10 Reasons Why Your Scalp Might Be Hurting


If you ever feel like your hair hurts, you’re not alone. Scalp pain and tenderness can range from being a minor annoyance to downright unbearable. Unfortunately, the aging process can make us more susceptible to scalp pain. 

You may notice an increase in scalp sensitivity thanks to hormones exacerbating scalp tenderness. There are a lot of causes of scalp pain, but fortunately, there are some treatment options as well. 

Some of the reasons your scalp might be hurting could be a little more obvious than others. You may have noticed a rash that wasn’t there before, or you could also be experiencing other symptoms such as scalp irritation, itchiness, or flaking. 

Even if your scalp hurts without any other accompanying issues, getting to the bottom of the reason for your tender scalp is important.

We have the top 10 most common causes of why your scalp might be hurting.

1. Migraines

Those who experience migraines have often said there is no pain quite like it. And those who experience migraines may also get the scalp sensitivity that can come with it. 

A migraine is actually a type of headache. It can cause severe pain that can feel like throbbing or pulsing in the head. Migraines can often affect one side of the head or sometimes be all-encompassing. 

The symptoms of a migraine and the migraine itself can last anywhere from a few hours to several days. Some of the symptoms of migraines may include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, vision changes, and decreased concentration.

When it comes to your scalp, migraines can cause a variety of symptoms and pain. The scalp may feel tender which is caused by the inflammation of blood vessels at the top of the head. 

Studies have shown that a sensitive scalp can occur with migraines and tension headaches. Some triggers for migraines can include hormonal changes, stress, reactions to certain foods and drinks, and some medications.

Migraines can be prevented by avoiding triggers, although some people may need medication to alleviate their symptoms. Since migraines can be so debilitating, it makes sense that they could cause scalp pain.

2. Infections of the Hair Follicles

If you are suffering from scalp pain, you may have contracted an infection of the hair follicles. Organisms like bacteria, fungal infections, and viruses can cause hair follicle infections. 

A broad term for hair follicle infections is “folliculitis.” Scalp folliculitis can be further defined by the different types of infections. Seborrheic dermatitis is one of the most common infections you will see on the scalp and hair follicles.

The most frequent symptoms of a hair follicle infection include redness, itching, tenderness, and swelling of the scalp. All of these could have an impact on scalp pain. 

Treatment for hair follicle infections depends on the cause and may include topical ointments, oral antibiotics, antifungal ointments, or specialized shampoos. Fortunately, most cases of scalp folliculitis resolve with treatment.

3. Tight Hairstyles

Tight hairstyles take each hair strand and bunch them together in a way that can pull at the scalp. Such hairstyles include ponytails, buns, cornrows, dreadlocks, weaves, extensions, and tight braids. 

In addition to causing scalp tenderness, tight hairstyles can also cause traction alopecia. Traction alopecia occurs when the hair is constantly being pulled from the roots, leading to hair loss.

Loosening your hairstyle is an effective way of keeping your look while avoiding pain. If you must put your hair up in a tight ponytail or bun, just try not to keep your hair in that style for very long! Use a scalp serum to support regaining those pulled-out hairs.

Scalp pain can evolve into tension headaches due to the stress being put on your scalp, and no one wants to experience a migraine if they can help it.

4. Stress

Stress, like a headache, can affect the scalp in ways that can feel like throbbing, pulsing, tightness, or the sensation of a rubber band around the head. Unmanaged stress can go beyond scalp pain and can cause a host of symptoms, such as panic attacks, chest pain, high blood pressure, fatigue, sleep problems, indigestion, and more. 

The most effective stress relief methods address the cause, if possible. Taking more time for yourself, meditating, laughing, journaling, therapy, and getting active are all good steps to take. These habits can not only help alleviate your scalp pain but also improve wellness as a whole.

5. Allergic Reactions

Scalp pain can occur due to an allergic reaction to products like shampoos, conditioners, gels, hairsprays, and more. The most common culprit can be the additives like fragrances and emulsifying agents. 

While there are a host of allergen-causing ingredients, it’s best to go for products based on natural ingredients. When trying new hair care products, it can be helpful to do a “spot test” if you have sensitive skin. This means testing your new product on a small area and seeing how your skin reacts. 

Our Full Transparency shampoo and conditioner are fragrance-free and hypoallergenic for those sensitive skinned beauties. 

6. Sunburns

You’ve more than likely experienced a sunburn somewhere on your body. You may be surprised to know that you can also get sunburn on your scalp. Those with fine or thinning hair are more susceptible to getting a scalp sunburn since the sun can penetrate through fine hair easier than thicker hair.

Scalp sunburns can be particularly painful when it’s time to wash your hair or even. The best treatment for scalp sunburn is to use cold water when washing your hair, cold compresses, moisturizing, and avoiding scratching. 

You can also use hydrocortisone cream on any exposed areas of your scalp that have been sunburned. Sun hats are your best friend when it comes to preventing sunburns on your scalp in the first place!

7. Autoimmune Disorders

Autoimmune disorders can affect the body in many ways, including the scalp. Autoimmune disorders result in the immune system attacking the body instead of protecting it. Some of the most common autoimmune disorders include Graves disease, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and multiple sclerosis. 

Symptoms are widespread when your immune system sees aspects of itself as a threat. Scalp pain can be a result of types of psoriasis or a form of alopecia. Allodynia can be a form of scalp pain due to an autoimmune disorder. 

Some autoimmune diseases may lead to nerve damage and nerve pain. This means that certain areas of the body can become extremely sensitive to touch, making the body interpret pain in response to a stimulus that doesn't usually cause pain. This is known as allodynia.

8. Dandruff

You may have noticed small white flakes on your clean black shirt at some point in your life. Those flakes are known as dandruff and are caused by yeast on a dry scalp or oil buildup. 

Certain skin conditions and weakened immune systems can make you more susceptible to dandruff. Depending on the severity, dandruff can lead to scalp pain in the form of itching. 

More severe dandruff can be known as seborrheic dermatitis and can be more painful. A doctor should be consulted if the dandruff also includes pain, sores, and redness.

9. Alopecia Areata

Alopecia areata is a disease related to the immune system and is related to other autoimmune disorders. The disease attacks the scalp and skin cells, damaging the follicles and causing hair loss. 

Alopecia areata typically affects hair on the head and face but can also cause hair loss on the rest of the body. Stress plays a major role in the disease, as it does with all autoimmune diseases.

10. Hormones

For women, hormones can cause scalp pain with increased prostaglandin production during periods. Prostaglandin can make your scalp extremely sensitive, which can lead to pain during hair care, such as showering or more aggressive styling. 

For those of us going through menopause, the hormonal shifts could be a scalp pain culprit. Inflammation is known to occur during menopause, meaning that a hurting scalp could be more likely to happen.

How To Treat (and Prevent!) Scalp Pain

The best ways to treat and prevent scalp pain are to treat your scalp with delicate care and special attention. If you can pinpoint the cause of your scalp pain using the top 10 causes above, you’ll be off to a great start. 

You can also take a multipronged approach by not styling your hair in tight styles and monitoring your stress levels. Remember to also check your scalp visually for any flakes, redness, or possible sunburns.

Hair Products To Help Scalp Tenderness

While it can’t treat any diagnosable conditions, general scalp care is made easy with our New Dawn Activated Charcoal Scalp Cleanser. New Dawn exfoliates, detoxifies, and rebalances your scalp by absorbing oils, removing buildup, and refreshing the scalp.

With the built-in applicator on the bottle, you only need to brush it through your hair and massage it onto your scalp using your fingertips. For massaging, nourishing, and revitalizing, our Superpower™ Hair & Scalp Duo uses an award-winning serum to care for your scalp. 

This scalp serum was designed specifically for irritated scalps. It uses our gentle yet extra-potent Superpower blend combined with plant-derived actives Rosemary Extract and Apple Cider Vinegar for thicker-, denser- and stronger-looking hair. The applicator stimulates the hair follicles while the serum re-energizes them.


Scalp tenderness isn’t something you should have to deal with. Determining the cause of what could be the reason or reasons behind your scalp pain is the first step to relief. 

If you have discovered that your scalp pain is being caused by a skin condition or rash, visiting your dermatologist is a good idea. If your scalp pain is due to something less severe, over the counter treatment methods could be your course of action. Of course, if you ever feel that something just isn’t quite right, you’ll want to seek out the opinion of a medical professional. 

This article is not meant to replace medical advice but rather have you be informed. Your scalp might be hurting simply due to lifestyle factors like wearing high ponytails, or it could be a medical condition. Knowing the most common causes of scalp pain can help you establish what to do to feel better.


Folliculitis: Stat Pearls | NCBI

Migraine | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Painful Scalp Arteries in Migraine | PMC

Traction Alopecia | NCBI Bookshelf

Stress Symptoms | Mayo Clinic

Autoimmune disorders | MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia

Peripheral neuropathy | Autoimmune Association