Living with Scalp Eczema

Updated: Jun 10

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I think I was about 16 when I first realized I had a skin problem. My younger sister walked into my room one day while I was getting dressed and asked me shocked "what's that on your back?" I was surprised and confused by her tone and the look on her face and simply asked; "what?" I then proceeded to the mirror to take a look at my back (no I never look at my back in the mirror) and to my horror, there were these huge dark blotches on my back. Panic then set in because I wasn't itchy or feeling anything unusual and I started wondering how long my back had been like that. After a while I just ignored the blotches because they weren't really doing anything, they were just there.

I eventually saw a doctor (GP) and long story short; I was showed some pictures of people who had similar marks on their bodies and diagnosed with Pityriasis Rosea. After a while, nothing changed so my mom took me to a dermatologist (this was about 10 years after my sister pointed out the blotches and my initial diagnosis by the GP) who after an external examination diagnosed me with Pityriasis Versicolor. I went on treatment but still nothing, in fact, it got worse...

So now I was seeing a dermatologist who gave me pills and creams and voila; the blotches on my back were no more. Then one day I felt a strange bump on my head which I then showed to the dermatologist upon my next visit and it went downhill from there. This was when the nightmare started!

So I went on treatment now right; which was for Pityriasis Versicolor and it consisted of shampoos and creams (I hated them). I was using Selenium Sulphide shampoo which is what doctors prescribe for treating Pityriasis (I even Googled this). Basically, I was told that my body was producing too much yeast (called Malassezia; which is naturally found in the skin) and the shampoo would let’s say ...kill it. Problem is, the treatment started making me itch but I assumed this was a side effect. I then made the biggest mistake of not following instructions and instead of using the Selenium Sulphide shampoo like I was told to, I started using it daily hoping it would work faster. Well, guess what? All I did was aggravate my scalp further.

It got so itchy and I kept scratching and it started oozing but I continued washing it. I then went back to the doctor to ask her what the hell was going on only to be told that I was overdosing on the treatment; she had told me to shampoo once a week and I was stupidly shampooing EVERY DAY to stop the itch but that's what was worsening the itch. My scalp had become severely inflamed because of my over-shampooing, so she bandaged my head with what they call a "wet wrap" which was a combination of some creams and treatment to alleviate the inflammation. For the first time in weeks, I felt some relief. I kept the wet wrap on for a week and it got so much better. Let me tell you I followed instructions to a T after that.

There was a point during all of this when my hair started thinning out and looking patchy which I came to discover was a side-effect of the Selenium Sulphide shampoo. I just decided to shave it all off without any hesitation. It turned out that that was the best thing I could have done for myself because it allowed my scalp to actually breathe and it accelerated the healing. My scalp became less scabby and better looking because the treatments were no longer being absorbed by the hair; they were going directly onto my scalp.

I was also prescribed with some pills to control my condition and after some time I was taking so many different pills I even bought myself one of those pillboxes with the days of the week; just to keep track. They helped me a heck of a lot though because they allowed me to go back to my normal itch-free life. A few months went by then my dermatologist decided to do a test because the treatment should have done its job by then. A piece of my scalp was cut off and sent to the lab for testing. I was then diagnosed with scalp eczema.

I have never in my life experienced an itch like that. I think I would rather be in pain; I was itchy 24/7 especially when it was hot and it was summertime. I couldn't sleep in my own room for a while because it was just too warm in there so I resorted to sleeping in the main lounge (this lasted until a break-in, but that's a story for another day). This lasted for a few weeks I think until my body went back to normal. I remember waking up some morning with pieces of dead skin next to me which had fallen off my head from the friction between my head and my pillow. This was a pretty much daily occurrence and even I found it disgusted. Basically any time I touched my head; pieces of dead skin would flake off. It was an extremely embarrassing time because I felt like I was being judged because my head was dirty all the time and the skin flakes were visible.  Apparently this was all part of the healing process. I was so angry with myself for all that stupid washing I was doing that lead to all this.

My scalp eczema had a huge impact on my social life. I became a person who was always either angry or irritable and I HATED my body. I even called my dad one day, crying because I was so emotionally drained I just wanted it all to stop. I did not understand why my body was doing all of this. He suggested I exercise and make sure I eat right but the exercising part was impossible. I tried but at the slightest sign of sweat, I'd start itching uncontrollably again. I couldn’t go out because my head would randomly start oozing and itching and this sticky liquid would start running down my face from my scalp. From oozing it was just flakes, flakes and more flakes. I'm talking about flakes of dead skin that fell off at the slightest touch. Yeah, for me it was as disgusting as it sounds.

It got to a point where I just accepted that this was my life now. I simply stopped caring; I didn't see the point in trying to look good if I was going to be walking around with flakes of dead skin on my shoulders anyway. I started washing my hair every day and I tried a variety of shampoos. One that worked for me was a moisturizing tea tree shampoo (Google gave me this idea), tea tree is a natural anti-inflammatory used to fight skin infections (I Googled this) so it worked wonders for me. I also made sure to keep my scalp moisturized using hair foods made from natural ingredients like coconut oil and tea tree and sure enough, my scalp started to feel normal again.

Flash forward to today, my life is good. I can exercise and do all the things I love and I feel great. It's like none of this ever happened. I follow a healthy diet, drink lots of water and exercise. I'm not taking any pills but I am still using the LPC shampoo 3 times a week that was prescribed by my dermatologist to keep my condition under control. As for the itching; it has completely subsided.

Please note that I am in no way blaming the dermatologist for anything I went through as it was explained to me that this wall all part of the process. Sometimes things get worse before they get better. My skin is now in the best condition it has ever been and I am eternally grateful for that. 

So what are the symptoms?

Symptoms include a red and scaly scalp, flaking of the scalp (lots of dandruff), intense itching, or a burning sensation in the scalp and/or oozing lesions.

Here are tips I can give you from personal experience:

  • Keep your scalp clean by washing it, minimum once per week, and be gentle when washing, do not scratch or scrub vigorously. Let the flakes come off by themselves. 

  • Moisturize your scalp using hair food, do not let it get too dry - I recommend using Gela Hair Food which you can get form Clicks & I hear Rosemary hair food works just as well (the more natural the better) Dryness leads to itching which leads to scratching which eventually leads to oozing

  • Follow a healthy diet & drink plenty of water

  • Exercise regularly as sweat helps your body flush out toxins

  • Keep stress to a minimum - when I was stressed it took even longer for me to feel better. I know it's hard not to stress when your body is doing funny things but trust me it helps 

  • Let the affected area breathe, covering your head will only make it worse because eczema does not like heat

  • Follow the directions your doctor gives you properly, don't skimp - the medication does work if you give it time

  • Keep a positive attitude - I saw personally that a positive mindset makes a huge difference. I started to feel better when I changed my attitude towards what I was going through, it will pass!

  • Resist the urge to scratch the itch, it can get intensely itchy but scratching will lead to broken skin and bleeding. I wore elastic bands around my wrist and whenever I felt the need to scratch my head, I fiddled with the elastic bands instead

Remove visible flakes gently with a comb (I would recommend a wide-toothed comb); make sure not to scratch the scalp while doing so.

There was a time when I had resorted to just keeping my head shaven or my hair really short because it was just easier to manage the flakes and I thought that having braids was out of the question. Thanks to YouTube, I have discovered just how to keep my scalp clean and fresh even with braids. I just gotta make sure to wash em.

Scalp eczema is indeed a pain in the but, however, it is treatable. As far as I know, there is no cure for eczema; you just have to learn to live with it. I now have the situation under control. I'm not taking any medication; just washing my hair at least once a week and keeping my scalp clean and moisturized. 

Should I skimp on the moisturization part; I'll go back to combing chunks of dead skin off my head and believe me it's nasty! I've been using Dermatol for the past few months to keep my scalp moisturized; it feels great on the scalp and contains menthol which has a rather soothing effect. I just love it!

For a long time, I didn't grow my hair because it was more convenient to keep it short and for the first in years I got braids put in and I managed to keep them clean and fresh looking, scalp eczema and all, for a month. I just washed them (I watched YOUTUBE videos for tips and tricks), I learned how to wash my braids at home myself in a way that will keep them intact and washed them at least once a week using shampoo. It's important to try to wet only the roots while washing as braids get heavy when wet and they could end up falling out if you're not careful. Wrap your wet braids in a towel after washing them to soak up excess water then you can dry them using a hairdryer.

I recently discovered that oiling my scalp can lead to excess dandruff, so I don't do that anymore but if you must oil your scalp then use something light. Just use a little bit of moisturizer on your scalp to avoid excess build-up and keep your scalp clean. My scalp doesn't really get that dry so I usually leave it because I do use conditioner when I wash my hair and it gets to my scalp. When I do oil my scalp I end up with so much dandruff so I just leave it and to be honest it doesn't feel all that dry. My scalp hasn't peeled or had huge dandruff flakes since I stopped oiling it so much.

I've been using ORS Creamy Aloe Shampoo and let me tell you, it feels so GOOD. Your hair and scalp feel moisturized after every wash. I would highly recommend that you try this product. I don't think I mentioned this before but if you didn't know I have ethnic hair so I don't know how this shampoo works on other hair types.

In closing, I would just like to reiterate; if you think you have scalp eczema please seek professional advice for an official diagnosis.

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