Causes of Red, Painful Bumps on the Scalp

Red, painful bumps can appear on the scalp for several reasons. Skin conditions, infections and irritation may cause hair follicle inflammation, leading to pimple-like bumps or rashes and even hair loss in some areas. Understanding possible reasons for their development can help guide treatment and responsiveness. Some conditions may require immediate medical attention. If bumps persist and pain becomes bothersome, contact a physician for evaluation and treatment.

Tinea Capitis

Tinea capitis, or ringworm of the scalp, causes round, red, scaly bumps on the scalp’s surface 1. This is due to the mold-like fungus tinea, which infects the skin and quickly progresses if not properly controlled. Bumps are usually painful with incessant itchiness and may be filled with pus, according to MedlinePlus 12. Ringworm of the scalp requires antifungal medication prescribed by a doctor. Multiple treatments are common.


Folliculitis is the inflammation of one or several hair follicles anywhere on the skin, MedlinePlus says 12. It begins when hair follicles become damaged due to external irritation of obstructed follicles. In general, the area appears red, bumpy and pimple-like, exhibiting pain as well as itching. Folliculitis decalvans is a condition affecting only the scalp and leads to scarring in which hair never grows back 2. Staphylococcus aureus is the bacteria responsible for this condition and usually requires several antibiotic treatments to ward off the infection, according to the Singapore Medical Association 3.

Scalp Psoriasis

According to, red, bumpy patches of skin with soreness that may extend beyond the hair line indicates scalp psoriasis 4. Symptoms are similar to sebhorreic dermatitis of the scalp, in which there is no pain--just itchiness and bumps remaining confined by the hairline. This condition can range from mild to severe with thick, crusted plaques accompanying basic symptoms. The National Psoriasis Foundation says scalp psoriasis can become less responsive to medications over time, so rotating or combining treatments helps in fighting the condition 4. Tar products and salicylic acid help treat mild cases, whereas prescription topical or oral treatments require evaluation by a health care professional.