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Why Does My Hair Hurt — Is That Even a Thing?

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Your hair hurts, your scalp hurts, and it's not your imagination — hair pain is real, say doctors. Luckily, the pain is typically benign and easy to fix, but you'll need to figure out what's causing the ouch before you can banish it. Here, experts shed some light on why hair hurts, why scalps feel sore, and what you can do about it.


Meet the experts:

  • Debra Jaliman, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.

  • Lars Skjoth is a product developer and founder of Harklinikken.

  • Brian Mitchell Grosberg, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and director of Hartford Healthcare Headache Center in Hartford, Connecticut.


In this story:


Why does my hair hurt?

What exactly is happening when your hair feels like it's hurting? Hair pain starts in the scalp, so it might feel like your hair hurts right at the root. “Inflammation coming from blood vessels in the scalp floods the nerves in the hair follicles and causes them to ache,” says Debra Jaliman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “The pain in the follicle is indistinguishable from the strand, so it truly feels like your hair is hurting.” Causes of this inflammation include the following.

What are some causes of hair and scalp pain?

Tight hairstyles

Tight hairstyles can pull and even damage follicles, leading to hair pain, says Lars Skjoth, a product developer and founder of Harklinikken, a Denmark-based brand that specializes in products to help hair loss and thinning. He suggests wearing tight hairstyles no more than a couple times a week, and when you do, not to leave them in all day and night.

If your hair or scalp hurt and you tend to wear tight hairstyles, “pay attention to this kind of hair pain — it can be a warning about coming hair loss,” cautions Skjoth. Dr. Jaliman agrees and says there’s an official term for it, “traction alopecia,” which is gradual hair loss that can be caused by damage to hair follicles from tight hairstyles. She recommends that patients prone to hair pain use soft cloth hair ties, like Slip Scrunchies, wear loose styles instead of anything that pulls at the scalp, and refrain from sleeping with hair tied up or setting hair overnight.

Slip Scrunchies

$39.00, Bloomingdale's

Product buildup

Dry shampoo can cause hair pain when it's overused, says Dr. Jaliman. Using it to extend the life of a blowout or buy an extra wash-free day once in a while is fine. But using dry shampoo as a regular replacement for washing your hair can cause residue to cake into follicles. “Most people use way too much and spray it all in the scalp instead of on the strands, too,” says Dr. Jaliman. Bacteria can then thrive, especially if they mix with sweat, potentially causing inflammation, itching, and pain.

Overwashing

Shampooing your hair too often can throw off your scalp's pH balance — and that can be another cause of painful hair. Daily cleansing can dry out the scalp and may even induce a flaking condition like seborrheic dermatitis, which is a chronic state of inflammation, explains Dr. Jaliman. If you have to wash your hair daily or if you have a sensitive scalp, she recommends using a gentle baby shampoo, like Mustela 2 in 1 Hair and Body Wash, which contains glycerin and avocado extract.

Mustela 2 in 1 Hair and Body Wash

$13.00, Target

Frequent hair coloring

This is something Dr. Jaliman knows about firsthand. “I had premature graying very young, and after so many years of coloring, I developed an intolerance and my hair would hurt whenever I got a touch-up,” says Dr. Jaliman. Now she has her colorist mix a Sweet’N Low packet into the dye to change the pH level to better suit the scalp without affecting the color, and she no longer feels the burning during a color sensation. This works well with dye, but not bleach which can also irritation, especially when it's left on too long, says Dr. Jaliman. She has prescribed topical steroids to calm patients' scalps when they are sore after bleaching.

Migraines

Hair pain is actually more common for those who get frequent migraines thanks to a phenomenon called allodynia that affects up to two thirds of migraine sufferers, according to Brian Mitchell Grosberg, MD, a board-certified neurologist and director of Hartford Healthcare Headache Center in Hartford, Connecticut. With allodynia, normally nonpainful stimuli — like brushing your hair, wearing a hat or a loose ponytail, and feeling water wash over your hair in the shower — become painful. Lying down on your side during a migraine can make the scalp feel especially sore and tender, too. “It’s the result of the repeated firing of nerve cells in the brain that are involved in the process of migraine,” says Dr. Grosberg. Tight hairstyles can certainly be a first contributing step to migraines, though hair that hurts can also happen separately, as part of a migraine attack that is brought on by other triggers.

Data has shown that the best chance of giving migraine sufferers relief with triptans — a class of migraine-specific medications — is taking them early in the attack, before the process of allodynia becomes established, says Grosberg. And if your hair hurts when you get a migraine, you should tell your doctor because it’s a risk factor for developing more frequent attacks, he adds. Grosberg advises working with a headache specialist (you can find one by searching the Migraine Research Foundation) who can create a treatment tailored for the type of migraines you’re having.

How can you relieve hair and scalp pain?

Whether your hair pain is caused by styling, cleansing, or migraines, Dr. Jaliman recommends giving your hair a break — from tight styles, from coloring, even from shampooing for a day or two — as often as possible.


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Originally Appeared on Allure