Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Scalp eczema therapy: a work in progress

Last year I wrote about scalp eczema. The post is one of the most-read on this blog. Good news: I’m going to write about it again! The reason: once again, scalp eczema is a problem for me.

My scalp trouble seems to follow a yearly cycle, and it might have something to do with pollen, since I had it last spring. Or it might be just that I started swimming again a few months ago. There’s no getting around the fact that swimming is bad for my skin. (I swim, nevertheless, because it’s good for my back.)

I just get this ridiculously dry scalp that starts breaking out into itchy patches. It is extremely hard not to pick at and scratch.

It seems to be a three-part problem: inflammation, dryness, and bad habit.

To treat the inflammation I rub in steroid, which is bad because 1) it’s quite strong (fluocinonide ointment) and 2) it hardly works at all.

I also use a tar shampoo, T-Gel. I love tar shampoo—it’s got a great bite to it and knocks the itch out for a few hours. But it’s a shampoo, made from detergents, which wash oils out and leave my scalp screaming dry.

I realized that the tar shampoo was part of the problem, so now I use it only once a week.

I used to follow tar shampoo with jojoba oil. Jojoba is an expensive, fine-grade natural oil that comes from the seeds of a Mexican desert plant. It is my conclusion that jojoba is a waste of time and money. It doesn't do much besides run down behind your ears and make your neck greasy.

Now I follow my tar shampoo with Aveeno Daily Moisturizing lotion. That's right, I rub it all over my head. It dries to a shellac and makes me look like my grandfather when he used Brylcreem back in the 1950s. Aveeno is good both because it contains soothing oatmeal extract and dimethicone, a rubbery polymer that holds moisture well.

This is not a perfect solution, and a bit disgusting. But it’s better than rubbing in strong steroid ointment out of desperation, I think.

In order to use the Aveeno lotion (to get more of it on my scalp and less on my hair), I buzz my hair short. I’ve got a home barber kit for this. I use the 0.5” or 0.75” attachments. I gave myself a haircut last week, after waiting several months for my scalp eczema to go away so I could go to the barber.

I’m not super-keen on Aveeno for this though. I am going to try shea butter, which at least has the virtue of being a bona fide hair product.

I am surprised that very few commercial companies, if any, make moisturizing scalp lotion. You’d think there would be a market for it. Cosmetics companies seem to approach this as a conditioner problem, as if we’re all worried about how beautiful and manageable our hair is. Well I’m not. I’m a 41-year-old balding man and I have no use for conditioner.

Ironically, Kamedis, the Chinese herbal therapeutics company whose skin lotion I reviewed recently (and none too positively) makes scalp lotion for eczema. Maybe I should give that a shot!

* * *

Let’s not forget that my bad habit of picking at dry skin and scabs on my scalp is part of the problem too. I know that it’s possible to quit the habit to some degree by undergoing habit-reversal training.

There are two phases to habit reversal. In the first, you count how many times you touch, pick, or scratch yourself during the day. In the second, you train yourself to recognize that you're about to scratch, and to resist the urge, either by clenching your hand or digging your nails into your palm. 

Here’s the barrier that prevents me from self-training—I don’t own a simple digital counter that would enable me to keep track of how many times I am scratching. Last time I tried habit-reversal, I made pencil marks on the back of a business card. I touch my head more than 500 times a day, apparently. It's a pain to have to keep making pencil marks.

I just looked on Amazon. This is what I want. Isn’t it ridiculous that I am not able to stop picking at my scalp because I don’t have a little clicker device that costs less than $7.00? I just bought it.


  1. Have you tried Cerave on your scalp-- we did-- worked great!

  2. I have not. Good idea! Thanks. (tho' pricey. grrr)

  3. Dove bar & Cetaphil cleanser are gentle for my scalp. Cetaphil anti-bacterial bar seemed to cause flaking. Baby shampoo--eh. I apply Eucerin at night, then wash it off in the morning. My doctor had a rash on her scalp from hair color. She massaged baby oil on her head for 1 year!

    Dermatologist & internist recommended Zyrtec & Tagamet (heartburn med. that blocks histamines, I think) in the morning, Benadryl at night. Ah, some relief. But the HEPA vacuum, HEPA air purifier, mattress covers for dust mites, vit. D, calcium, fish oil...maybe I wasted my money on these.

    You wrote about pro-biotics, but what do you think about PRE-biotics? Thanks.

  4. Never heard of "prebiotics"! Do explain.

    Yes, a lot of money to be wasted. The only thing that I know works for me is freedom from stress. But that place is so hard to get to.

  5. Cerave on Amazon-- about $12-13 tub... best deal I've found.

  6. Anonymous--Oh, I see, this is what you meant by prebiotics http://news.yahoo.com/prebiotics-baby-formula-eczema-mixed-picture-191612146.html

  7. Florida Girl--you are spot on. Cerave is cheapest on Amazon! We used to get it at Target but not anymore.