We all love our hair and try our best to nourish them. Skin conditions like dandruff, dryness, or oiliness can be problematic and annoying, but little do we know that the dirt, pollutants in our environment and some other factors may expose our scalp to painful conditions such as scalp fungus.
Among the fungal infections that attack the scalp, the most common one is Tinea Capitis or the ringworm. Skin disorders like these are a bit difficult to cure and may have other effects such as hair-loss, scalp tenderness, etc. The treatment may take time, but fortunately, once the infection goes away, you can get your healthy, voluminous hair back.
Before discussing infections or their causes, we need to understand the science behind fungus. We all have heard of the term in different contexts, what’s important is to know what it is and how does it attack our scalp, this way we can think of tips for preventing such skin disorders and protecting our healthy hair.
What is Fungus?
Fungi are germs that decompose and can become the cause of various infections. These include molds, smuts, mildews, yeast, mushrooms, etc. They are present around us in the environment in varying sizes; they can be small enough that you can’t spot them with a naked eye but can increase in size by absorbing the material in which they grow. These germs can settle down in various places including parts of our body and become quite problematic as they grow.
Fungal infections can occur on parts such as our scalp, between the toenails, under the breasts, etc. but we will mainly be talking about hair infections due to fungal agents. These are known as trichomycosis and are a primary source of concern due to a variety of reasons such as hair loss, inflammation and recurrent infections that can make life difficult. Let’s look at a few common hair infections and work out ways to treat them.
Three common hair infections can cause hair loss, these include
- Pityriasis Capitis
It is the family of fungi responsible for triggering ringworm. These eat keratin in the scalp and inhabit whenever the conditions are suitable for their habitation, invading the hair. Dermatophytes grow superficially on the skin causing baldness, dry & flaky scalp skin along with inflammation.
Ringworm is a common skin condition that according to the World Health Organization accounts for about 90% of the total infections caused by fungal agents, in the USA and Europe. Since we have already discussed scalp ringworm in the previous article, I won’t go in detail but briefly describe what the infection is and how is it treated.
Clinically known as Tinea Capitis the infection got its name due to the circular patterns that it creates on the scalp. The disorder is contagious, and that is the reason why it can quickly spread. Most people become victims of the fungi either due to petting an animal such as a kitten or pup that is a carrier of the bacteria or by touching someone who is suffering from the condition. Another common cause is sharing personal use equipment such as a towel, hairbrush, etc. with an infected person or using public areas such as shower stalls, pools, etc.
How To Identify Ringworm?
The infection usually begins with a pimple that further expands causing rung-like patches on the scalp with reddened corners. As the scalp fungus reaches the hair fibers, they become brittle and begin breaking off at or near the scalp. You may confuse the initial signs as dandruff or psoriasis. Some people even confuse it with alopecia areata. If the infection isn’t treated immediately, it may become painful as the patches ooze pus and also cause boils on the scalp resulting in permanent hair loss. In rare cases, you may experience fever or swelling of the glands in the neck.
It is another common skin condition that is caused due to yeast-like fungi; studies suggest that a pathogen named M. Globosa is responsible for the disease. The severity of the pityriasis infections varies from the mild condition “Pityriasis Capitis” to “Exfoliative Dermatitis” which can be categorized as a chronic disorder.
All these conditions occur as a result of the growth of “Malassezia”. Which is the yeast that exists in the form of different species, M.globosa is one of these which is responsible for dandruff and dermatitis. The bacteria require fat for its growth, so it thrives in areas where the sebaceous glands are and affect people with overactive glands.
Dandruff occurs in the form of itchy patches on the skin; it happens due to exfoliation of stratum corneum. It is a non-inflammatory condition that is common to both sexes but may be prevalent in men, mainly attacking boys as soon as they hit puberty. Dandruff happens when dead skin cells accumulate on the scalp due to the excessive oiliness and shed in the form of white flakes.
Causes of Dandruff:
Various factors including the overgrowth of Malassezia Globosa are considered to be the cause behind dandruff such as:
- Allergy to specific hair care products
- Infrequent Shampooing or poor hygiene
- Having extremely oily hair as that is what Malassezia Globosa feeds on
- Seborrhoeic Dermatitis when the sebaceous glands produce sebum which is higher than the requirement
- Irregular brushing
- Air pollution
- Age- dandruff commonly hits teenagers after puberty
Symptoms of Dandruff:
The first symptom of dandruff is Itchiness on the scalp particularly around the hairline and sideburns, which in rare cases may lead to significant hair loss.
You will also begin noticing white oily flakes in your hair; these can get worse when the air is dry.
The skin on the scalp may become scaly, and irritated due to constant scratching.
Diagnosis for Dandruff:
Usually, you will easily be able to diagnose dandruff on your own without the need of visiting a doctor since the condition is quite common. You can even begin treatment at home by using anti-dandruff shampoos, home remedies or any other over the counter treatments. Here are some beneficial tips for you to fight dandruff at home:
Look for an anti-dandruff shampoo that contains any of the following active ingredients
- Zinc Pyrithione
- Azole Antifungals,
- Coal and Tar
- Selenium Sulfide
Usually finding yourself the right shampoo that suits your scalp is a game of trial and error so you will have to try out a couple of the good quality ones. Try alternating between different brands and see what works best, stick with it.
You can also opt for other topical treatment options such as creams, lotions, terbinafine, mouses, etc.
Make sure you wash your hair frequently and cleanse the scalp so, no residue is left on the skin. You can use an Apple Cider Vinegar rinse to help with it. Don’t use too many hair care products such as gels, setting sprays, etc. as these may irritate your skin. Slowly add back a few of these to your routine to see which ones don’t react to your scalp.
Piedra is a fungal infection that affects the hair shafts. A yeast-like fungus named Trichosporon causes the disorder in which nodules of varying hardness are formed on the infected strands. White piedra nodules may often be confused with lice nits, but with this skin condition, you won’t feel the itchiness caused by lice. Similarly, these nodules are easily removable as compared to the nits. Another form of the infection is black piedra which is characterized by black or brown colored nodules which are hard and difficult to remove.
The hair on the section of the scalp affected by piedra appears brittle and may break off. You may also hear a metallic sound while combing the hair. Piedra is the type of skin disorder that needs immediate medical attention.
How Does One Develop the Infection?
- The conditions that favor the growth of the fungi are:
- High humidity
And the use of plant oils since the bacteria is found mostly in the soil.
Diagnosis and Treatment:
Your doctor will diagnose white piedra by conducting a physical examination of the hair shafts and may also take a sample of the scalp fungus for testing. They may prescribe topical medications such as terbinafine, azoles, and tolnaftate. Oral dosage of terbinafine has been known to cure black piedra.
Oral antifungal treatments such as itraconazole are also useful for treating white piedra. If the condition doesn’t seem to heal, you may be advised to shave off the infected hair.
Treatment for Scalp Fungus:
Well as bad it sounds; fortunately, scalp fungus is treatable not just though medications but also through a variety of home remedies (Of course you shouldn’t risk it in severe cases such as piedra.) But with infections such as ringworm, seborrheic dermatitis and conditions such as dandruff can be easily treated using effective at-home treatments and by following some essential hair care tips.
Use an Anti-Fungal Shampoo:
Shampoos that contain active antifungal agents and antibacterial agents can work best to fight hair infections. Since these are medicated shampoos, it is best to buy one that your dermatologist recommends and keep using it to prevent these from recurring. If you are buying shampoo for yourself, here are the active ingredients you should look for:
- Zinc pyrithione- Effective for inhibiting the growth of yeast
- Coal tar- As much as it is beneficial it might make the skin sensitive and stain dyed hair, so you have to be careful with this one.
- Salicylic acids- These are helpful for removing skin cells from the scalp, but at times may make the flaking worse if your skin is already dry.
- Tea-tree oil- You can use a shampoo containing tea-tree oil not only for curing scalp fungus but also after it is gone to protect your healthy hair.
Make sure you take the prescribed medicines in the required dosage regularly, even if you don’t see any improvement quickly. Maintain cleanliness, don’t scratch rashes on the scalp and dry it after you shower as some forms of fungus thrive on moisture. You also need to be gentle while washing hair as you might cause an injury or break off lose hair so instead of aggressive scrubbing slowly rub the scalp.
Home Remedies to Treat Scalp Fungus:
Apart from these useful tips, you can also fight scalp fungus using these five amazing yet pocket-friendly remedies:
Apple Cider Vinegar:
Since I have already discussed the benefits of this amazing substance for your hair, I will get to the point. What you need to do is add 1 cup of the vinegar to 4 cups of water and use the mixture to wash off your hair before shampooing. It will help get rid of scalp fungus, build-ups, dandruff and, aid in the recovery of your skin.
Garlic and Honey:
Garlic works as an excellent antifungal agent whereas honey helps soothe the scalp making these two the ultimate combination for protecting your hair. Crush six garlic cloves and leave them in their juice for about 15 minutes. Next up add six tablespoons of honey to it and massage the mixture on your scalp and rinse it thoroughly after 10 minutes.
It is an excellent anti-fungal agent but to see positive results; you would have to use it regularly. You can apply castor oil on the affected areas using cotton balls or by using latex gloves. Leave the oil for 15 minutes and wash it off carefully with cold water.
Make sure you rinse out all the oil as greasiness in the hair is favorable for the growth of fungi.
It is an antimicrobial agent and therefore works effectively against bacteria and fungus. Make sure you use the purest form of the oil and massage it gently over your scalp. Rinse it off in a couple of hours- don’t leave it on for more extended hours till you have the scalp fungus invading your hair.
The fruit contains an antifungal enzyme “chitinase” which helps in degrading the fungal cell wall. You can create a mask by mashing 2 or 3 pieces of raw papaya and applying it onto the scalp. Let it dry and rinse your hair after 10 to 15 minutes.