Scalpel Acne: Everything You Need To Know

We’ve all heard about acne on the face, chest, and back, but there’s another area frequently prone to breakouts: your scalp. 

Scalp acne can pop up around your hairline or underneath your hair itself, which can make brushing, combing, or styling painful. And trying to hide it with a hat will probably just irritate your hair even more.

Below, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about scalp acne, including the possible causes and what you can do to calm it down. Plus, we’ll also share how to keep the pimples from coming back. Let’s get into it.


What Exactly is Scalp Acne?

We all know what pimples look like, but now imagine those inflamed bumps around the hairline or even underneath your hair. Yep, that’s scalp acne.

All pimples, including the ones on your scalp, pop up due to clogged pores. When dead skin cells, oil, or hair care products block a pore or follicle on your head, it can get irritated and turn into a pimple. 

The good news is scalp acne is pretty easy to identify. Like pimples anywhere on your body, they appear as raised bumps that may be tender. However, scalp pimples can sometimes be much more than just pimples — they can be an infection of the hair follicles called folliculitis

We know an infection sounds intense, but it’s actually pretty chill. These are very common infections and are something most of us may experience at some point in our lives. 


Symptoms of Folliculitis

These common infections kind of look like acne, but can become little pustules — tiny bumps that contain pus or fluid. 

If you feel a bump on your scalp, or have soreness or itchiness, part your hair away and try to get a good look at the area. If it’s on the back of your head, ask a friend  to help you take a look. What you’re looking for are tiny, acne-like bumps with a small ring of swelling around the hair follicle. They can sometimes also look like a white-headed pimple on the head, around the hair follicle. 

Well, What Causes It?

According to a recent study, the most common cause of folliculitis is staphylococcus aureus, a type of bacteria found on the scalp. Not only has this bacteria been proven to cause dandruff, but it can also lead to infections when combined with oil on the scalp. 

A buildup of excess oil and dead skin cells can end up clogging the hair follicle, which happens to be what staphylococcus bacteria thrive on. The oilier your scalp is, the more bacteria there will be. We’re sure this is amazing news to folks who have naturally oily scalps, or those who oil their scalps regularly. 

Other causes of folliculitis can include fungal, viral, or yeast infections. 


How to Treat Scalp Acne

Scalp acne isn’t just frustrating. When it's left untreated, the bumps can get bigger and turn into cysts -- which may need to be drained and even lead to scarring. 

So, it’s definitely worth getting those pimples under control ASAP and doing everything you can to keep them from coming back. 

Never pick at or squeeze the bumps, even though it can be tough to resist. Similarly, avoid brushing or combing around the area and take care not to apply too much pressure when shampooing. In short, take good care of your scalp. 

Popping the zit could spread bacteria to neighboring follicles or pores, ultimately leading to more acne. It could also increase the risk for scarring. 

If you do get a little bit of noticeable scarring around your hairline, we recommend Faded from Topicals. This powerful gel serum gently fades the look of your most stubborn scars, marks, and spots so that you can kick back and let your worries fade away.  

For folliculitis, you can ease the swelling and redness by applying a warm compress for 15- 20 minutes three to four times a day. If your bumps don’t go away or calm down after a few days of TLC, consult with your doctor. 

They might recommend a prescription-strength acne cream or oral medication to clear up the breakouts or a special medicated shampoo to keep them from coming back. Your dermatologist can also safely pop and drain large bumps that aren’t going away on their own. Either way, you’ll be good. 


How to Prevent Scalp Acne

Now that you’ve zapped those zits, you might feel the need to do what you can to keep new ones from forming. Here are a few great tips to keep scalp acne at bay:

Tip #1: Try An Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

Using a good anti-dandruff shampoo can do wonders to prevent scalp acne. This type of popular shampoo is typically formulated with active ingredients like salicylic acid, selenium sulfide, or pyrithione zinc. 

Try using it once every other day or even daily according to the product directions to help tackle excess oil on the scalp -- which could be the culprit behind your scalp acne.  

Tip #2: Take A Break From Oils

We know you absolutely love how your favorite serum makes your hair look, but you have to take into account whether it may be doing your scalp a disservice.

As we mentioned a little earlier, hair products can lead to a buildup of oils on your scalp, which in turn, could contribute to scalp breakouts. Experts at the American Academy of Dermatology recommend stopping the use of all products with oil or pomades, which can quickly clog pores. If your scalp is begging you to chill, you gotta listen. 

Tip #3: Don’t Let Post-Workout Sweat Sit On Your Scalp

By now, we’re sure you understand that buildup on your scalp can lead to pimples. If you have an intense sweat sesh at the gym, don’t let all that sweat sit on your scalp. Instead, either wash your hair to cleanse your scalp as soon as you possibly can or apply a dry shampoo that helps absorb oil. 

Tip #4: Remove Excess Buildup

Over time, hair-care and styling products can build up on your scalp -- nobody’s perfect. The trick is to remove that buildup before it becomes an issue. 

Try gently exfoliating your scalp with your fingertips when you shower. Don’t scrub so hard that you pull out any hair, but use just enough pressure that you can get rid of excess oil and product buildup.  

Tip #5: Review Your Diet

One review of diet and acne suggests that what you eat can significantly affect oil production, inflammation, and -- you guessed it -- acne. 

For an anti-acne diet, try limiting carbohydrate-rich foods as well as your sugar intake. Reach for foods with:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Antioxidants
  • Zinc
  • Dietary fiber

If you notice an acne flare-up after eating a particular food, you may want to consider eliminating it from your diet. Keep a food journal to keep track of what you’re eating and when flare-ups occur. 

Tip #6: Skip The Hat

Anything that rubs or constricts your skin is a potential trigger for acne. 

Think about hats that fit snugly on your head -- and rub against your skin. Add sweat and a little bit of dirt to the equation, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for an acne breakout.

If you’re prone to scalp acne, do your best to avoid wearing anything on your head for long periods of time. So let’s keep the tight bucket hats and beanies to a minimum, okay? 


Bottom Line

Always be aware of what touches your skin -- including dirt, grime, and sweat -- that can clog those pores and trigger acne breakouts. Look for beauty products that are non-comedogenic, eat a healthy diet rich in vitamins and minerals, use a good shampoo with oil-fighting ingredients, and avoid wearing constricting hats that can only irritate your scalp further. Paying attention to what you put on and near your skin can help you maintain that gorgeous face of yours.

Here at Topicals, we’re not in the business of changing skin, but instead, changing the way the world feels about skin.

You see, skin is fluid — just like we are. It’s not about being perfect, but understanding that you’ll have this skin for the rest of your life, and you should embrace it in all stages.

Whether you’re dealing with scalp acne or combating a spotty complexion, we’re here to remind you to settle into comfort, be confident, and always know you’re beautiful. 


Special types of folliculitis which should be differentiated from acne | NCBI

The relationship of diet and acne | NCBI

Folliculitis - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic