Here’s what causes postpartum itchy scalp, plus 17 remedies to help heal and soothe even the most stubborn cases.
However, most new moms don’t expect to endure postpartum itchy scalp!
If you’re one of the “lucky moms” to have this unfortunate symptom, we’re here to help!
Below we explain what causes postpartum itchy scalp, plus 17 remedies to get it under control!
What causes postpartum itchy scalp?
There are several causes for postpartum itchy scalp, including dehydration, physical stress, and emotional stress.
But the biggest factor is usually hormonal fluctuations.
These hormonal changes may create unpleasant skin conditions such as sebum buildup (oily scalp); or dry and flaky scalp; and hair shedding.
Each of these conditions may cause intense itchiness and sensitive skin.
New mothers experience intense hormonal changes as the body transitions from pregnancy to postpartum. (Progesterone and estrogen levels start to decrease, for example).
Because of that, itchy skin is a common postpartum symptom throughout the entire body.
However, itchy skin may be more intense and concentrated on the scalp.
The skin on the head has more blood vessels, hair follicles, and sebaceous glands (responsible for oil production) than the rest of the body.
And this makes it more vulnerable to bothersome skin conditions and sensitivity.
As hormone levels rise, they can also cause the scalp to become engorged with liquids, and this may lead to a tingling, painful sensation in the nerve as well as severe itchiness.
Postpartum hair loss can also contribute to itchy skin. And it affects up to 50% of women.
During pregnancy, hormones prevent most of a woman’s hair from falling out.
After pregnancy, as those hormones dissipate, hair growth and shedding return to their normal cycle.
The extra hair accumulating during pregnancy begins to die and release from the scalp, causing itchiness.
Thankfully, this is usually temporary. Postpartum hair loss lasts up to a year but usually peaks around 4 months.
Due to postpartum hormone changes, sebum production may increase and cause buildup on the scalp.
This buildup may appear as a white or yellowish oily substance and may lead to flaking, or dandruff, which can cause even more itching.
Alternatively, for some women, changing hormones may cause dry scalp which can also lead to dandruff and itchy skin.
How to Treat Postpartum Itchy Scalp
Below are some helpful hair treatments and practices to manage postpartum itchy scalp.
Keep in mind that every woman is different, so it may take a few tries to find the right remedy for you.
1. Wash Your Hair and Scalp Regularly
As a new mom, you may find it hard to carve out time for a shower.
But, it’s important to wash your hair regularly to avoid an itchy scalp.
However, you shouldn’t wash your hair too frequently, either.
Aim for 2-3 scalp treatments and shampoos a week to keep your hair and scalp healthy.
If you wash your hair daily, you may strip your hair of its natural oils which help maintain a proper balance.
2. Try a Scalp Scrub
A gentle scalp scrub is a great way to cleanse and soothe postpartum itchy scalp.
These products remove excess oils, product buildup, and flaky skin so newer, healthier skin can emerge and breathe.
3. Switch to a More Gentle Shampoo
For many women, switching from their go-to shampoo and conditioner to a more gentle option is all it takes.
And you may already have the perfect mild shampoo on hand!
A good quality baby shampoo is gentle enough for babies but still provides the necessary cleansing power to soothe and refresh the scalp.
But keep in mind it may take a little trial and error to find the best shampoo for your needs.
4. Use an OTC Dandruff Shampoo
If regular or baby shampoo doesn’t cut it, you may need to switch to a dandruff shampoo.
Dandruff shampoos are specifically formulated to treat dry, flaky, and scaly scalps.
Look for shampoos that include the active ingredients, salicylic acid, selenium sulfide, and/or zinc pyrithione.
Here are some good options to try:
- Free and Clear Shampoo for Sensitive Skin
- Dove Dermacare Scalp Dryness & Itch Relief Shampoo
- Head & Shoulders Dry Scalp Care Almond Oil Anti-Dandruff Shampoo
NOTE: Before trying a dandruff shampoo, it’s best to speak with a dermatologist or hairdresser so they can look at your scalp and determine if you truly have dandruff. If you don’t and start using a dandruff shampoo, you may make your scalp worse!
5. Try Anti-Itch Moisturizers
You can also try anti-itch moisturizers specifically formulated for the scalp. These can help calm the itch and fortify the skin’s natural barrier, which is responsible for locking in moisture and keeping out irritants.
Try products like:
- Scalpicin Maximum Strength Hydrocortisone 1% Anti-Itch Liquid
- CeraVe Itch Relief Moisturizing Cream
- The Ordinary Scalp Serum
6. Avoid Tight Hairstyles
Tight hairstyles can exacerbate an already sensitive scalp.
Avoid hairstyles that tug at the scalp.
And prevent extra breakage and shedding by using scrunchies, scarves, or barrettes instead of elastics.
If you have long hair, try a loose, low bun to avoid tension on the scalp when you sleep.
7. Use a Volumizing Shampoo
Thin and shedding hair may need some extra help from a volumizing shampoo.
These products fortify fine hair which may prevent or minimize breakage.
And they can also help you feel better about your appearance.
8. Avoid Conditioning the Scalp
Sebum overproduction (too much oil) is common after delivery and may cause greasy hair, thinning hair, and eventual hair loss.
And on the other hand, sebum underproduction (not enough oil) can lead to dry, brittle hair, and eventual hair loss.
So it’s important to have a healthy balance of natural oils.
If you notice your scalp is super oily, only apply conditioner to the ends of your hair.
Conditioner will make your scalp even oilier which can make dandruff and hair loss worse.
Let the body’s natural oils do their job as much as possible.
9. Use a Scalp Massager
A good scalp massager can help remove old skin cells and product build-up, similar to scalp scrubs.
They also stimulate blood flow which can help promote hair growth.
10. Eat Foods that Promote Hair and Scalp Health
Focus on eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.
These contain antioxidants and flavonoids which may protect hair follicles and promote new growth.
11. Drink Plenty of Water
You should also drink plenty of water.
Dehydration is one of the causes of postpartum itchy scalp. And it’s also important to drink plenty of water if you’re breastfeeding.
Aim for 6-8 glasses per day.
12. Take B Vitamins
New moms may lack B vitamins after birth which can lead to oily, greasy hair and itchy sensitive skin.
Breastfeeding and stress can deplete vitamin levels even more.
Continue taking your prenatal vitamins and consult with your health care provider about adding additional B vitamins to your supplement regimen.
13. Try a Tea Tree Oil Scalp Treatment
Tea tree oil has cooling soothing effects on the skin. And it’s also antimicrobial and antifungal.
It’s a great remedy for postpartum itchy scalp and easy to use.
Squeeze a few drops throughout the scalp, and massage it into the skin with your fingers or a scalp massager.
Then, cover your head with a shower cap and let the oil sit on your hair for at least 5 minutes before rinsing it out.
NOTE: If you have colored-treated hair you should avoid tea tree oil because it will strip your color.
14. Try Coconut Oil Treatments
Some people are sensitive to tea tree oil.
If you aren’t able to use tea tree, an equally good choice is coconut oil.
Coconut oil can be applied directly to the scalp to help eliminate and prevent dandruff. The hydrating properties of coconut oil can help reduce itchiness and dryness and may eliminate flaky, dry skin.
Start with 1-2 tablespoons, and gently rub it in. Cover your head with a shower cap, and let the oil sit for 20 minutes to an hour.
Then, thoroughly shampoo and rise.
RELATED: Can I Give My Baby Coconut?
15. Try Apple Cider Vinegar Treatments
You can also use apple cider vinegar.
This may seem like an odd choice, but it’s an effective natural cleanser that removes impurities without stripping hair of its natural oils.
It can also help control scalp dryness and irritation and restore the scalp’s pH balance.
You can find hair products with apple cider vinegar in the ingredients like:
Or, you can apply ACV directly to the scalp and hair. If you choose this option, make sure you dilute it to avoid irritation.
Add 2-3 tablespoons to 16 ounces of water.
16. Use Dry Shampoo
For busy days, you can use a good quality dry shampoo to soak up extra oil from the scalp.
Just be sure to use a lightweight product that doesn’t cause buildup.
17. Hold Off on Salon Appointments
If you’re used to having color-treated hair or getting hair treatments like relaxers or perms, you may want to hold off until your hormones regulate and hair shedding stops.
Chemical treatments can further damage fragile hair and make scalp conditions even worse.
When To Seek Professional Help
Hair changes and skin changes are no fun.
But, sometimes they may indicate a more serious issue.
If these remedies don’t provide relief, or you experience excessive hair loss, it may be time to seek help from a board-certified dermatologist.
They are well-versed in skin and hair health and can make sure you get the products, treatments, and care you need.
It’s common to experience an itchy scalp along with postpartum hair loss.
The same hormones responsible for postpartum shedding may also cause itchy skin, oily skin, dry skin, and dandruff.
To ease your symptoms, wash your hair regularly, avoid tight hairstyles, try switching to a milder shampoo, use a dandruff shampoo, or hair treatments with tea tree oil, coconut oil, and apple cider vinegar.
Postpartum itchy scalp usually subsides within 6-12 months.
If you’re unable to get your itchy scalp under control with at-home remedies like scalp scrubs, dandruff shampoos, moisturizers, and hair treatments, you may need to seek help from a dermatologist.
It’s quite common to experience itchy skin during the postpartum period, especially on the scalp.
This itchiness may be due to stress, dehydration, and hormonal changes which may cause hair shedding and dandruff.
The Bottom Line
Here’s the bottom line on postpartum itchy scalp:
- There are several reasons new moms may experience postpartum itchy scalp, and they often have a cumulative effect.
- Dehydration, lack of B Vitamins, emotional stress, physical stress, and changes in pregnancy hormones may all cause an itchy scalp. But hormone changes are often the driving factor.
- There are also several ways to treat postpartum itchy scalp including:
- Switching to a milder shampoo or dandruff shampoo
- Using a moisturizer for the scalp
- Scalp massages and scalp scrubs
- Hair treatments using tea tree oil, coconut oil, or apple cider vinegar
- Avoiding tight hairstyles and elastics
- Avoiding salon treatments like hair dyes and relaxers
- Regularly washing the scalp and hair
- Eating a healthy balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, plenty of water, and B Vitamins
- If these at-home remedies don’t work, it’s important to seek help from a dermatologist.
If this post was helpful, be sure to check out:
- 3 First time mom books worth a read
- 15+ Newborn baby hacks
- The ultimate list of mom hacks
- 20 Things to know about breastfeeding
- 40 Breastfeeding tips for new moms
- 115 First birthday party ideas and themes
Did we answer all your questions about how to treat postpartum itchy scalp? Let us know if we missed anything in the comments!