to Tell You

  • The Ultimate Guide to Scalp Psoriasis: From Symptoms to Natural Remedies

    The Ultimate Guide to Scalp Psoriasis: From Symptoms to Natural Remedies

  • Natural Dry Shampoo

    Natural Powder Dry Shampoo: What Are the Benefits?

View all articles