Shampoos and scalp treatments

Patients suffering with scalp eczema (also known as seborrhoeic dermatitis) may need to use specialist treatments such as medicated shampoos and scalp applications/ointments to keep their condition under control.

Medicated shampoos

For mild cases of scalp eczema, medicated shampoos are the most effective providing they are used on a continual basis. Alternating the use of a dandruff shampoo can also be considered if the scaling is mild. Medicated shampoos should be applied at least twice a week, otherwise the condition may return. Your GP can provide you with further guidance if necessary.

Medicated shampoos for scalp eczema may contain some of the following ingredients:

  • selenium sulphide
  • coal tar
  • ketoconazole
  • salicyclic acid
  • zinc pyrithione

When you shampoo your hair, it is important that you massage with the pads of your fingers rather than scratch the scalp. Leaving the shampoo for 5 minutes before rinsing can also be beneficial. Make sure all the shampoo has been rinsed out thoroughly otherwise residues of shampoo can inflame an already sensitive scalp.

Scalp applications

Severe itching can be treated with specialist scalp applications and should be applied daily for a few days every so often. They usually come in a thick, heavy cream and some contain steroids. Scalp applications should, for best results, be left on for a few hours then shampooed out. Your doctor will be able to provide you with more information about this form of treatment and your suitability for it.

Scalp ointment

Severe scaling can be treated with ointments called pomades: they moisten the scalp and loosen large flakes or scales. Scalp ointments contain natural oils such as coconut oil and salicylic acid. These ointments need to be left in overnight and washed off the following morning with a medicated shampoo.

Reducing stress and living a healthier lifestyle can also assist in the prevention and maintenance of scalp eczema.

Protect your scalp from the sun and avoid using hair products such as gel and hairspray as these can aggravate the condition.

Some medicated shampoos and scalp applications/ointments can be bought over the counter or online. Your pharmacist will be able to advise you based on your specific needs.

Sources used in writing this article are available on request

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. Our evidence based articles are accredited by the PIF TICK, the only UK quality mark for trustworthy health information. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.

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Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 30 April 2018
Next review: 30 April 2021