Sores, Blisters and Bumps on the Scalp

women shampooing hair

There can be several types of scalp conditions that manifest themselves as sores, bumps, or blisters on the scalp. In fact, at virtually any given time, millions of individuals throughout the world suffer from some form of scalp condition.

Although it can be scary to find a new bump on your scalp, they can form for several different reasons, not all of them serious. For example, Dermatitis is normally not a serious condition, and can be readily treated with over-the-counter styling gels and hair treatments. On the other end of the spectrum are serious conditions that can cause bumps on the scalp. Folliculitis can cause extensive scarring on your scalp, scars in which hair will not be able to grow upon.

Conditions that Cause Sores, Blisters and Bumps on the Scalp

When detected early, almost all bumps on the scalp can be treated, and only serious cases require medical attention. Seek a doctor when the bumps persist for more than a week and the pain becomes significant enough to disrupt your normal daily activities.

Scalp Psoriasis

It's estimated that around 7.4 million people living in America have psoriasis, and about half will experience an outbreak of scalp psoriasis during their lifetimes. Like the common cold or herpes, Psoriasis is actually a chronic disease that flares up from time to time, but is usually less active.

Psoriasis is not contagious, but is instead a disorder in the immune system when a T-cell (T lymphocyte) stops fighting off viruses and bacteria and instead begins attacking healthy skin cells -- a defecting secret agent gone rogue, so to speak.

In normal circumstances, new skin cells arrive at the surface to replace dead or dying skin cells after several weeks. During psoriasis outbreaks, this process dramatically increases to handle the increased skin trauma caused by rogue T-cells. As a result, scaly patches build up on your scalp that resemble bumps and are a collection of dead and living material.

  • Diagnosis and Treatment: Although there are no special blood tests for scalp psoriasis, doctors can identify the condition using a skin biopsy. Medical treatments of scalp psoriasis include a powerful topical treatment like Anthralin.

    Vitamin derivatives of A and D are also helpful in treating scalp psoriasis. If the psoriasis spreads or is present on other parts of the body, a doctor may choose to include pills or injections as part of the medication regimen.

  • Symptoms: The exact causes of scalp psoriasis are unclear, but genetics appear to play a significant role. Around a third of all people with psoriasis also have a close relative with the same condition. You increase your chances of scalp psoriasis further if your have a medical history of HIV or strep throat.

    Finally, obesity, smoking, and stress increase your chances of developing bumps on the scalp due to psoriasis. Scalp psoriasis also seems to go into outbreak due to environmental triggers like cold weather, stress, sunburn, and excessive alcohol consumption.

Tinea Capitis

bumps on the scalp - tinea capitis

Although rare in adults, tinea capitis can affect prepubescent children, especially young boys. This condition is also commonly called "scalp ringworm" and like ringworm that can appear on other parts of your body, scalp ringworm is not caused by a worm at all, but by a variety of different types of bacteria.

In the United States, Trichophyton tonsurans is the most common culprit in tinea capitis. African American children are a common target for tinea capitis, but children of all ethnicities can be vulnerable.

  • Diagnosis and Treatment: As tinea capitis can appear very similar to other conditions such as psoriasis and dermatitis, the only accurate way to diagnose the condition is through microscopic examination or through a microbial culture of hairs pulled from their roots.

    Treatment cannot be performed at home, but is inexpensive thanks to the oral medication griseofulvin.

    This medication is taken for up to eight weeks (10mg/day) until the infection clears. Tinea capitis is usually unresponsive to topical creams and must be treated orally.

  • Symptoms: The tell-tale symptoms of tinea capitis are red rings that appear to be expanding over time, itching in the affected area, dandruff, and bald patches where the itching occurs. Individual symptoms also help doctors identify which type of tinea capitis is affecting the patient, of which there are three - favus, microsporosis, and trichophytosis. Microsporosis causes scaling in the affected area, while favus is characterized by the appearance of circular, yellow crusts grouped in patches on the scalp.


Folliculitis is an irritating condition that impacts your hair follicles. Although it can occur on the scalp where most people have the highest hair density, folliculitis can actually occur everywhere that hair grows on your body, leaving only your palms and soles of your feet safe.

This condition begins when a hair follicle is damaged by any number of external influences, such as clothing friction, insect bites, shaving, or even tight braids. In most cases, bacteria known as Staphhylococcus (or staph as in "staph infection") attacks the weakened follicle.

  • Diagnosis and Treatment: Folliculitis can be caused by four different sources -- non-infectious, fungal, viral, and bacterial. Folliculitis is often diagnosed by a medical professional simply by the appearance of the scalp.

    Certain lab tests can also pinpoint the specific fungus or bacteria responsible for the infection to determine antibiotic treatment plans. Depending on the severity of the folliculitis, topical or oral antibiotics may be necessary. Further at-home treatments include a hot, wet compress to promote proper drainage of affected follicles.

  • Symptoms: Also known as an "ingrown hair," folliculitis often appears with itching, pimples near the affected area, rash, and some crusting.

bumps on the scalp - folliculitis

As is evident, there are several types of conditions and/or infections that can result in causing sores, blisters, or bumps on the scalp. While not all of the conditions or infections may be serious, it is important to seek appropriate care to determine the root cause of the condition.

In many cases the condition will be treatable at-home and with an over-the-counter medication. However, in other cases the condition and/or infection will require medical treatment.

For this reason, it is important to address the cause of the sores, blisters, or bumps on your scalp and properly diagnose the condition.