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Yeast Infection on Scalp: Expert Review of Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
Dr Meena Zareie (GMC)
Medically reviewed by
Dr Meena Zareie (GMC)
Updated on December 15, 2023

A yeast infection on the scalp can be itchy, painful and unpleasant. It can also give your hair a flaky, unhealthy look. So it is natural to be concerned if you suspect you may have developed this condition.

The good news is that yeast infections are rather common scalp problems. In fact, they are among the most frequent causes of an itchy scalp, according to the NHS. If treated correctly and in a timely fashion, they resolve within a few weeks, complications are rare and associated hair loss is usually not permanent.

This article will tell you everything you need to know about this topic:

  • What are yeast infections on the scalp and what causes them?
  • What are the symptoms of scalp yeast infections?
  • How you can prevent and treat scalp yeast infections.
  • The relationship between scalp yeast infections and hair loss.
  • Other conditions which may be mistaken for scalp yeast infections.
Table of Contents

What is a yeast infection on the scalp?

Yeast is a type of fungus that is normally found on our skin and scalp in certain quantities. This is natural and usually does not cause any health issues. However, when different factors cause these fungi on your scalp to overgrow, they can lead to a local yeast infection.

There are two main types of fungi which are usually responsible for scalp infections:

Candida fungi

1. Candida

This fungus overgrowing is the main cause for yeast infections on your skin, scalp, as well as your genitals, known as candidiasis [1].

Candida albicans is the most common culprit, as this species is responsible for 65.3% of candidiasis cases [2].

While these infections are normally benign and easy to treat in healthy people, they can be quite dangerous to those who are immunocompromised [3].

Malassezia fungi

2. Malassezia

The overgrowth of this type of yeast is usually responsible for causing scalp conditions, such as seborrheic dermatitis, dandruff, tinea versicolor and Malassezia folliculitis [4].

Causes of yeast infections on the scalp

There are many reasons why an overgrowth of yeast can occur on your scalp, leading to infection. The most common of these are [5]:

  • Living in a warm, humid environment
  • Keeping your head covered for long periods of time in hot weather
  • A diet rich in sugar and starch
  • Using hair products with antibacterial properties, with harsh chemicals (e.g. parabens) or with high sugar content
  • Stress and anxiety (by weakening your immune system)
  • Certain medical conditions (e.g. uncontrolled Diabetes Mellitus, AIDS, hyperhidrosis, follicular occlusion syndrome, intertrigo, psoriasis)
  • Pregnancy
  • Taking certain medications, such as antibiotics, systemic corticosteroids, chemotherapy or immunosuppression
  • Having a weakened immune system
cooking yeast

Can cooking with yeast give me a scalp yeast infection?

You may have used yeast in your kitchen, to help baked goods rise or for brewing. However, the species you have used is not the same as the ones that live on your skin and manipulating it will not give you a yeast infection.

The cooking-friendly type of yeast is Saccharomyces cerevisiae, while the ones colonising your scalp and skin are mainly Candida and Malassezia. So no, cooking with yeast will not cause a yeast infection on your scalp. [3].

How do I know if I have a scalp fungal infection?

There are several signs that you may be experiencing a scalp yeast infection. Here are some of the most common symptoms of yeast infection on your scalp:

Flaky, white or yellow, greasy scales

flaky scales on the head

Red or purplish patches

red patches on the head

Itchiness and/or tenderness

person itching their scalp

Soft, weeping, white areas

soft, weeping, white area

Pimples or pustules around your hair follicles

pimples on the scalp

Keep in mind that these symptoms are not specific to yeast infections alone, but can also be caused by a variety of other issues. Always consult a trichologist for a proper diagnosis.

When is it time to contact your health provider?

In rare cases, untreated yeast infection of the scalp can spread to other parts of your body, with serious consequences, especially if you are immunocompromised. Contact your health provider if you experience any of the following symptoms alongside a scalp yeast infection:

  • Vision blurriness or sensitivity to light
  • Confusion and memory loss
  • Headaches and fatigue
  • Chills and fever
  • Urinary tract or genital irritation
  • White, painful mouth sores
  • Digestive issues
  • Sinus pain

What other scalp conditions can be mistaken for yeast infection on the scalp?

There are several conditions which can present similarly to a yeast infection on your scalp. Here are some of them [6][7][8]:

Tinea capitis (ringworm)Scaly, red, slightly raised, circular areas on the scalp. Blisters may emerge on the active border.
Bacterial folliculitis Red, itchy, tender, inflamed spots on scalp, yellow crusts, pimple-like pustules around the hair follicles.
Scalp psoriasisThick, reddish, scaly plaques, covered in silver flakes, on the scalp and hairline.  
Lichen planopilaris(planus)Itchy, tender, red-purplish plaques on the scalp.
Pityriasis AmiantaceaSilvery-white scales, dry scalp and hair loss, dandruff-like flaking, red and burning scalp.
Contact (allergic) dermatitisItchy, scaly, red patches on the scalp, hairline and ears. Cysts and swelling can accompany it in the acute phase.
Infected atopic dermatitisScaly, dry cracked areas of the scalp which have developed crusts or pustules and are weeping.

Sometimes, even hair specialists have difficulties telling these conditions apart by merely looking at your scalp. They may need to perform a dermoscopy or a scalp biopsy in order to identify the root of the issue.

How do you prevent a yeast infection on your scalp?

If you are a healthy person, with a strong immune system, all you need to do to prevent yeast infections is to maintain a healthy lifestyle, good scalp hygiene and avoid using harsh chemicals on your hair.

However, if you are immunocompromised, suffering from a health condition or undergoing drug treatment which predisposes you to opportunistic infection, it is best to get a recommendation adapted to your specific needs.

Dandruff on the scalp

Is dandruff a yeast infection?

Dandruff is indeed, most often, an infection caused by the Malassezia yeast. However, in some cases, it may also be caused by non-microbial factors, such as dry skin, eczema or psoriasis [9].

Dandruff is one of the most common fungal infections, affecting 50% of the world’s population. This infection occurs especially in people with higher sebaceous secretion (aged 15-50). Its main symptoms include [10]:

  • Pruritus (itchiness of the scalp) (in 66% of cases)
  • Fine white, grey or yellow flakes on the scalp (in 49% of cases)
  • A tight, dry feeling of the scalp (in 59% of the cases)
  • Scalp irritation (in 25% of cases)

What kills Malassezia yeast on the scalp?

Ketoconazole is the most commonly recommended antifungal medication in the treatment of dandruff, as it is effective in reducing Malassezia overgrowth.

A study [11] on 66 patients with severe dandruff showed that after 4 weeks of treatment with ketoconazole shampoo, 73% of those who had used 2% concentration and 45% of those who used 1% concentration were dandruff free or had at least significantly improved in both scalp flakiness and amount of yeast present on their scalp.

Moreover, the relationship between ketoconazole and hair loss has also been documented, with studies showing it to be as effective in treating androgenetic alopecia (male pattern baldness) as Minoxidil [12].

How do you treat yeast on your scalp?

Treatment for a scalp yeast infection largely depends on the fungus which has produced it and its severity.

Mild forms of seborrheic dermatitis are treated with antifungal shampoos which contain [10]:

  • Ketoconazole
  • Zinc pyrithione
  • Ciclopirox
  • Selenium sulphide
  • Salicylic acid

For more severe forms of dandruff, corticosteroids are generally effective.

The main treatment for mild candidiasis is:

  • Azole drugs (econazole, clotrimazole, ketoconazole, miconazole)
  • Polyene antifungal drugs (nystatin, amphotericin B, natamycin

If oral treatment is required, fluconazole is usually prescribed with good results.

While some of these antifungal shampoos and treatments are available over the counter, it is best not to self-medicate. Any active substance can have unwanted side effects and some may be more efficient than others in treating your condition. So whenever possible, get the recommendation of a hair specialist.

lemongrass and oil

Home remedies for a scalp yeast infection

If you are experiencing a mild form of yeast infection on your scalp, you can try these home remedies to get some relief for your symptoms before your appointment with your hair specialist [13]:

  • Lemongrass oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Warm olive oil
  • Rosemary oil
  • Tea tree oil

Can a scalp yeast infection cause hair loss?

Fungal infections usually cause discomfort, but can your itchy scalp turn into hair loss?

Normally, mild scalp yeast infection does not cause permanent hair loss. However, you may notice diffuse thinning because the strands are broken by scratching or some of your hair follicles are clogged by crusting.

Furthermore, if stress is an underlying factor in both your scalp yeast infection and your hair shedding, you may be experiencing a temporary condition called telogen effluvium, which involves hair loss from stress.

However, even a mild yeast infection, left untreated, can become more severe. Severe forms of candidiasis of the scalp or seborrheic dermatitis can cause lasting damage to hair follicles, sometimes resulting in scarring alopecia.

While this is a rare occurrence, if your yeast infection does result in permanent scarring, conventional hair regrowth treatment, such as Minoxidil or Finasteride will not be effective. That means you may need a hair transplant to cover up the bald spots.

Do you suspect you have a yeast infection on your scalp?

If you suspect that you may have a yeast infection on your scalp, it is best to get it diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. This will not only relieve your scalp discomfort and have your hair looking happy and healthy once more. It will also remove the risk of the infection spreading to other parts of your body and permanent damage to your hair follicles.

So book a consultation now at your most convenient location. Here at Wimpole Clinic, our best hair specialists will identify the exact scalp condition you are facing and provide you with an effective, personalised treatment plan.

Yeast Infection on Scalp: Expert Review of Causes, Symptoms and Treatment, Wimpole Clinic

Dr Meena Zareie (GMC)
Medically reviewed by Dr Meena Zareie (GMC)Updated on December 15, 2023
The Wimpole Clinic offers FUE Hair, Beard & Eyebrow Transplants & Trichology.
Talk to a specialist ☎ 020 7935 1861.

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