Scalp acne: symptoms, causes, prevention and treatment

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Scalp acne

Though pimples on the scalp are not dangerous, they are unsightly and uncomfortable. Pimples on the head are also hard to treat because they are always hiding under hair. Therefore, if you don’t take the appropriate treatment methods, they are more likely to worsen and cause scarring. This article will help you learn more about the pimples on the head: their cause, types, and treatment.

What is acne on the scalp?

For most people, pimples occur on the face, but do you know there are also pimples on the scalp? Yes, scalp acne, or scalp folliculitis, is a form of inflammation of the hair follicles due to irritation, fungal, bacteria or other infections. People who are prone to facial acne can also get traditional acne around their hairline.

What causes acne on your scalp?

Scalp acne looks like small pimples on the scalp, including the hairline and the back of the head. Just like pimples on the face or other parts of the body, pimples on the scalp occur due to various factors. Below are some of the factors that cause pimples on a head:

  • An increase in Sebum (oil) production
  • Inflammation caused by a blocked hair follicle
  • A buildup of dirt and dead skin in your hair follicle
  • An increase in acne bacteria on your skin

Our scalps are full of oil glands and hair follicles, and if they become clogged with oil and dirt, this can lead to scalp acne.

There is no single answer to the question “what causes acne on the scalp?” or “Why am I getting acne on my scalp?” Though scalp acne is mostly caused by the buildup of dirt and oil in the hair follicles, you can also get scalp acne due to behavioural factors like:

  • Taking too long to wash your hair after a workout
  • A buildup of products like hair gels
  • Failure to wash your hair thoroughly
  • Sweating while wearing a head covering that causes friction

Even if you regularly clean your head, you can still get acne, but sweat and dirt buildup from improper washing is also a major cause of clogged pores. Haircare routines and products, like styling gel, shampoo and styling gels, can also block your pores, leading to scalp acne.

Types of scalp acne

Acne is normally graded according to the severity and the types of pimples on your head. Types of acne include:

  • Mild scalp acne: This is acne mostly made up of whiteheads and blackheads.
  • Moderate scalp acne: This acne consists of pustules and papules appearing on the scalp.
  • Severe: This acne is characterised by nodules and Cysts. It can also be painful and cause hair loss.

Types of pimples include:

  • Whiteheads (closed comedones)
  • Blackheads (open comedones)
  • Papules (inflamed bums)
  • Nodules (cysts)
  • Pustules (bumps filled with pus)
  • A combination of different pimple types

Since severe scalp acne can develop blackened crusts and leave permanent scars, it is advisable to contact your doctor if you are experiencing persistent acne that is causing severe pain or hair loss. Though uncommon, some people also get severe forms of scalp acne called acne fulminans and acne conglobate.

Symptoms of scalp acne

Common symptoms of scalp acne include:

  • Whiteheads on your hairline or scalp
  • Tiny bumps on  your forehead or at the back of your head
  • Tiny bumps packed together on your scalp
  • Tiny bumps you can feel but are not visible
  • Painful bumps on your head
  • Flesh-coloured bumps along the hairline or on the scalp
  • Deep cysts under the scalp

Scalp acne prevention

Scalp hygiene plays a significant role in preventing most head acne types: cystic acne on the scalp, fungal acne on the scalp, or mild acne. You will avoid clogged pores by washing your hair after every workout and any time it feels oily. Below are some ways to prevent scalp acne and further flare-ups.

  • Wash your hair soon after exercising
  • Avoid using too many hair care products, such as gels, creams and hairsprays
  • Wear loose-fitting headgear to let the scalp breathe
  • Switch to natural, hypoallergenic hair products
  • Get enough vitamin A, D and E for healthy skin
  • Keep a food diary to track the foods that are giving your flare-ups (if your diet is a suspected cause)

While washing the hair is one of the ways to prevent scalp acne, for some people, washing the hair too often can increase the risk of scalp acne by stripping the skin of protective sebum. Lack of sebum allows other contaminants to get into the pores and hair follicles.

How to get rid of acne on my scalp

Since it is oil accumulation that causes acne, the key to treating pimples on the scalp is by preventing your pores from clogging. For example, mild scalp acne, mainly caused by hair products, will disappear if you change the products. The best alternatives are products that don’t contain oil. Also, keeping your scalp free of sweat, dirt and oil will eliminate acne by helping keep the pores clean. Therefore, you should wash your hair more often if you have oily hair or sweat a lot during the day.

If your scalp acne is not caused by hair products, you may need other acne on the scalp treatment methods. These can include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Salicylic acid shampoo
  • Photodynamic therapy
  • Sulphur shampoo
  • Drainage for severe cystic scalp acne

Though pimples on the head are not as common as other types of acne, they can happen due to blockage of hair follicles and pores by oil and dirt. Scalp acne come in different forms, meaning people experience varying symptoms. Luckily, there are several ways to prevent scalp acne and treat it before it becomes severe. However, since acne can signify a more serious health condition, it is advisable to consult a doctor if your scalp acne does not respond to usual treatments.