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  5. Pimples On The Scalp: Why, How, Treatments & Common Myths

That moment when you’re casually stroking or combing your hair and suddenly come across a bump! Does this ring a bell? Well, you’re not alone!

Your scalp is basically skin that can be prone to acne just like the rest of your body. However, it is not an uphill task to prevent and cure them if you understand the science behind it. Scroll down for all the details.

1. How Can You Identify Scalp Acne?

Acne on your scalp looks nothing different from the rest of your body. It can show up as zits, pimples or non-inflammatory acne. Zits at the back of your head can also be categorized as scalp acne.

side view with ear in shot of a man with short hair suffering from scalp acne

2. What Causes Scalp Acne?

Scalp acne occurs when pores or hair follicles get clogged by dirt, bacteria and oil. This can happen when:

A. Your sebaceous glands produce too much sebum (natural oil the skin uses to keep itself moisturized). Excess sebum can clog your pores, leading to acne outbreaks.

illustration about foliculis skin

B. You don’t wash your hair thoroughly. The products you use as part of your hair care regimen should be washed off thoroughly to avoid clogged pores.

C. Dandruff or dead skin cells build up on your scalp. They can clog your pores, resulting in acne outbreaks.

D. You don’t wash your hair regularly. If you are out in the sun most of the time or work out regularly, the excess sweat accumulation can clog your pores.

3. How To Treat Pimples On Scalp?

Woman shampooing to scalp

Certain medicated shampoos may be recommended by your doctor to reduce scalp acne. These are some of the ingredients to look for in the shampoos:

A. Salicylic Acid

It can work as an exfoliator to remove dead skin cells, the top layer of your skin (1) and control sebum production. This widely used ingredient has been around in dermatology for many years. Salicylic acid is safe and effective in treating acne vulgaris.

B. Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid helps exfoliate and rejuvenate skin (2). It is a widely used ingredient in anti-acne creams and shampoos.

C. Ketoconazole Or Ciclopirox

If you’re experiencing too much dandruff, there is a high chance that your scalp acne is triggered due to dead skin cells. For this, it is recommended for you to use a shampoo with ketoconazole or ciclopirox (3).

4. How To Apply Anti-acne Shampoos & Precautions

While the application procedure is simple, it is important to take a certain precautions to avoid side effects:


  • Wet the hair thoroughly.
  • Apply shampoo directly on the scalp and hair by massaging gently.
  • Leave lather on the scalp for a minute.
  • Rinse off thoroughly with lukewarm water.
  • Repeat twice or thrice a week or as directed by the physician.


  • Avoid contact with the eyes. If contact occurs, rinse eyes thoroughly with water.
  • Rinse off thoroughly to prevent the product from clogging your pores.
  • Do not scrub your scalp.
  • Stop use and contact a physician if the condition worsens.
  • Read the back label of the product before use (warnings and directions).

hair doctor checking hair and scalp

    5. Home Remedies For Scalp Acne

    A. Apple Cider Vinegar

    This ingredient can be effective in reducing acne symptoms due to its pH balancing and antimicrobial properties (4).

    How To Apply:

    • Dilute apple cider vinegar in water (2-3 teaspoons).
    • After shampooing and conditioning your hair, gently pour and massage the mixture onto your scalp evenly.
    • Leave it on for two minutes and rinse thoroughly.

    B. Tea tree oil

    Tea tree oil has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that make it effective in treating acne vulgaris (5). It helps unclog hair follicles and reduces inflammation and dandruff on your scalp. You can even purchase a shampoo containing 5 % tea tree oil or less (6).

    How To Apply:

    • Add 1-2 drops of tea tree oil to half a cup of carrier oil (jojoba oil or coconut oil).
    • Gently rub the mixture into your scalp and spread it evenly.
    • Leave it on for 2-4 minutes.
    • Rinse off thoroughly.

    6. Can Scalp Acne Cause Hair Loss?

    Folliculitis causes inflamed follicles due to a bacterial or fungal infection. This condition appears to be similar to acne, but it is not (7). Folliculitis can cause permanent hair loss if not treated properly. However, this condition is not life-threatening.

    7. Is It Safe To Pop A Pimple On Your Scalp?

    Popping pimples anywhere on your body can result in permanent scarring (pits and depressions). It can also cause the infection to spread to other parts of your body, resulting in acne breakouts. Squeezing or popping pimples can also result in hair loss. Thus, it is a big no-no!

    8. How Long Will Scalp Pimples Take To Heal?

    It takes between 4-8 weeks for scalp acne to heal. Continue using anti-acne shampoo to prevent future outbreaks.

    If you work out every day or prefer washing your hair daily, dermatologists recommend using mild shampoos to prevent scalp pimples or other conditions. Remember not to use your nails to massage your scalp. This can result in hair breakage and damage your skin.

    Scalp acne is not a common phenomena, neither is it a serious condition. A few steps would go a great way of achieving a healthy scalp.

    Begin By Knowing Your Skin

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