These Are the Best Products for Treating Scalp Acne
Pimples can (obviously) pop up on your face, as well as areas such as the chest, back and booty. But did you know that you can also break out on your scalp? Yep, scalp acne is a very real thing. "While it's less common on the scalp than it is on the face, acne can form anywhere we have pores and sebaceous glands," says Craig Ziering, a dermatologist and hair transplantation surgeon and restoration expert based in Beverly Hills.
Scalp acne is very similar to the acne you would find on your face or body, and occurs when hair follicles (aka pores) become clogged with sebum, dead skin cells, and bacteria, explains Ziering. A whole litany of things, ranging from hormones to weather to stress to genetics can contribute to those clogged pores, notes Dennis Gross, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and founder of the eponymous skincare line. (Related: The Healthy Scalp Tips You Need for the Best Hair of Your Life)
But there's one unique contributing factor at play when it comes to the scalp: hair products. Styling products, particularly those rich in comedogenic oils such as coconut oil, certain waxes, and certain polymers that create hold can all build-up on the scalp, leaving behind a pore-clogging residue, says Iris Rubin, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Bethesda and the founder of SEEN hair care. Similarly, "not washing your hair regularly can cause excess oil to build-up, further contributing to scalp acne," she adds.
So, who's most likely to get scalp acne? "If your skin in general is more acne-prone, you're more likely to develop scalp acne," notes Dr. Gross. (And again, keep in mind that it can manifest just as it would anywhere else, via blackheads, whiteheads, red papules, or even cysts, he adds.) (Related: Why You Should Treat Your Scalp to a Detox)
While you can't control some of those aforementioned contributing factors (genetic, we're looking at you), and there's really not always a way to fully prevent any kind of acne, there are things you can do to make it less likely to occur and more manageable if it does, says Ziering. When and how you wash is paramount; while you want to rid your scalp of excess oil, you don't want to over-wash and over-dry the scalp, as this can actually end up triggering the production of more sebum and make things worse, he points out. Try to steer clear of heavy styling products whenever possible, and avoid wearing a hat when you work out, suggests Dr. Gross; this can trap sweat and bacteria on the scalp, further upping the likelihood of clogged pores.
If you are dealing with scalp acne, try using non-comedogenic (read: non pore-clogging) hair products whenever possible, says Dr. Rubin (though she notes that this can be tricky as not many are labeled as such). In general, avoid heavy, pore-clogging ingredients such as coconut oil and cocoa butter, and consider using a shampoo with salicylic acid, both to help treat a scalp acne flare-up and help prevent future breakouts, she adds. (Related: The Best Salicylic Acid Face Wash for Every Skin Type)
Ahead, eight of the best scalp acne-fighting products out there.