While ringworm can show up anywhere on your body, tinea capitis is specifically ringworm of the scalp. Also known as tinea tonsurans, herpes tonsurans, scalp ringworm and hair ringworm, this problem can be both painful and embarrassing. Thankfully, there are natural ways to both prevent and treat this highly contagious skin condition.
What Is Tinea Capitis?
Signs & Symptoms
What are the symptoms of tinea capitis?
The most common symptom of tinea capitis are itchy, crusty lesions on the surface of your scalp. (2) These scaly patches, known medically as tinea capitis kerion, are severely itchy and may also be tender to the touch.
As the fungus spreads across your skin surface, your hair can also become brittle and break off, leading to bald patches where the ringworm is growing.
Fever, pain and similar issues are not usually related to tinea capitis.
What does ringworm look like?
If you look at tinea capitis pictures or the bare skin revealed during hair loss, circular rings may appear on the skin — hence the name “ringworm.” The bare skin may also have lots of tiny dark spots, (3) which are hair follicles where brittle, damaged hair has broken off at the surface.
Causes & Risk Factors
When it comes to tinea capitis causes and what causes ringworm, there are various fungi that may cause ringworm of the scalp. (4) In the United States, the most common cause of tinea capitis is a fungus known as Trichophyton tonsurans. Other common fungi include:
- Microsporum canis
- Microsporum audouinii
- Trichophyton schoenleinii
- Trichophyton violaceum
There are always fungi, bacteria and germs present on your skin and in the environment around you. For a fungus to establish itself in your skin and begin feeding on your scalp’s dead skin cells and tissue, several factors can raise your risks. (5)
For example, the fungi that cause tinea capitis need moist, warm surfaces on which to thrive. Thus, the odds of getting infected by scalp ringworm go up if you are constantly in a humid environment; keep your scalp wet for extended periods of time (i.e. not drying off after showering, or sweating a lot); or if you don’t bathe your skin and wash your hair regularly.
Is tinea capitis contagious? Is ringworm contagious?
Tinea capitis and all other forms of ringworm are highly contagious. (6) If you come in close contact with someone who currently has ringworm, it can infect your skin, including your scalp. It can spread not only by skin-to-skin contact, such as shaking hands or hugging, but it can also spread through playing sports, and/or sharing towels, bedding or clothing. If articles of clothing touch an infected area and you in turn touch the clothing or towel, the fungus can transfer to you.
Does age matter?
Age can also be a risk factor. (7) Tinea capitis is most common in children, especially prepubescent children ages 3–7. This may be because children play together and often touch dirty surfaces with their bare skin, and also because young children have weaker immune systems, making ringworm in kids more prevalent.
Diagnosis & Conventional Treatment
Tinea capitis treatment in adults
In most cases, your doctor or dermatologist can quickly and easily diagnose tinea capitis simply by reviewing your scalp health, observing any bald patches in your hair, and looking for the telltale lesions and ring patterns on your skin surface.
However, in some cases your doctor may order various tests to be absolutely certain that tinea capitis is what’s afflicting you. There are several tests that your doctor can use. (8) For example, he may take a sample from your hair and create a potassium hydroxide preparation to reveal the fungus. Alternatively, your doctor may use a special light examination to study your skin.
What does skin cancer look like on your scalp?
The patchy bald spots and ring-marked skin should not be confused with cancer on your scalp. Melanoma (skin cancer) symptoms can include irregular pink spots on your scalp that bleed easily; moles that change shape or grow in size; and scaly pink patches that don’t form rings. If you have any concerns about how your scalp skin’s appearance is changing, talk to your doctor immediately.
How do you treat tinea capitis?
Conventional treatment usually involves both a topical and an oral treatment. An antifungal shampoo containing 2.5 percent zinc pyrithione or zinc sulfide can help to soothe your skin and keep the fungus from spreading. However, this doesn’t always completely eradicate the fungus. (8)
Oral antifungal medications such as griseofulvin and terbinafine may be prescribed for as long as a month or more as a ringworm cure. (9)
Six Natural Tips to Help Treat Scalp Ringworm
How long does it take to treat tinea capitis?
If you would prefer not to dose both your skin and your body with medications, natural strategies can help to treat scalp ringworm and prevent it from recurring. If treated quickly, tinea capitis can go away within three to four weeks. (10)
What is the best treatment for tinea capitis?
Practice Good Hygiene
Because ringworm is highly contagious, keep the fungus from spreading to other areas of your body with good hygiene. This also helps prevent you from spreading the infection to others, or contracting the infection again as you try to treat yourself.
Bathe and wash your hair at least every day when you have tinea capitis, and every two to three days to prevent it in the future. Avoid sharing any items of clothing or personal grooming items that go near bare skin. This includes makeup brushes, towels, shoes, hair brushes, etc.
Until your skin infection has healed completely, keep affected areas as dry as possible. For scalp ringworm:
- Towel-dry and then blow-dry your hair after showering.
- Avoid wearing hats, beanies and other items on your head, which can increase scalp humidity and help the fungus to spread.
- Avoid wearing any synthetic fabrics, and instead opt for clothing made from absorbent cotton that helps wick moisture away from your skin surface and keep your body dry.
Rinse with Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar’s gentle yet acidic nature changes the pH of your scalp and helps to kill fungus, including the fungus that causes tinea capitis. (11) Plus, it can help get rid of dandruff (a common side effect of ringworm infections) and improve the natural gloss and shine of your hair.
Mix one part raw, organic apple cider vinegar with three parts water and use it after shampooing. Douse your hair thoroughly once a day and massage it into your scalp, avoiding your eyes. Let it soak for 10 minutes as a leave-in conditioner, then rinse your scalp with fresh water.
Dab with Tea Tree Oil
The oil from the Melaleuca alternifolia tree, commonly known as tea tree oil, is a natural germicide. Thus, it can help to kill ringworm.
If you have an exposed patch of bare scalp afflicted with a fungus infection, dab it with a cotton ball dipped in tea tree oil. Alternatively, mix a 10 percent hair rinse by combining 1.5 tablespoons of tea tree oil in a cup of warm water and rinse your scalp with it, being careful to avoid getting any of the solution in your eyes, mouth or nose.
Repeat two to three times a day until your symptoms go away.
Condition with Coconut Oil
Coconut oil doesn’t just help to soothe itchy, irritated skin and make your hair feel and look softer and healthier. The oil also has antifungal and antimicrobial effects, which can help your skin to fight fungal infections like ringworm. (12)
Massage coconut oil into your scalp and let it soak in for half an hour before gently rinsing it clean with warm water. Alternatively, massage coconut oil into your scalp, wrap your head with a towel, and leave it in all night. You’ll wake up to a refreshed scalp and shiny, glossy hair.
Soothe With Turmeric
Curcumin, the antioxidant and active compound found in turmeric spice, is antifungal and anti-inflammatory. As it fights fungal infections like ringworm, its anti-inflammatory effects can also calm irritated skin and soothe away red inflammation caused by the infections. This is why turmeric has been used in ancient alternative medicine as a natural ringworm remedy for this skin condition. (13)
Mix freshly ground turmeric with just enough water to form a thick paste, and apply it to your scalp. Let it sit on your scalp until the spice paste has dried, then brush it out of your hair. Repeat daily until ringworm symptoms have subsided.
While ringworm of the scalp isn’t a serious health condition, if left untreated, it can lead to permanent skin scars on your scalp and may even contribute to long-term baldness. Tackle the fungal infection as soon as you notice it to avoid any future problems.
And while home remedies for ringworm and natural strategies for skin problems involve organic, plant-based ingredients, this doesn’t mean they’re compatible for everyone. For example, some people may be allergic to tea tree oil. When considering a home remedy for ringworm, talk to your doctor or dermatologist first to find out which tinea capitis treatment is best for your fungal infection on your scalp.
The fungus that causes ringworm is not only extremely common, but also very contagious.
The most important way to prevent ringworm on your head is by keeping yourself clean and avoiding the sharing of any personal items, such as hairbrushes. By simply keeping your scalp clean and sanitary, you dramatically reduce your risk of scalp fungus.
Tinea Capitis Key Points
The bacteria that cause ringworm are everywhere, and when they infect your scalp, the results can be exceptionally irritating and embarrassing:
- Tinea capitis, also known as scalp ringworm, isn’t actually caused by a worm but is actually a fungal infection.
- The most common symptom of tinea capitis are itchy, crusty lesions on the surface of your scalp.
- If left untreated, the fungus can cause bald patches on your scalp.
- Trichophyton tonsurans is the most common fungus to cause tinea capitis.
- The biggest risk factors for tinea capitis is poor hygiene, sharing personal items, and not keeping your scalp dry.
6 Natural Ways to Help Prevent and Treat Tinea Capitis
- Practice good hygiene, including washing and drying your hair daily when you have a fungal infection or hair fungus.
- Keep your scalp dry and avoidanything that raises the humidity on your scalp, including hats or beanies.
- Wash your hair with apple cider vinegar. The vinegar’s acid in this ringworm shampoo can kill the fungus.
- Dab bald spots with tea tree oil, a natural germicide.
- Massage coconut oil into your hair. This gentle scalp ringworm treatment soothes your scalp and also has antifungal and antimicrobial effects.
- Dab affected scalp areas with turmeric, which fights fungus and gets rid of skin irritation and inflammation.