American Academy of Dermatology (AAD)
August 14, 2018
According to dermatologists from the American Academy of Dermatology, scalp conditions, such as alopecia areata, psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis, are very common. In fact, researchers estimate that at least half of the people who have plaque psoriasis have it on their scalp. Fortunately, patients can improve their conditions using topical medications prescribed by their dermatologist. While these medications can come in many forms, including shampoos, lotions, sprays and oils, the most popular are solutions, which are liquid-based, and foams.
“There are many safe and effective treatments for scalp conditions, and a few of these can even be purchased without a prescription,” says board-certified dermatologist Amy J. McMichael, MD, FAAD, a professor of dermatology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. “However, applying these medications can be tricky if you don’t have the proper technique.”
For the most effective application, Dr. McMichael recommends applying scalp medications to dry hair using a simple, “five-line” approach. With a little practice, she says, the application should take less than two minutes to complete. However, it’s important to follow your dermatologist’s directions when applying scalp medications, she says, as different conditions may require different instructions.
To apply a solution medication, Dr. McMichael recommends the following steps:
- Part your hair down the middle of your head. Then, use a dropper to apply the medication along the part, from the front of your scalp to the back. If your medication doesn’t come with a dropper, you can get one from your local drugstore. Make sure you continuously squeeze out the medication as you work your way along the part with the dropper.
- Part your hair a second and third time to the right and left of your middle part, about 2 inches down.Continuously apply the medication along each part from the front of your scalp to the back.
- Part your hair a fourth and fifth time just above your right and left ears. Continuously apply the medication along each part from the front of your scalp to the back.
“Solution medications are commonly used among those with naturally straight hair, including Asian-Americans and many Caucasians,” says Dr. McMichael. “For those with coarse, curly or chemically relaxed hair, including many African-Americans, foam medications may be easier to apply and more popular.”
Foam medications can be applied the same way as solution medications, except that one would use the bottle cap instead of a dropper, says Dr. McMichael. Since foam medications are designed to melt when they come into contact with a person’s body heat, she says, the medication will dissolve if it’s applied to the hands before it’s applied to the scalp.
To apply a foam medication, Dr. McMichael recommends these tips:
- Part your hair down the middle of your head. Then, dispense a small amount of medication into the bottle cap. Bring the bottle cap up to your hair and use your fingertips to continuously rake small amounts of the medication out of the bottle cap and into your part, from the front of your scalp to the back.
- Part your hair a second and third time to the right and left of your middle part, about 2 inches down.Continuously rake the medication out of the bottle cap and into each part from the front of your scalp to the back.
- Part your hair a fourth and fifth time just above your right and left ears. Continuously rake the medication out of the bottle cap and into each part from the front of your scalp to the back. Wash your hands immediately after applying the medication.
“No matter what type of scalp medication you use, it’s important to follow your doctor’s directions,” says Dr. McMichael. “If you have questions about your treatment options, or if you suspect you have an undiagnosed scalp condition, make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist.”
These tips are demonstrated in “How to Apply Scalp Medications,” a video posted to the AAD website and YouTube channel. This video is part of the AAD’s “Video of the Month” series, which offers tips people can use to properly care for their skin, hair and nails. A new video in the series posts to the AAD website and YouTube channel each month.