What Is That Sebum Under My Nails When I Scratch the Scalp?

Ever wondered what it is and how you could get rid of it? In this article, we will tell you more about it all!

Written by Meredith Hayes. Updated on What Is That Sebum Under My Nails When I Scratch the Scalp

Have you ever noticed that, after you scratch your scalp, there is some sort of white sebum left under your fingernails?

If you have noticed anything like that, you probably wondered what that white buildup on the scalp might be and how it appeared there at all.

Scratching sebum off the scalp is not something common. If you constantly notice waxy white substance on your scalp and your scalp is itchy, you might need to check your hair and scalp for any health issues.

In this article, we will tell you what this white buildup on your scalp is, how it develops and why, and what can be done in order to remove it. And of course, you will get a lot of extra helpful information on this subject!

What Is White Waxy Buildup On Your Scalp?

Some people might be embarrassed to admit that they have found some of this white waxy substance in their scalps. However, the truth is that everybody produces varying amounts of sebum. The amount of it your scalp produces will depend on the specific features of your skin and your overall state of health.

So, if you have been concerned that something is wrong with your hair or scalp, then you can relax since the production of sebum is not only natural, it is also very helpful.

However, if you scratch your scalp and see white stuff under your fingernails, you might need to investigate a bit!

Why is my head wet when I scratch it

First of all, what is that white stuff on your scalp?

The explanation for this buildup in your hair is very straightforward. This white, waxy substance is a mixture of sebum and dead skin cells. Sounds gross, but this is how it is!

Normally, the dead skin cells that our bodies shed are used by the body through a process that is called skin cell turnover. However, this cell turnover process can be affected by several factors, leading to the increase in the production of dead skin cells!

And if for any reason your body is unable to take proper care of dead skin cells and do it fast enough, they will eventually build up and be absorbed by sebum. This will result in that white waxy substance that you may find on your scalp.

What Is White Waxy Buildup On Your Scalp
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What Causes That White Stuff In My Hair?

While many factors take part and should be considered when we talk about the process of the white buildup development, as well as the cause of this buildup, what it really a core cause is a dysfunctional skin barrier.

For those who don’t know what it is, the skin barrier we are talking about is the first layer of your skin.

What causes dandruff, and how do you get rid of it? - Thomas L. DawsonWhat causes dandruff, and how do you get rid of it? – Thomas L. Dawson

This lipid barrier on your skin is our guard since it is responsible for many bodily functions that keep your body alive. In addition, this barrier keeps our bodies safe from the outside world. The function we will look at, however, is its role in keeping you hydrated.

See, if this skin barrier starts to fail in terms of hydration, then the water loss will appear, resulting in the buildup of dead skin cells.

This happens because the water found in your skin is vital for skin cell turnover. Water in your skin is also responsible for activating the enzymes that remove dead cells from your skin.

Why Is It Not Recommended to Scratch Your Scalp?

You would most likely start scratching your scalp if it feels itchy or if you notice any strange buildup there, right? However, scratching is not the best idea, and this is why.

You probably know that the outside of each hair strand of yours is covered in cuticle scales. These cuticle scales are similar to scales that can be found on a fish.

When you scratch your scalp (even if you do it with the hairbrush or a comb), the back-and-forth scratching movements chip away at the protective cuticle. This leads to weakening the hair and making it more likely to break!

Why can’t you scratch your scalp

And the worst thing you can do is scratch your scalp with your fingernails! In this case, you risk scraping and cutting your scalp every time.

And any scratch or even the smallest cut on your scalp can cause it to become inflamed and even get infected!

Besides, it will be as painful and irritating as a cut anywhere else on the body. In addition, treating such cuts and scapes can also be more difficult since they are covered by hair.

Finally, if you are scratching your scalp all the time, constant scratching can lead to wounds and scabs, further damaging your scalp. It can also become dry as the outer layer of skin becomes weak and lacks moisture. Scratching leaves your hair weak and your scalp vulnerable.

Now that you know more about the white buildup on your scalp and why you should not scratch your head, it makes sense to learn more about the core cause of this problem – a dysfunctional skin barrier.

Why Is It Not Recommended to Scratch Your Scalp
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What Causes a Dysfunctional Skin Barrier?

As you already know, you may have a white waxy buildup on your scalp because of certain dysfunctions in your skin barrier. When talking about the state of your scalp health, a dysfunctional skin barrier can develop because of two main causes:

  1. the production of Malassezia yeast
  2. as a byproduct of using damaging products

Below, we are going to tell you more about each of them so that you understand better what they are and why they appear.

What Causes a Dysfunctional Skin Barrier
Champja via VistaCreate

Malassezia Yeast

If you have ever had dandruff, know that Malassezia yeast is the thing that is responsible for the production of it. This type of yeast feeds on the natural oils that are produced by your scalp, and sebum is one of them.

When this yeast feeds on sebum, it starts producing a substance called oleic acid. This substance is exactly the one that serves to cause irritation to your scalp! Finally, this oleic acid will create an immune response that will lead to a rapid increase in your cellular turnover.

While oleic acid is one of the key and direct causes of scalp buildup, it starts off with the production of Malassezia yeast. This is why, by limiting the amount of Malassezia yeast produced in your scalp, you can see a reduction in dandruff as well.

Malassezia Yeast
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Hair Care Products

We think that our hair care products, such as shampoos, conditioners, hair masks, and others, serve us to take care of our hair and keep our strands healthy and smooth.

Unfortunately, reality hits, and quite many hair products that can be found on the shelves of beauty stores can also play a role in damaging your skin barrier!

What it affects is the pH level in your skin. The pH is measured on a scale that goes from 0 to 14. Anything above 7 is considered alkaline and anything below 7 is considered acidic. Normally, skin is at a pH level of pH 5.0.

However, various external factors can interfere, ruining this balance, and thus turning your skin’s pH level alkaline. This change will affect your skin’s barrier functions.

What can you do to avoid that?

Well, the easiest thing you can do is you should always pay attention to what products you use on your hair and scalp! Like that, you will prevent messing up your pH level.

For example, for washing hair, people often use products that are not meant for hair at all, such as bar soap or shower gel! However, such substitutes can damage your scalp even if it will not be noticeable at first glance.

Using wrong hair products on your scalp can turn its pH level alkaline, which will lead to dead skin cells building up. As a “bonus”, you will often get dry and lifeless hair.

But even if you use shampoos to wash your hair, you should still be careful! Quite many shampoos, as well as other hair care products, may contain harsh sulfates, which should be avoided!

See, sulfates have the opposite effect compared to misused products, which means that they remove most of the sebum on the scalp. And if having too much sebum on your scalp can be negative, having too little will also be bad to your skin.

This is why always read the label before applying a product to your scalp and hair! You should always be well aware of how it works and what it does, what type of hair and scalp it is suitable for, as well as how it is intended to be used.

With all this in mind, you might be wondering now what you could do in order to fix the issue with the white buildup on your scalp. Luckily, there are several methods, and you can read about them in the next section!

Hair Care Products
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How to Get Rid of Scalp Buildup?

If you want to get rid of scalp buildup, take into account that it requires a thorough and well-planned approach since it can be both relatively easy and complex.

The easy part is getting any dandruff off your hair, but the complex part is about making sure that it doesn’t come back again later.

How To Cure Dry Scalp, Dandruff And Psoriasis With Dr.MikeHow To Cure Dry Scalp, Dandruff And Psoriasis With Dr.Mike

Of course, the very first step to take before you start acting is to find out what causes your scalp buildup at all. As you are now aware, it can be any of the factors that we have mentioned previously, or it could be many other conditions.

Once you are completely sure what is causing your buildup, you can begin by removing anything accumulated on your scalp.

Remove Scalp Buildup

You may think that any buildup can be removed by proper and vigorous washing, however, we would not recommend you use this approach! Like that, you will only make your scalp extremely dry, remove the sebum, and leave your hair unprotected and damaged.

Instead, choose a suitable product to use on your hair. The ideal product to remove any buildup on your scalp would be a pH-balanced cleansing agent used in a tandem with an exfoliant.

How to remove growths on the skin

Another benefit of this method is that it is both easy and relatively inexpensive. By combining a cleansing agent with an exfoliant, you will be able to gently remove any buildup.

We would recommend you search for any product that uses salicylic acid, as it can break down sebum and dead skin cells perfectly well! You just need to be careful since these products will use different levels of salicylic acid.

You should use one that has a high concentration of it. Any product that uses 0.5% should be ideal as your scalp can be very sensitive.

Remove Scalp Buildup
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Find The Root Cause

Now that you have got the easy part done, you now have to deal with fixing the issue that led to the problem. In particular, you need to find out why your scalp is developing this white buildup. Only then can you find a suitable remedy to fix the situation.

At this point, you might want to speak to a doctor about your condition. A skilled specialist will be able to diagnose whether the problem is an overuse of hair care products, the cause is overproduction of Malassezia yeast or a dysfunctional skin barrier.

Find The Root Cause
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Ensure the Root Cause Is Not Dandruff

To select proper treatment, you need to make sure that the core of this issue is not dandruff. But if you find out that it is dandruff that’s the root cause of your case, then you use the standard anti-dandruff treatment, which includes anti-fungal agents used for killing Malassezia.

For example, you can opt for zinc pyrithione shampoo, which can cope with the issue efficiently. As an alternative option, you can ask your doctor to prescribe some stronger shampoos, but that should be discussed with the specialist only!

Ensure the Root Cause Is Not Dandruff
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What If the Root Cause Is Dysfunctional Skin Barrier?

If you find out that the root cause of your buildup issue is a damaged skin barrier, you can deal with it with the help of topical oils. Since the main fatty acid in your skin is linoleic acid, any oil that’s rich in it will be able to repair your skin.

Other oils that have been shown to have some effect are coconut oil, borage oil, and even sunflower oil. Apply any of these oils on a daily basis and you should be on your way to preventing any more scalp buildup.

For sure, it may be tempting to some of you to use a solution you found on the Internet or maybe even use a product that your friends said worked for them! However, we would recommend you be wiser.

The truth is that a random solution can cause more damage than you already have. As a result, you will have to spend more time and money on fixing the harm than you would spend on curing the issue at once.

The best solution for you would be to speak to your doctor. Like this, you will know for sure what causes white buildup formation on your scalp and learn what could be done for fixing your personal situation.

What If the Root Cause Is Dysfunctional Skin Barrier
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Frequently Asked Questions

⭐Why do I have white residue after washing hair?

It can be the shampoo and foam leftovers that you didn’t wash out properly. Next time try to rinse your hair more thoroughly.

⭐Why do I scratch my head?

Dandruff could be the cause. Check whether you have it, and if you don’t, then consider undergoing a medical examination for skin infections.

⭐Why is my head wet when I scratch it?

You most likely have so-called wet dandruff. It occurs in people with too oily scalp. Ask your doctor how it can be treated.

Written by
Meredith will assist you with your health and family problems. She is a professional therapist who has huge experience in the field of family health care.
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