help I have scalp acne

HELP! I have Scalp Acne

Pimples, Zits, and Breakouts Oh My!

The day started off normal. I was sitting at my desk going doing a routine scalp massage, and all of a sudden I felt a sharp pain coming from the middle of my head.

I had no idea what it was, but the stinging sensation was real! And I was beyond confused. As someone who is not the most graceful of people, I thought that maybe I hit the top of my head on something when coming into work. But upon further examination, I realized that I had not run into anything abnormal that morning.

In fact, when I put my hand over the tender spot on my head, I could feel the familiar texture of little bumps on my scalp, almost like whiteheads. That's when I knew. I had scalp acne. I proceeded to go down a rabbit hole of WebMD and Allure magazine articles on the topic.

Keep reading to find out what I learned about scalp acne and how you can treat it.


What is Scalp Acne?

Follicular pustules or scalp acne is an inflammatory reaction around the hair and sebum follicles.

The primary cause for scalp acne is oils and dead skin from your scalp getting stuck in your hair follicles. All of this debris then becomes food for bacteria to form those painful and pesky pimples that resemble a breakout.

Yes, it is as gross as it sounds. But it is nothing to be ashamed of! Honestly, everyone gets a scalp-acne break out at least once in their lifetime. And natural hair girls can get scalp acne on a frequent basis.

That is because they tend to use a lot of oils to moisturize their scalp or seal in the moisture on their hair. They're not realizing that they're clogging their pores with the sealant and doing more harm than good. If you are starting to experience a lot of breakouts on your scalp at random, and you’re not sure why the olive oil and castor oil that you're using on your edges could be the culprit.


Four Treatment Options

Treating scalp acne is going to be similar to treating traditional acne. However, it is a little more challenging because you have a lot of hair in the way that can prevent the medicines from penetrating the area in need.

1) Spot Treatments

Your first line of defense can be a spot treatment.

You want to use something like an anti-microbial toner that can cover the pimples that you might have in a concentrated area. Just put the toner on a cotton ball and dab at the pimples or zits on your scalp. However, be cautious!

Don't rub the area because you could irritate your scalp even more and you don't want that.

Your toner should have these two key ingredients:

  • A bacteria-fighter like piroctone olamine: a compound with antifungal properties that are used to control the cause of dandruff. This is beneficial because it can eliminate the flakes composing the build up on your scalp.
  • An astringent like witch hazel: to remove excess oil from the skin.


2) Double Down On Shampooing

Remember, skin cells and dirt build up are what causes acne. Those same contributors can be what is causing your scalp acne.

So, if you cleanse all of that dirt and build-up from of your scalp on a regular basis you should not have a scalp acne breakout. Unfortunately, in this time of “hair care” fixation, a lot of people are buying and using co-wash products on their hair.

These shampoo substitutions don't have the cleansing properties to rid your scalp of the oils that you are accumulating throughout the week. Meaning, although you are getting your hair wet and attempting to wash your scalp, the co-washes don't have an agent that can bind to the oil and carry it out of your hair.

Instead the oil it's just sitting on your scalp wash after wash. That's what's causing your build up and break out. Instead of ditching the co-wash theory altogether, use a clarifying shampoo once a month. It'll bind to the oils in your scalp to take them down the drain as you wash your hair.

Dry shampoo is also another No-No when it comes to cleansing your hair. Of course, you can use it every few days, but do not implement it into your hair care routine as a substitute for washing your hair. Dry shampoo isn't rinsing anything down the drain. It's not attaching to any debris on your scalp and then taking it off of your scalp.

What it's really doing is just masking the smells or surface dirt that is on your scalp.


3) Exfoliate Your Scalp

If you notice that you get pimples on your scalp more often than not, then exfoliating maybe the treatment option for you.

An exfoliating scalp mask can help to bring up the dead skin on your scalp that you are not reaching when you wash your hair. It also makes it easier to clean the debris away.

All you have to do is part your hair in small sections. Then apply some of the exfoliation mask onto each piece of exposed scalp until you have covered your whole head. After the application, massage your scalp for about 20 minutes and apply a plastic cap to cover your hair so that the ingredients can work with the heat of your scalp.

Proceed to shampoo the mask and dead skin from your hair. Finally, condition as you usually would.

4) See a Professional

If you have tried all of the treatment options mentioned above, then it may be time for you to see someone who knows a bit more about this subject.

A trichologist or dermatologist will be able to treat your scalp acne from the inside, whether it be through medications or a hydrocortisone injection to reduce inflammation and bring down your overall reaction.

You want to seek a professional if you have red and inflamed scalp lesions, notice any bleeding, or have large cysts. Specialists might even suggest that you use an antibiotic not only to stop the acne that you have but manage it on a regular basis. A lot of doctors say that acne and be hormonal, but it can also form when there's an imbalance between good bacteria and harmful bacteria.

Meaning you may need to take the antibiotic with a probiotic to balance out everything that you are putting in your body to treat your scalp acne condition.



If your case of scalp acne is exceptionally severe, your doctor may prescribe you with Accutane or a derivative of it entitled isotretinoin.

This prescription although extremely controversial is known to cure acne within one course of treatment. However, the side effects can cause unrelenting discomfort for however long your course of treatment is. Side effects include joint pain, nose bleeds, and dry eyes.

It may also lead to mental health issues while you are on the drug. Needless to say, a lot of dermatologists do not make it their first choice when treating any type of acne.

However, the drug has proven that it can:

  • Shrinks the skin's oil glands and the amount of oil they make.
  • Reduce the amount of bacteria on the skin.
  • Slow down the production of new skin cells to keeps pores from getting clogged.
  • Soothe inflammation.

So if do you have a severe case of scalp acne isotretinoin may be an option that you would like to explore with your doctor.


It Happens to Everyone

Scalp build-up is a common occurrence. This is especially true if you use a lot of styling products to mold your hair on a daily basis.

Meaning, scalp acne can become inevitable if you're not taking the proper precautions to cleanse your scalp thoroughly. Not to mention outside factors like stress and bed linen can also contribute to a breakout on your scalp.

It’s important to remember that you can treat these painful pimples with a spot treatment, clarifying shampoo, an exfoliant, or help from your doctor. Have you experienced a bout with scalp acne? If so, what did you use to treat your break out and bring the inflammation down?

Drop a comment below.

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