Scalp Acne

Scalp acne is similar to facial acne and body acne. It can manifest itself as whiteheads, blackheads, pustules, papules or cysts. Scalp folliculitis is also similar to acne and affects the hairline and the scalp.

Causes of Scalp Acne and Folliculitis

The major cause of scalp acne is hormonal imbalance that causes too much oil production. Other causes include washing hair too often or infrequently, using shampoos that irritate the scalp etc. High stress levels can also cause scalp acne.  

Folliculitis can affect the scalp and other areas where there is hair growth. Scalp folliculitis is caused by bacteria, yeast or mites that cause hair follicles to get inflamed and form pustules. This inflammation of hair follicles is caused by the staphylococcus bacteria. Scalp acne causes folliculitis of hair on the scalp or forehead due to use of pomades that are oily or greasy. Other causes of folliculitis are shaving, certain types of irritating clothing or some types of makeup. These small, pus-filled pustules form at the bottom of each hair. Folliculitis can be treated with antibiotics that can quickly clear the symptoms. If pomades, plucking hair, shaving or waxing were the causes of folliculitis, these activities must be stopped for a while so that healthy hair can grow again. 

Folliculitis due to pomades : This acne affects those with tight curly hair who use greasy and oily ointments called pomades to style their hair or improve its manageability. This use of excessive greasy substances causes the pores on the temples and forehead to get blocked. Pomade users therefore develop acne – usually whiteheads, blackheads, pustules or papules on these areas where the pomade touches the skin.

Pomade acne also affects the scalp. It causes inflamed and infectious pustules on the scalp and this condition is called folliculitis. Folliculitis causes scars to form on the scalp and hair loss.

Dermatologists advise people who develop such scalp acne to stop using pomades. If they feel that they cannot do so, they can follow some precautionary measures like using pomades an inch behind the hairline or apply pomades to the ends of the hair, therefore avoiding the scalp, temples and forehead. 

scalp acne

Baby Scalp Acne

A common skin condition in newborns is scalp acne. This is due to the presence of maternal hormones in the baby for the first month after birth. The baby’s sweat glands are still developing and when maternal hormones react with these sweat glands, they block the passage of hair follicles causing acne on the scalp and face. Baby scalp acne appears as red bumps with a white center. They are often scattered all over a baby’s scalp. Baby scalp acne is not the same as cradle cap that is a scaly rash.

Treatment for baby scalp acne: Pediatricians often advise parents not to resort to medications, as baby scalp acne will disappear after a few months when the sebaceous glands mature. If acne conditions continue after several months, some medicated creams contain benzoyl peroxide or antibiotics will be prescribed. Parents can follow some simple home remedies. Wash baby’s scalp with a mild baby shampoo, taking care not to scrub vigorously and not to squeeze the acne.

Treatment for Adult Scalp Acne

Topical treatments: Many topical products can treat both scalp acne and scalp folliculitis – especially if the outbreak is mild. Creams or cleansers that contain salicylic acid, ciclopirox or ketoconazole work well. The last two are contained in anti-dandruff shampoos. Prescription topical ointments containing erythromycin and clindamycin or a topical steroid can be used for scalp folliculitis. These ointments fight bacteria and reduce inflammation. 

Of the OTC products, salicylic acid is said to be very effective for scalp acne. It contains keratolytic agent causes a break down of the blocked hair follicles. Topical antimicrobials like azelaic acid can kill the acne bacteria and they are used to treat severe forms of scalp acne. 

Oral treatment: Severe scalp acne and folliculitis must be treated with oral medications prescribed by a dermatologist. Isotretinoin is the most effective for all types of acne. It shrinks oil glands and pores therefore curing all causes of acne. Antihistamine could be prescribed for hair folliculitis and this helps to fight bacteria, mites and yeast that cause the outbreak.   Zinc supplements – 45mg to 225mg – taken thrice daily for about 12 weeks can relieve symptoms of scalp acne.   Clindamycin and sulfacetamide are other antibiotics given for scalp acne. 

Essential oils for scalp acne: Tea tree oil is said to be an effective treatment for scalp acne. However, it can cause side effects like dermatitis, so use only after consulting a qualified aromatherapist. 

Lavender oil has de-stressing properties. It can also relax hair strands and soothe the scalp. German Chamomile oil also helps with scalp health. Rubbing chamomile oil into the scalp can cure dermal conditions like scalp acne and psoriasis.  ,

Home remedies: Sometimes grandmother’s are also effective. So, why not try using a scalp rinse made from:

  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • ½ rose water

Mix these and rub on scalp after shampooing. Leave on for 30 minutes and wash with clear water. Crushed peppermint leaves applied on scalp pimples are also said to help. These do not cause harm and might actually work. 

Prevention of Scalp Acne

Several preventive measures can control scalp acne breakouts. Shampoo using a mild shampoo several times a week, if, you live in places where there is hot and humid weather. Use a mild conditioner without humectants to clear all pores.  Do not use hair styling products that contain oil. Buy hair styling products that are marked as ‘non-comedogenic’. These products will not block pores and can prevent further acne outbreaks.

Always be gentle with your scalp. This includes not scrubbing energetically when shampooing, not combing your hair with hard combs and brushes, not using pins, barrettes or hot rollers if they are rough and can cause cuts on the scalp. Do not share towels or combs. Do not wear tight hair accessories like headbands, hats, stocking caps or swim caps for long hours.

Protect your scalp when out in the sun by using a hat or a scarf. While there is no real evidence that sun exposure can cause acne, acne can worsen due to excessive sweating when in the sun. 

Change bed linen frequently and do not use hot tubs or spas that may contain fungus or bacteria. 

Do not prick the acne. If the scalp is itchy, a warm, moist cloth can be compressed on the affected area a few times to relive the itch.  Such preventive measures ease scalp acne symptoms.