What Causes Scalp Acne: 7 Reasons and Solutions

what causes scalp acne
Written by Allison

What causes scalp acne? A few things.

All acne is annoying, but scalp acne really takes the cake — it’s even worse than fungal acne. What causes scalp acne to be so annoying? It can be itchy, bothersome while styling your hair, and could be caused by something as little as wearing a hat or scalp circulation issues. Read on to learn just about everything you need to know about scalp acne.

Acne on your scalp is zero fun, but what causes scalp acne in the first place? Scalp acne, like acne anywhere else on your body is caused by pores getting clogged with old dead skin cells, oil, and bacteria. There are also hormonal causes of acne which vary for most people. You can treat both bacterial and hormonal scalp acne at home, but first you need to know what you’re dealing with.

Take a close up look at your hairline (or wherever your scalp acne is hanging out). Figuring out what kind of pimple you’ve got lurking under your hair will make it easier to treat. In general there are three levels:

  1. Mild – blackheads and whiteheads
  2. Moderate – your classic pimple, may or may not have a whitehead
  3. Severe – Cystic or nodule acne (large, painful, generally sits under the skin)

If you have mild or moderate acne, you’re cool to treat it at home. If you have severe acne it’s best to see your doctor for treatment. Have you ever seen a doctor pimple popper video? You don’t want to DIY that on your scalp.

How to treat scalp acne

First things first, don’t scratch at, dig into, or pop your scalp acne. You can make it worse, harm your scalp, and worst case scenario scar your scalp badly enough to mess up your hair follicles. You don’t want that. You don’t want to try any scalp exfoliation products yet, either.

Next, take a hard look at your hygiene. When is the last time you washed your hair? Have you used a new product lately? How about an oil based hair mask? Any of these can contribute to what causes scalp acne.

Scalp acne can be treated with topical shampoos, and regular OTC acne treatments, so long as you can apply it to the pimple. Word to the wise, avoid Benzoyl Peroxide which can also bleach your hair. Otherwise try the following:

  • Neutrogena T/Sal Shampoo – It contains salicylic acid to exfoliate your scalp. This helps to keep skin cells from clogging your pores.
  • Aqua Glycolic – This contains glycolic acid that also helps with exfoliation and kills bacteria.
  • Nizoral – Contains antifungal agents in the case of fungal acne.
  • Spearmint tea for acne – it’s cheap, easy, and smells great

Give it a solid week or so of at home treatment and check back in with your scalp. If your scalp acne has not let up, make an appointment with your doctor to make sure it really is acne and not another crusty scalp issue, and to look into prescription treatment options.

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About the author


Bio: She's a New Orleans based beauty writer, nail polish hoarder, and doughnut enthusiast. When she isn't camping out in her local coffee shop for hours on end, you'll probably find her taking selfies in front of every colorful wall she's ever seen. Follow along on Instagram @allisonmarieschmidt.

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