Pimples on Scalp and Acne on Scalp: Causes and Treatment

Pimples on Scalp and Acne on Scalp

Pimples and acne are part of the inevitable reality. Everybody at some point in life develops a little red bump on the face, whether we like it or not; but what about pimples on scalp? For some, the appearance of pimples located near the hairline or deep within the hair may sound as an uncommon occurrence, but the reality is much different.

Skin as a whole organ, whether on the face, back or scalp, consists of countless pores that, when clogged, trigger the development of red, inflamed bumps often filled with pus. Scalp, in particular, is exposed to a lot of environmental elements, such as dust, bacteria, chemicals, and hairstyling products, which increase the chances of hair follicle blockage.

It seems like the only positive aspect of having acnes on the scalp is the fact that they are not as visible as those located on forehead or cheeks. With that being said, itchiness and pain associated with acne near the roots of the hair are simply indescribable. When having such skin condition, even combing and hat wearing can become a challenge.

If you are looking for ways to make these everyday tasks simple again, you are in the right place. This article will introduce you to life-changing tips you can immediately put to proactive.

Pimples and Acne on Scalp Causes

Acne on scalp is not any different than that located on the face, back and chest. The cause of its development is general. Here is a quick explanation on why acne actually appears:

  1. General cause of acne

Skin, as the biggest human organ, is riddled with tiny little holes, known as pores or hair follicles. Every pore on the skin is connected to the sebaceous gland. Sebaceous glands produce oily, waxy moisture called sebum that keeps our skin moisturized, protected, and healthy.

So, what causes pimples on scalp?

“The main cause for acne on the scalp is that cells and oil get stuck in the hair follicles,” says Whitney Bowe, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City.

For this particular reason, people in adolescence tend to be more prone to acne because their sebaceous glands produce excessive amounts of sebum, which increases the risks of clogging.

Dead skin cells, dirt, and sweat are also often a sole or partial cause of clogged pores.

Microscopic particles stuck in pores prevent normal secretion of vital skin moisture – sebum

Bacteria present on human skin are also involved in the process of acne development. The bacterium that is most commonly associated with acne vulgaris is called Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes). This microorganism grows deep inside the pores and feeds on the sebum. When our glands produce too much oil, bacteria rapidly grow and as a result, gets a localized infection form.

  1. Other causes of acne

As we have already established, general cause of acne is clogged pores. But what other elements contribute to the blockage of hair follicles? Here is a list of other acne on scalp causes that may be the root of your skin condition:

  1. Hormonal changes related to puberty, pregnancy and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
  2. Hormonal disorders such as polycystic ovarian syndrome.
  3. Birth control pills and medications containing corticosteroids, androgens or lithium.
  4. Allergic reaction to food, cosmetics, shampoos, animal dander, clothes, medicine etc.
  5. A poor diet
  6. Imbalanced intestine flora
  7. Lack or excess of hygiene
  8. Headgear
  9. Stress, fatigue, and depression

Pimples and Acne on Scalp Symptoms

Localized infection due to clogged pores and bacteria within it activates the inflammatory response, which we see as a pimple. A pimple can be recognized by these symptoms:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Tenderness
  • Pus

Even if the appearance of a pimple is familiar to each and every one of us, it is still important for you to be 100% percent sure that the outbreak on your scalp is actually a pimple. Chickenpoxes resemble the appearance of acne, but you do not want to misdiagnose this illness! If you are not sure whether the outbreak on your scalp is actually acne, seek medical attention!

How to treat and prevent scalp acne?

  1. Avoid using hair styling products

Greasy and thick hair styling products are often the cause of scalp pimples. Consistency and chemical nature of modern hair additives, such as hairspray, gel, wax, mousse and dry shampoo doesn’t easily evaporate or gets absorbed by the skin or hair. The applied product sits on top of the scalp, forming an unnatural film as a result.

The artificial coating on top of the scalp reduces airflow to the skin cells and pores. This increases the risks of humidity, itchiness, skin irritability and blockage of pores. Airiness helps us keep our skin dry, cool and at the right temperature.

If you are using hair styling products on daily basis, it is best for you to try going without them for a few weeks or so.

Avoid using any kind of hair additives if possible. If you have long, damaged or hardly manageable hair that is in need of natural taming product consider applying it only on hair and not on the roots of your hair or scalp. Restorative treatments are intended for repairing damaged hair only. Hair growing at the very roots is the newest and therefore healthiest. There is no necessity to apply the product near the scalp and compromise its microflora.

  1. Ditch your hair conditioner

A conditioner is a substitute to moisture that has been removed with shampooing. It temporarily takes on the role of sebum produced by the sebaceous gland on the scalp. Unless you are affected by dry scalp, you should consider ditching your conditioner for good, or for at least few days to see if the origin of your painful pimples on scalp lies here.

Nowadays, a lot of hair conditioners contain high oil content, which is not ideal for people who are prone to acne. These oils clog the pores before the natural sebum has even a chance to naturally secrete and moisturize the scalp.

If you are not yet ready to give up your conditioner, try replacing your current shampoo with a gentler soap that doesn’t contain aggressive chemicals known for quickly removing all traces of moisture from the scalp in a matter of seconds. Mild soap will instantly reduce your need for conditioner and if not, you can still condition your hair on a limited basis, once a week. Consider applying the product only on hair ends to prevent tangling and split ends. As long as the product you are using doesn’t have a contact with your scalp, you will be fine.

  1. Keep your hair and scalp clean

This acne on scalp treatment is as basic and as simple as it gets. You can treat and prevent acne breakouts on the scalp by establishing healthy hair hygiene. If you sweat a lot because of a medical condition, your workout routine or because of your profession that requires activeness you may consider washing your hair more frequently than usual.

Sweat is a concoction of water and minerals: magnesium, potassium, and sodium. These electrolytes have rough-edged shape, which makes them a potential pore-clogging hazard.

You should remove the impurities from your scalp at least twice a week, or more, depending on the intensity of your transpiration and the usage of styling and haircare products. Don’t wash your hair and scalp too frequently, as this may make your scalp dry or cause dandruff.

water and venigar for pimples on scalp

Invest into a mild, natural, organic soap that will provide you with the establishment of a more frequent hygiene pattern. You can, every now and then, also try washing your hair with the vinegar-water mixture in 1:1 ratio. Vinegar and its diluted acidity will cut through any stubborn impurities on you scalp responsible for your pimple. Just make sure to rinse your hair with clean water afterward.

If you are afraid that the vinegar-water method may be too strong for your hair, skin and its pH, you can scrub your damp scalp with a tablespoon of baking soda instead.

  1. Try shampoo for acne on scalp

Shampoos specially designed for the treatment of various scalp problems that eventually lead to acne outbreaks may be the right solution for you.

Medicinal shampoos available at pharmacies and locals cosmetic stores contain minerals known for their ability to restore skin health. For instance, well-known Head & Shoulders shampoos contain zinc, which is an element that helps the body speed tissue regeneration. This ability comes in handy when treating dandruff. The excessive flakiness of the skin associated with dandruff may be the cause of your clogged pores and scalp pimples. When zinc isn’t repairing the damaged skin it is balancing its oiliness and reducing inflammation.

shampoo for acne on scalp

Selsun Blue shampoos, on the other hand, contain antiseptic selenium sulfide for the purpose of suppressing the bacterial and fungal growth. It helps restore scalp microflora that may be the reason for your skin concern. A less known brand called T-Gel puts ingredient called coal tar to use. This ingredient is especially suitable for the treatment of dandruff, psoriasis, eczema, and acne.

If you have already tried these supermarket-available products and none of them showed any improvements, you should visit a dermatologist.  The specialist will accurately diagnose your condition, and prescribe you appropriate medicated shampoo.

  1. Add tea tree oil to your shampoo

If you have already replaced you harsh shampoo with a new substitution containing natural ingredients, you are without a doubt a one step closer to recovery from those annoying zits on scalp.

tea tree oil for acne on scalp

But what if there was a way to elevate the capabilities of your new shampoo even further? Well, there is a way! 

You can enrich your shampoo with antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral attributes by adding few drops of 100% pure tea tree oil to the bottle. The general guidelines recommend adding one drop of tea tree essential oil to every ounce of shampoo. 

The natural skin care qualities of tea tree oil will stop the growth of bacteria and prevent the buildup of microscopic elements that are representing harm to your pores.

NOTE: Tea tree essential oil is a highly concentrated substance that shouldn’t be used on the skin in undiluted form.

  1. Try this cinnamon-honey mask

cinnamon-honey mask for acne on scalp


  • 2 tablespoons of raw, organic honey
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon


  • Mix all ingredients and apply the mixture to your scalp.
  • Keep the mask on for 20 minutes and rinse it off.
  • Repeat this treatment twice a week.
  1. Tweak your diet

A diet often determines our health, and when our nutrition lacks substance, the consequences quite often become visible on the skin. Scientists have been researching the relations between food and acne for years. According to 2010 article published in Skin Therapy Letter, a number of observational studies reported that cow’s milk intake increased acne prevalence and severity.

So, if there are foods that promote acne are there foods that reduce them? Here is a list of foods known for reducing inflammation and restoring gut flora:

Diet for Pimple on Scalp

  • Fish and flaxseed are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Green tea contains antioxidants.
  • Oysters are enriched with zinc.
  • Raw fruits and vegetables are a source of beta-carotenes, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Probiotics, such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, dark chocolate, and pickles help establish healthy gut flora.

We have already discussed how one should keep the scalp and hair clean. But how can we cleanse our bodies from within? Simple, with water! Drink plenty of water during the day. Fluids will cleanse your body from internal impurities and keep your skin healthy.

  1. Medically approved solutions

If you have severe scalp acne breakouts on regular basis and none of the above lifestyle changes and home remedies seem to help, pay a visit to your dermatologist. Your specialist will diagnose you correctly and determine if there is a deep underlying cause of your acne.

Your doctor may advise you to purchase some over the counter treatments or prescribe you antibiotics.

Medically approved solutions for pimples on scalp

Most common topical products for acne contain either benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid or alpha hydroxy acid (glycolic acid and lactic acid).

NOTE: Do not use any over the counter drugs and topical applications without your doctor’s consent. These products may cause side effects if used improperly or on skin that is not in need of such treatment.

Conclusion + Last tips

Pimples are an inevitable part of the reality. Human skin is a busy and live organ. It is a home of bad and good bacteria, it constantly produces sebum and perspiration, while simultaneously maintaining the cycle of cell regeneration.

Every now and then such liveliness of the skin causes it to experience minor “errors” due to internal or external elements. We see them as pimples on the face, back, chest or scalp.

You can easily help your skin get back on its usual track with few dietary and lifestyle adjustments, homemade remedies or medically approved medications.

Here are last acne prevention tips:

  • Regularly clean your combs, hair clips, curlers, and headgear
  • Avoid stress
  • Avoid eating hot and spicy foods
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Reduce the intake of salt and sugar
  • Strengthen your immune system
  • Protect your head from direct sunlight
  • Practice appropriate hygiene

In most occasions, pimples on scalp and acne on scalp are caused by clogged pores. You can treat your acnes with medicated shampoo, tea tree essential oil, cinnamon-honey mask, nutritious diet, and hygiene. However, you should always consult your doctor before applying any of the discussed remedies.