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Scalp Acne: Types, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Clogged pores lead to pimples or acne on the scalp. It is therefore important to keep the hair and scalp clean.

What is Scalp Acne?

The occurrence of acne, pimples, or breakout on the scalp is referred to as scalp acne. Scalp acne develops when the hair follicles get clogged due to the build-up of dead skin cells or excess sebum. This lead to inflammation in the hair follicle. Sebum is the natural oil produced in the body by the sebaceous glands. It forms the protective barrier on the skin. If a person does not wash the hair properly or frequently, the pores get clogged. Also, though who wear headgears have more chances of getting clogged pores on the scalp.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, some people develop pores or bumps on the scalp when they use certain products. This leads to pimples or breakouts that develop on the scalp or hairline.(1) This particular type of acne is known as acne cosmetica as it develops when the skin comes in contact with the hair care cosmetic products.

Also, there are certain organisms that can lead to inflammation of the scalp, these include:(2)

  • Mites
  • Fungus
  • Staphylococcus epidermidis
  • Propionibacterium acnes

Types of Scalp Acne

The types of acne that can develop on the scalp are:

  • Mild Acne: These include whiteheads and blackheads.
  • Moderate Acne: People with moderate scalp acne may have a higher number of inflamed pimples on the skin surface.
  • Severe Acne: A person may have more severe papules and pustules and there may be the development of nodules and cysts that can be more painful.

Causes of Scalp Acne

Scalp acne appearance may vary in individual. Sometimes they may resemble pimples or zits on the scalp. These eruptions may be itchy and sore.

Sometimes pimples develop on the hairline.

Acne on the scalp occurs when the hair follicle gets clogged with sebum or dead cells.

Factors that may lead to scalp acne include:

  • Dead skin cells or oil that may be clogging the follicles
  • Keeping the scalp dirty by not washing hair regularly
  • A build-up of hair care products, leave-in treatments, or hairspray
  • Excessive sweating while wearing a headgear

There are a few specific germs that may lead to pimples on the scalp. These include:

  • Cutibacterium
  • Yeast from the Malassezia family
  • Demodex folliculorum
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Priopionibacterium acnes

Diet may also play a role in the development of acne on the scalp. A diet high in sugary carbohydrates may increase the risk of acne.(3)

Symptoms of Scalp Acne

Those with scalp acne may have the following symptoms:

  • Closely packed bumps
  • Whiteheads on the scalp line
  • Tiny bumps on the hairline
  • Painful bumps on the scalp

Treatment for Scalp Acne

Topical and medicated treatment is needed for scalp acne. The topical products can be brought without prescription. These products should contain the following ingredients:

  • Salicylic Acid: It is a common ingredient in skin care products for acne.(4) It helps in clearing dead skin cells by breaking the bonds between them.
  • Glycolic Acid: This product help exfoliate the scalp and remove the dead cells and sebum.
  • Ketoconazole: It is an antifungal product and is used for the treatment of red and scaly skin.
  • Ciclopirox: It is also an antifungal agent used in the treatment of skin infection and dandruff.
  • Benzoyl Peroxide: It is an antibacterial agent and helps in eliminating bacteria causing scalp acne.

If the acne is persistent, a doctor should be consulted as there may be a need for the following:

How to Prevent Scalp Acne?

Scalp hygiene plays a major role in preventing scalp acne. It is important to wash hair regularly or as it feels oily.

To prevent the flare-up of scalp acne, it is important to follow the below-mentioned tips.

  • Wear loose-fitting headgear so that it gives the scalp breathing space
  • Eat a diet that is essential for boosting hair and scalp health
  • Wash hair as and when needed, do not delay it
  • Avoid changing haircare products frequently
  • Switch over to the products that are more natural and hypoallergenic

In some people washing hair frequently may also lead to scalp acne as it may strip off excess sebum and remove the protective barrier, which may lead to scalp irritation. Scalp acne is a common condition. Topical medications are mostly recommended by a dermatologist in the treatment. Sometimes scalp acne may signal a more serious condition. Therefore, if you find that acne is not responding well to the over-the-counter topical products, instead of experimenting more it is good to speak with a doctor and get advice.

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:June 27, 2022

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