Bacterial Infections of the Scalp (That You Need to Know Today)

A bacterial infection on the scalp can cause many problems. It can lead to everything from itching and irritation to redness and swelling. Some common issues include infected hair follicles and impetigo. It is one of the most common forms of scalp infections, along with fungal and viral.

The more you know about the different conditions, the sooner you can start to treat them. Unfortunately, there are many scalp conditions and this adds to the confusion. They can often go ignored for too long because we misdiagnose them ourselves.

Bacterial infections need treatment to go away. If left untreated, your symptoms may get worse, and the bacteria will have a chance to spread. Because we touch our scalp so often, the spreading of any infection is easy.

If you’ve been dealing with negative symptoms on the scalp, such as itching and irritation, it’s vital that you know what condition you have. Knowing the difference between a bacterial and fungal infection of the scalp can make a big difference in how you treat the problem.

Table of Contents:

What are the Most Common Bacterial Scalp Infections?

The most common bacterial infections are folliculitis (infected hair follicles) and impetigo. This guide will cover both of those conditions and what you can do about them.

  • Important: Other conditions that affect the scalp include seborrheic dermatitis and ringworm. These are considered to be infections, but they are caused by fungus. In the case of seborrheic dermatitis, bacteria are often present as well. But, those are mostly fungal infections that need to be treated differently.

You’ll learn about the symptoms of bacterial infections. We’ll also cover possible causes for these infections. Finally, we will share what you can do to treat these problems and find relief for your scalp once again. The good news about a bacterial infection is that it doesn’t have to be recurring. Once you treat it, that doesn’t mean it will come back, like many other scalp issues. So, the sooner you start treatment, the better.

What Causes Scalp Infections?

Bacterial infections can be caused by external exposure to things or internal issues. For example, if you have a weakened immune system you may be more prone to getting an infection. Or, you could pick one up for a variety of external reasons. Anything that disrupts the natural protective barrier of the skin on your head could lead to an infection.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the more common causes:

  • Transfer from a pet or inanimate object
  • Pre-existing scalp conditions like psoriasis
  • Scratching of the scalp leading to bleeding
  • Long-term use of antibiotics or steroid creams
  • Damage to the scalp from injury
  • Allergic reactions

Our skin is designed to be a barrier. If the skin is healthy, it helps to prevent infections from taking hold. But, any of the issues listed above, or a weak immune system can make it easy for an infection to occur. Because there is no one concrete cause of bacterial scalp infections, it’s vital to pay constant attention to what could be causing one to happen.

Are Bacterial Scalp Infections Serious?

Any type of infection that affects the scalp can be dangerous. Even when treated, you could be left with lasting effects. Most scalp conditions come with a host of negative symptoms. One of the most prominent is itching. Unfortunately, that can lead to hair loss and follicle damage. If you do lose your hair due to a bacterial infection, it can be embarrassing and lead to some psychosocial issues.

Bacteria can also spread quickly. As we look at some of the common symptoms of a scalp infection, it’s important to keep that idea in mind. Once you know you’re dealing with a bacterial infection, keeping it contained can help to reduce your chances of making it worse.

What Are the Common Symptoms?

Again, one of the most common symptoms of a bacterial infection is itching. With that itching usually comes inflammation and redness. It can feel almost impossible to ignore. In the case of infected hair follicles, symptoms like pus-filled red bumps will occur. Scratching these bumps can cause them to ooze. This puts you at risk for the infection to spread to other areas of the scalp or skin.

Some bacterial infections can cause adverse symptoms elsewhere throughout the body.

These can include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Cramps
  • A sore throat

If you have any of these symptoms along with sores on the scalp or itchiness, it’s likely you’re dealing with a bacterial infection of some kind.

Itchiness goes along with a lot of different scalp conditions. If you’re unsure which condition you have, you may need to get an official diagnosis from a skin biopsy. With these symptoms in mind, knowing some of the primary culprits of bacterial scalp infections can help you to narrow down the problem.


Folliculitis occurs when the hair follicles on the scalp become infected. It can happen anywhere on the body where hair grows. But, it’s common on the scalp since there are so many follicles. Folliculitis occurs when the hair follicles become inflamed. Bacteria staphylococcus can seep into the damaged hair follicles and wreak havoc.

At first, the signs of this infection will include inflammation and itching. But, if it goes untreated it can lead to more noticeable symptoms. The most obvious is red pimple-like bumps on the scalp. These bumps occur wherever there is a follicle.

Several things can contribute to folliculitis. Unfortunately, most of the causes are daily habits or external factors. Sweat and dirt on your scalp can cause the follicles to become clogged. This can happen due to anything from working out without showering or wearing beanies or warm hats frequently. You can also get it from shaving your head with a razor.

Almost anyone can get this condition, but people with a weakened immune system are usually more at risk.

Folliculitis usually lasts about two weeks for most people when the case is mild. While that may not seem like a long time to deal with something, the problem rests in the uncomfortable symptoms of the condition. It can also be potentially dangerous.

When you scratch at the pus-filled blisters caused by infected hair follicles, they can ooze or even bleed. Because this is a bacterial infection, that oozing liquid can spread the bacteria elsewhere. Not only does this make it harder to treat the condition, but it spreads the uncomfortable symptoms.

How to Treat Folliculitis

Because of the irritating symptoms, most people with folliculitis try to treat it and find relief. In severe cases, you may need a prescription antibiotic from a doctor. You can also choose an over-the-counter antibacterial wash or shampoo. If you go this route, be sure to use a medicated shampoo with no damaging fragrances or chemicals. If your scalp is already irritated, certain chemicals could cause even more adverse issues.

Natural remedies are also a popular solution for infected hair follicles. Tea tree oil is one of the best treatment options. You can use it on its own with a carrier oil, or you can use Paul Mitchell tea tree oil shampoo. It is a natural antibacterial and antiseptic agent. So, the natural oil will help to fight off the infection while keeping the area clean. It will also provide soothing relief for itchy skin.

The damage folliculitis can cause is primarily due to the urge to itch. Finding relief can make it a less overwhelming skin condition. Even a warm compress against the scalp can help to soothe inflammation.

Best treatments for an infection of the scalp


Impetigo is another common bacterial infection of the scalp. It is highly contagious and most common in children, but anyone can get it. It can sometimes be confused with ringworm, which is a fungal infection. There are a few fundamental differences. Instead of having a ring-shape to it, impetigo will look more like raised blisters and sores.

The blisters associated with this condition are often red, inflamed, and can ooze a yellow-like liquid. Because it’s a bacterial condition, the oozing of this liquid is dangerous. It can cause the infection to spread. It can also clog your hair follicles and create even more potential for a stronger infection.

If you have impetigo on the scalp, it’s not uncommon to experience it in other areas of the body, too.

The reason impetigo is more common in children is because their immune systems are weaker. Adults can usually fight off the condition a bit better, but they are still at risk. That risk increases during warmer weather, and humid conditions. It can also occur where the skin of the scalp has been cut open in any way.

How to Treat Impetigo

In mild cases of impetigo, topical antibiotic creams are used. If the infection has spread to other areas of the body, your doctor might prescribe an oral antibiotic. This can help to get rid of the condition from the inside out.

Antibacterial soaps, shampoos, or creams can be used on the sores of impetigo. You can use any over-the-counter antibiotic solution you’d like, as long as you’re aware that any medication like this could come with side effects.

The risks associated with this condition are a bit like those of folliculitis. Itching can lead to more damage, spreading, and even hair loss.

A more significant risk with impetigo is that it’s highly contagious. That is one reason that children who are in daycare or school get it so frequently. There are certain things you can do to help reduce your risk of spreading the condition or catching it from someone else. Some helpful tips include:

  • Covering obvious sores with gauze, especially if they are oozing
  • Washing hands frequently, and encouraging those you live with or spend time with to do the same
  • Avoiding sharing towels or hair tools like combs and brushes

Cellulitis and Impetigo

The redeeming factor of impetigo is that it is a skin condition. It can be unsightly and irritating. But, it remains mostly on the skin and doesn’t affect the body internally. If a bacterial infection like this isn’t treated correctly, it can lead to a more severe condition called cellulitis. Cellulitis occurs when the skin infection manages to penetrate the skin itself and get into the body.

How can you tell the difference between these two conditions? You should be able to notice a difference based on sight alone. Impetigo usually causes raised bumps that look like a bunch of sores. Cellulitis is typically red and flat and shows up in the form of longer bands.

Impetigo also rarely causes other symptoms. Since cellulitis dives into your system, it can create a variety of problems. These can include everything from nausea to fever and even chills. The symptoms of cellulitis are much like the symptoms of the flu.

Cellulitis doesn’t necessarily have to occur after another infection, but it’s common. It can also occur when there is a cut or opening on the scalp for bacteria to enter in. If you have signs of a bacterial scalp infection along with the internal symptoms listed here, you may be dealing with cellulitis.

Can Bacterial Scalp Infections be Prevented?

Bacteria can be unpredictable. It’s almost impossible to avoid or prevent infections completely. But, there are some things you can do to lower your risk. The more you can protect yourself from these types of infections, the better.

Some preventative measures include:

  • Keeping your scalp healthy and clean. Practice good hygiene habits, and wash your hair often enough.
  • Avoid sharing items that touch your scalp frequently.
  • Give your scalp a chance to ‘breathe.’ If you wear hats frequently, give yourself several hours a day without one. Wearing thick or heavy hats too often can cause sweat to become trapped and clog hair follicles and pores.
  • Always wash your hair and clean your scalp after excessive sweating. This can include anything from an hour at the gym to a day at a manual labor job.
  • Don’t wear other people’s hats or clothing that could be infected with bacteria. Don’t share your items if you know you’re prone to these types of infection.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Bacterial infections will be much worse for people who have a weakened immune system. By taking steps to keep your body healthy and active, you’ll have a better chance of fighting off infection. They will feel less severe.

How does bacteria affect the scalp?

What Causes Fungal and Viral Scalp Infections?

Though this guide has focused on bacterial infections of the scalp, it’s a good idea to be aware of other types of infections. Because there are so many possible scalp conditions to consider, being aware of the different kinds can make it easier to treat the problem correctly. The two other significant types of scalp infections are fungal and viral.

  • Fungal infections on the scalp are caused by the overgrowth of yeasts or an immune reaction. Yeasts and dermatophytes are the main culprits behind pesky fungal infections. Some of the most common fungus issues of the scalp are tinea capitis and seborrheic dermatitis.
  • Viral infections are less common, but they still do occur on the scalp. They are usually a result of an already-existing internal viral infection. The infection from within then manifests itself on the scalp. Some of the most common viral issues that affect the scalp include chicken pox and the herpes simplex virus.

Being able to identify the type of infection you have on your scalp can make it easier to treat them. It can also help you to have a better understanding of how severe the infection can get if it isn’t handled properly. Bacterial infections and fungal infections need to be treated differently, but both may require an official medical diagnosis.

How to Manage Bacterial Infections on the Scalp

Bacterial infections of the scalp can come and go like any other infection within the body. It’s dealing with them as they run their course that can sometimes feel overwhelming. In most cases, an antibiotic, over-the-counter solution, or home remedy can either get rid of the infection altogether or at least help with the symptoms.

There are usually no lasting adverse effects from the infections listed in this guide. As long as you don’t scratch at your scalp too much, the infections should go away without leaving any scarring or marks behind. Remember, too much scratching can lead to a more severe infection, and can even contribute to hair loss.

Now that you know the potential causes of different scalp infections, you can better protect yourself. Lower your risk by taking care of your hair and scalp. Sometimes, bacterial infections are unavoidable. Do what you can to prevent them as much as possible. If you do contract a scalp infection of any kind, we hope this article has given you some useful tips on how to treat it the right way.

Copyright 2018 by DryScalpGone.