Acne is a very common skin condition caused by excess sebum or oil production by the sebaceous glands present in the skin. It leads to the formation of pimples on the face, upper arms, back, and sometimes on the scalp. Pimples on scalp can be due to two reasons — acne vulgaris and scalp folliculitis.
Acne vulgaris is a condition in which excess sebum and dirt accumulate in pores and cause red bumps on the skin. On the other hand, folliculitis is a condition in which the hair follicles on the scalp get inflamed and lead to pimples on the scalp.
People often confuse scalp acne and scalp folliculitis as both appear to be the same. However, scalp acne is a rare condition in comparison to scalp folliculitis. This blog helps you understand what scalp acne is and its causes and suggests home remedies to prevent scalp acne.
What is Scalp Acne?
Scalp acne is a condition in which red pimples filled with pus get formed on the hairline or the scalp. In simple words, acne formation on the scalp is called scalp acne. When the sebaceous glands on the scalp start producing excess oil, it clogs the hair follicles and causes inflammation, causing scalp acne.
Types of Scalp Acne
Similar to skin acne, scalp acne is also of various types.
Also called closed comedones, a whitehead or white pimple on head is a raised bump on the scalp caused due to clogging of hair follicles.
Blackheads are open comedones also formed due to the clogging of hair follicles. However, blackheads are different from whiteheads as they turn black due to oxidation. Moreover, whiteheads are closed bumps, whereas blackheads are open pimples.
3. Cystic Acne and Nodules
Cystic acne is large reddish bumps on the scalp filled with fluid. They do not have a head and take longer to heal. Nodules are cystic pimples that do not have fluid and are hard to touch.
4. Papules and Pustules
Some pimples do not have a head. Those are called papules. Pustules, on the other hand, are pimples filled with a white fluid and have a head. These are usually clustered pimples on back of head.
Pimples on Scalp Treatment
Mild pimples on the scalp due to sweat or dirt do not require treatment. You should switch products if you are getting pimples on your scalp due to shampoo or conditioner, you should switch products. However, pimples caused due to scalp acne or folliculitis need treatment. Here are some of the most common treatments for scalp acne
1. Salicylic Acid Shampoo
Salicylic acid is a gentle exfoliant that removes dead cells and excess product buildup on the scalp. It helps unclog the hair follicles and heals pimples. You can purchase over-the-counter salicylic acid shampoos or consult a dermatologist for a salicylic acid recommendation.
2. Chemical Exfoliants
You can also use chemical exfoliants such as hair lotions or serums with azelaic acid or glycolic acid. Chemical exfoliants also help remove excess buildup on the scalp and heal pimples. You can buy over-the-counter scalp chemical exfoliants.
3. Oral Antibiotics or Topical Antibiotic Creams
Doctors might suggest oral antibiotics or topical antibiotic creams in severe cases of scalp acne. As many topical antifungal or antibacterial creams contain steroids, you must consult a dermatologist before using any topical antifungal or antibacterial lotion on the scalp.
In addition to these treatments, you will also have to adopt healthy haircare habits like washing your hair every 2-3 days, avoiding overnight oiling, washing your hair immediately after a workout, and reducing the use of hair styling products.
How Long Will Pimples Take to Heal?
Pimples in hair scalp usually heal in a week or two if you wash your hair frequently and keep the scalp clean. However, scalp acne is a serious skin condition that can take several weeks to heal properly. It is better to consult a dermatologist if you feel that you have scalp acne.
Pimples on Scalp Home Remedies
One of the best ways to treat pimples on scalp at home is to wash your hair with a gentle cleansing shampoo two-three times a week to avoid excess oil, sweat and product buildup.
Here are some of the most effective pimples on scalp home remedies that you must try —
1. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree essential oil is one of the best home remedies for scalp acne. According to research, tea tree oil is beneficial in treating mild to moderate acne. Tea tree oil has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that control bacterial infection on the scalp and help reduce scalp pimples.
2. Apple Cider Vinegar
Many suggest using apple cider vinegar on the scalp to treat pimples. It is believed that apple cider vinegar has astringent properties that reduce bacterial infection and helps treat scalp pimples. However, there is no scientific research to prove the efficacy of apple cider vinegar for scalp pimples. You can try it out and see whether it works for you.
3. DIY Scrubs
Hair styling products like hair serums, gels and wax can clog the hair follicles if not washed properly. Therefore, it is important to exfoliate your scalp using natural products gently. You can make coffee or sugar scrubs at home to remove buildup from the scalp. Some of the most popular scrubs for scalp exfoliation are honey and sugar scrub, Himalayan salt and honey scrub, tea tree oil and brown sugar scrub, and brown sugar and oatmeal scrub.
You should use any of these scrubs only once a week. Massage it on your scalp gently for 2 minutes and leave it on for 4-5 minutes. Rinse the scalp with lukewarm water, and then wash your hair with a gentle shampoo.
In addition to trying the above-mentioned remedies, you should occasionally wash combs or hair brushes to prevent bacterial infections on the scalp. Also, avoid using other people's combs and brushes.
What Causes Pimples on Scalp?
There can be a variety of reasons for getting pimples on the scalp. Some of the most common causes include:
- Product buildup
- Excess oil
- Hormonal imbalance
- Body inflammation
- Bacterial infection on the scalp
Another common cause of pimples on the scalp is overwashing or under washing hair.
Symptoms of Pimples on Scalp
You can easily identify pimples on your scalp by touching them. If you feel raised bumps on your scalp or hairline that are painful to touch, it might be scalp pimples. Here are some of the most common symptoms of pimples on scalp:
- Formation of red bumps on the scalp
- Swelling, inflammation, or redness in the raised bumps on the scalp
- Itchiness on scalp
- Formation of white pustules on the red bumps
- Dry, flaky skin surrounding the bumps
When to See a Doctor?
A few pimples on the scalp usually get better after a few weeks if you take good care of your scalp. However, if the scalp acne remains even after taking care of your scalp and trying various home remedies, you should consult a dermatologist. It is also recommended that you immediately consult a dermatologist if the scalp acne is extremely painful.
A doctor would diagnose whether you have scalp folliculitis, scalp acne or any other condition. They might suggest medicated shampoos, lotions or even oral scalp acne treatments for pimples on scalp.
You can get pimples on the scalp or hairline for several reasons like excess oil production, dirty hair, excess use of hair oil, hair wax, or other products, using dirty combs, stress, wearing sweaty hats or hoodies, and more. However, pimples on the scalp or hairline are not necessarily scalp acne. It can also be scalp folliculitis.
You can try to keep your scalp clean by using a clarifying shampoo or hair mask. The pimples on the scalp will most probably heal in one week. However, if there is excess inflammation, redness and pain because of the pimples, it is better to consult a dermatologist and take appropriate scalp acne treatment.
Why Am I Getting Pimples on My Scalp?
There could be several reasons for getting pimples on your scalp. Some of the most common reasons include oil buildup, accumulation of dead cells or dirt on the scalp that causes bacterial infection and clogging of hair follicles due to excess usage of hairstyling products like gels, waxes and creams.
Other reasons for getting pimples on the scalp can be stress or using shampoos and conditioners with comedogenic ingredients.
Is Acne Causing Scalp Pimples?
Yes, acne can be one of the reasons for pimples on the scalp or the hairline. There are two factors that cause acne: excess oil production, and dead cells and sweat buildup on the scalp. Therefore, if you get scalp pimples during humid seasons, it might be because of acne.
However, you should remember that not all pimples on the scalp are caused due to acne. Red pimples on the scalp can also be due to scalp folliculitis.
Are Pimples on Scalp Normal?
Yes, a few pimples on the scalp are normal, especially during the summer and monsoon seasons. Pimples on the scalp are mainly caused by excess oil production, clogged pores and hair follicles. The scalp comprises thousands of hair follicles and sebaceous glands. When these get blocked, pimples are formed on the scalp.
However, you should try home remedies or consult a dermatologist if too many pimples form on the scalp.
Can Stress Cause Pimples on the Scalp?
Yes, acute stress can cause pimples on the scalp. According to research, there is a direct relation between stress levels and pimples. Whenever the body is under psychological stress, the neurons or brain cells send a signal to the skin.
The body then secretes corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), a hormone that regulates the body's response to stress. The CRH hormone impacts the immune system and increases skin inflammation. This leads to the formation of pimples on the face, scalp, or body.
Why Are Scalp Pimples So Painful?
A few pimples on scalp are manageable and may not be painful. However, excess scalp pimples can be painful and may cause itching on the scalp. When pimples form on the scalp, they cause inflammation, swelling and redness. This is why they are painful.
You should avoid popping the pimples or scratching your scalp as it can cause more pain.
Is Coconut Oil Good for Scalp Acne?
Many people use coconut oil regularly on their scalp for dandruff and other scalp conditions because it has antibacterial properties. However, research suggests that coconut oil available in the market is highly comedogenic, which means it clogs pores and can aggravate scalp acne, especially if you have an oily scalp.
Therefore, coconut oil is not good for treating scalp acne. You can apply coconut oil on the scalp after the acne gets better.
Scalp folliculitis - https://dermnetnz.org/topics/scalp-folliculitis
Are Your Hair Care Products Causing Breakouts - https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/causes/hair-products
Shampoo and Conditioners: What a Dermatologist Should Know? - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4458934/
ACNE - https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/skin-care/tips#treatment