Hair Care Tips & Styling Ideas

Acne on Scalp: Causes & Treatment Options

woman covering her face

Have you ever run your fingers through your hair and felt a tiny bump that resembles a pimple? The weird news: It probably was a pimple. Similar to face acne, acne on the scalp is inflammation that occurs due to excess sebum or congested hair follicles. The good news: Scalp acne is manageable—with the right ingredients and cleansing habits.

What Causes Scalp Acne?

According to clinical aesthetician Jennifer Gerace at Jason Emer, MD in Los Angeles, “Many factors can contribute to scalp acne. The most common causes are poor hygiene, diet and hormone imbalance for women. Headwear and hair products, such as heavy conditioners and products that contain wax also can be a cause.” Although many people experience an occasional pimple on the scalp, there are some who are more prone it. “Any time we see a change in hormones—for example: puberty, your menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause—we also see a breakout of acne.”

Related Reading: 10 Things You Didn’t Know Are Causing Acne Breakouts

How to Treat Scalp Acne

Although scalp acne can be hard to treat, certain ingredients can help manage the inflammation and heal these troubled areas. “There are several forms of medicated shampoo on the market that use different active ingredients to treat common scalp issues,” says Gerace.

Ingredients to Look For

“Look for ingredients like tea tree oil, zinc and one percent pyrithione,” says Gerace. “Salicylic acid and retinolic acid—a blend of retinol and glycolic acid—are also useful in keeping scalp breakouts under control, while spironolactone and Accutane are very effective drugs that are often prescribed for cystic acne and in cases that are resistant to other treatments.”

Gerace continues, “Hormonally induced acne can be hard to treat, but low-dose estrogen and progestin birth control pills, androgen pills and receptor blockers may help with regulating hormones. As women with acne tend to have higher levels of androgens, birth control pills that only contain progestin may make acne worse.”

Related Reading: The Acne and Birth Control Connection

It’s Okay to Use Facial Products

To save you time and money, Gerace says it’s perfectly fine to use the same products you would use on your face to treat scalp acne like retinol and salicylic acid. “Retinol will increase cellular turnover, while the salicylic acid slows bacterial growth.” She also suggests incorporating colloidal silver into your acne-treating regimen. “Silver naturally holds onto oxygen molecules, which readily react with the sulfhydryl (H) groups that surround bacterial and viruses. In turn, this helps block the life-preserving cellular process known as cellular respiration.”

Related Reading: Dermatologist Answers: How Should I Treat Back or Body Acne?

How to Prevent Future Breakouts

When it comes to preventing future breakouts, regulating your hormones is very important. Incorporating antibacterial ingredients in your daily routine and keeping heavy conditioners away from your scalp will also help prevent any flare-ups. “When applying your conditioner, try only to use it on the ends of the hair and when you use a medicated shampoo focus just on the scalp,” says Gerace. “Leave the shampoo on the scalp for five minutes to allow the ingredients to activate and work.”

Related Reading: 5 Best Foods That Prevent Acne & Dark Spots

Freelance Writer

Jessica Gomes

A self-proclaimed wellness junkie, Jessica Gomes is a freelance writer and health enthusiast who currently resides in Los Angeles, California. She loves creating content that impacts people on a personal level, inspiring them through words and creativity. When she isn’t writing or editing, you can find her whipping something healthy up in the kitchen, working out, practicing yoga, reading, working on her brand, JLG Official, attending concerts and enjoying the Southern California sunshine.

You can find Jessica’s beauty and health page on Instagram @jlgofficial or her website