Acne impacts the skin of up to 50 million people in the U.S. every day, making it one of the most common skin conditions. People of all ages, especially teens and young adults, experience some type of acne.
Unfortunately, skin issues related to acne aren’t limited to the face, neck, back, and arms. Acne also presents itself on the scalp. Scalp acne causes bumps, pimples, whiteheads, and cystic pustules on the scalp's surface. Many people experience this uncomfortable skin condition. If you are one of them, know that you are not alone.
Take a journey with us for information on treatment options. Topical ointments, oral medications, and some shampoos help promote overall scalp wellness which in turn may help curb your scalp acne. Knowing the possibilities will help you choose the treatment option that is right for you.
Scalp acne, AKA acne vulgaris, is similar to the acne you get on your face, except that it appears on the scalp and along the hairline. It is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that occurs when sebum (oil), dirt, dead skin cells, and product buildup become clogged in the hair follicles and pores. These impurities become trapped inside and cause acne.
Scalp acne results in itchy, sore, acne-like red bumps and pimples that cause inflammation. If you are experiencing scalp acne, don’t despair. Acne is one of the most common skin conditions in the U.S., and many people encounter it in areas such as their face, neck, arms, back, and scalp.
The surface of your scalp is covered in hair follicles and pores that quickly become clogged if not properly cleansed.
Similarly to regular facial or body acne, the hair follicles and pores on your scalp can get clogged with oil, dirt, and bacteria. In fact, acne-causing bacteria is one of the main factors that sets acne apart from normal breakouts. For this reason, keeping your scalp clean with the right shampoo and regular exfoliation is important.
Some haircare products can also contribute to scalp acne. Products made with oil can add to your scalp’s natural oils and clog pores, whereas other products like dry shampoo and hairspray can also cause irritation when they get into your pores.
When you think about it, it makes sense that you might experience scalp acne. Your scalp typically has more hair follicles than most other areas of skin, and while you may have learned to read skincare labels for pore-clogging ingredients, most people don’t apply that same scrutiny to their haircare products.
Scalp acne can also be hormonal. Just like regular acne, hormones can affect your scalp’s oil production and cause oil buildup. Acne-causing bacteria feed off of this oil, so an overproduction of it can lead to seemingly uncontrollable breakouts.
Hormones can also cause a dry scalp, which is prone to dead skin cell buildup. Without regular exfoliation, these dead skin cells sit on the surface of the skin and clog pores, causing irritation and pimples.
Scalp acne isn’t the only skin condition that causes painful red bumps on the scalp’s surface. Another common skin condition known as folliculitis also causes red, sore, itchy bumps. Folliculitis mimics acne and results from inflamed or damaged hair follicles rather than clogged pores. It is caused by bacterial or fungal infections from friction, shaving, or wearing tight-fitted clothing or hats.
If you think you may have folliculitis and your symptoms persist for more than a week or two, seek the attention of a board-certified dermatologist. There are several types of folliculitis, including superficial and deep. A doctor can help diagnose and treat this painful skin condition.
Some people require prescription-strength treatments for their scalp condition, while others may experience relief with over the counter at-home care. Treatments vary by individual and are determined by the type of skin condition.
Ingredients that may help soothe the uncomfortable side effects of scalp acne include:
Benzoyl peroxide - eliminates the bacteria present in acne.
Zinc Pyrithione - contains anti-fungal properties and helps control oil production.
Salicylic acid - is a common ingredient used in acne treatments. It helps to break down dead skin cells and clear the skin.
Glycolic acid - aids in the removal of bacteria, oil, and dead skin cells.
Tea Tree Oil - tends to acne with natural properties that help balance the scalp’s microbiome.
Ciclopirox - used for treating skin infections caused by fungus
Oral antibiotics - can be prescribed by a licensed medical professional to address certain types of skin infections that cause scalp acne
Some shampoos are specially formulated with these ingredients to help soothe the symptoms of scalp acne.
Clarifying and dandruff shampoos help support a healthy scalp by removing buildup, controlling oil production, and soothing the scalp.
It is essential to shampoo your hair often to prevent scalp acne from occurring or worsening. Shampooing regularly with the right type of shampoo can help clear product buildup, control oil production, and help clear away dead skin cell buildup.
You may find that choosing the right shampoo may seem tricky. Some shampoos strip the hair and scalp of natural oils, which may cause further irritation. To help avoid this, select a shampoo with active ingredients that help control oil production on your scalp such as Zinc Pyrithione, salicylic acid, and zinc.
Dandruff shampoo often contains ingredients that not only treat the underlying cause of flaking, but also soothe scalp acne. When choosing a shampoo it’s also important to ensure certain things aren’t on the ingredients list. Look for a shampoo that sulfate-free, fragrance-free, and dye-free.
Clarifying and dandruff shampoos help support a healthy scalp by removing buildup, controlling oil production, and soothing the scalp. Beneficial shampoo ingredients include:
Tea tree oil
Some shampoos may aggravate scalp acne and make it worse. Ingredients to avoid include:
Sulfates - may strip the scalp of natural oils, causing excessive dryness and irritation.
Triclosan - acts as a hormone and thyroid disruptor.
Dyes - synthetic ingredients that serve as colorants can be irritating to the scalp
Synthetic fragrances - similar to dyes, the chemicals used in creating a synthetic fragrance can cause dryness and irritation.
Zinc Pyrithione is an antifungal active ingredient that treats the underlying cause of dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis by addressing oil production, flaking, redness, and itching.
It helps to support a healthy scalp microbiome and rid the scalp of flakes and buildup that may clog pores and contribute to scalp acne.
Zinc Pyrithione is used in topical creams, face wash, and most commonly shampoos.
Avoid hats and headwear when possible, which contribute to sweat on the scalp. Oily hair care products also cause clogged pores and scalp acne. This also goes for oil production associated with sweat from working out, it’s important to cleanse your scalp after exercising to ensure added oil production will not contribute to dandruff, scalp irritation, and scalp acne.
Avoid popping and picking at scalp acne, as this causes it to become worse. Picking at scalp acne spreads bacteria and, in more severe cases, may cause infection or scarring. Practice self-control when it comes to touching the skin on your scalp.
It takes time to rid your scalp of acne, and unfortunately, it doesn’t happen overnight. Treatment may require six to eight weeks to completely clear scalp acne depending on your treatment protocol and severity of your flare up.
Once you’ve completely treated your scalp acne, you’ll want to do whatever it takes to prevent it from returning. Prevent scalp acne by becoming mindful of your hair care routine and how you cleanse and care for your scalp. Use products that contribute to a healthy, clean scalp and lustrous hair.
Shampoo your scalp 3-4x per week. If you have oily hair; do not go more than two or three days between washing.
Cleanse sweat from your scalp and hair as soon as possible after exercising to prevent clogged pores and breakouts.
Keep your pillowcase and bedding clean and free of dirt and oil can also help prevent acne.
Scalp acne affects many people, but it is easily treatable and even preventable. Ingredients, including zinc pyrithione, salicylic acid, glycolic acid, tea tree oil, and sulfur, can help prevent and even address some of the common symptoms of scalp acne as they work to remove oil and break up dead skin cells.
Jupiter’s Balancing shampoo formulated with Zinc Pyrithione and a host of natural, scalp soothing ingredients helps to control oil production and rid your scalp of flaking and buildup that can be linked to scalp acne.
Our complete line of scalp care products are formulated to scientifically promote your overall scalp health and gorgeous, healthy-looking hair. Learn more here.
This isn't a popularity contest, but if it were, our Balancing Shampoo would probably win. This often-sold-out soothing cleanser reduces hair breakage by 30% while getting to the root of dandruff (flaking, irritation, dry scalp), thanks to our star active ingredient, Zinc Pyrithione. With a lush aroma of mint, vanilla, sage, and lavender, it’s bound to elevate your mood and your shower.