We’ve heard of bad hair days and bad skin days, but what about bad scalp days? Yup, getting pimples on your scalp and hairline is quite possibly the most annoying crossover we know of.
These zits scattered throughout the scalp are not to be confused with folliculitis, which sees infection and/or inflammation around the hair follicles. However, these pesky pimples are still as tricky to manage, and we can’t simply slap on a pimple patch to prevent ourselves from picking at them.
So, why is there a pimple on your scalp? Is scalp acne wildly different from facial acne? And are there special precautions we have to take in order to treat and prevent them? Keep reading, because Daily Vanity will be providing the As to your Qs ahead.
What causes pimples on the scalp?
Like facial acne, there are a number of reasons why pimples pop up on your scalp. Hormonal balances, certain foods, and abnormal immune responses can all be contributing factors.
Oil-based styling products like heavy pomades, sprays, and waxes can also cause the clogging of the pores on your scalp, which makes washing and styling your hair with the right products even more important.
If your scalp is particularly oily, the extra sebaceous gland activity that produces the oil supports an environment that promotes bacterial growth.
Stress and a lack of sleep can also cause scalp acne. When your cortisol levels rise, it prompts your glands to secrete more sebum, which can lead to clogged pores and breakouts.
The different types of pimples on scalp
Blemishes on the scalp can be caused by a wide range of skin diseases, some of which are benign and others that are more serious. Here are the different types of pimples you may be experiencing:
- Mild: Blackheads and whiteheads
- Moderate: Papules and pustules on the surface of the scalp
- Severe: Nodules and cysts embedded under the skin
If you have mild or moderate acne on your scalp, you can treat them with many over-the-counter (OTC) products. But if you’re dealing with severe scalp acne, they can develop blackened crusts and leave permanent scars. In this instance, you’ll want to schedule an appointment with your doctor.
For those who experience frequent breakouts, you may want to have it checked out by your dermatologist too. They can help you determine the type of breakout you’re seeing, the cause of it, and recommend the best treatment for you.
How to treat pimples on scalp
The first step in tackling your scalp acne is to cleanse your scalp regularly to remove excess oils and dead skin cells. Lathering up with an anti-microbial shampoo can help with that.
Look out for ingredients like piroctone olamine and tea tree oil for their antibacterial properties; salicylic or glycolic acid to exfoliate your scalp; witch hazel, an astringent that soaks up sebum; as well as camphor or menthol for a soothing benefit.
Using a twice-weekly scalp mask that contains a few of those ingredients can also help to slough off dead skin cells and unclog pores for a clearer, healthier scalp.
You can also spot-treat the areas in the same way you might on the face. Just take your go-to acne treatment and dab it on the area. But make sure you avoid thick, rinse-off products (like clay masks) as they will be harder to remove – getting a dense mask stuck on your scalp may worsen the issue as it will stick around causing buildup.
If you don’t see any improvements with OTC remedies after a month or two, visit your doctor as you may need prescription-strength treatments.
Haircare products to get rid of pimples on scalp
If you are prone to oily hair, make sure you shampoo once a day, especially after workouts. And if you want to use a physical exfoliant, stick to a gentle scrub and use it only when your scalp isn’t feeling too irritated.
Not sure if your current haircare products are up to the task? Here are our top picks that can help manage scalp acne.
Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Shampoo Scalp Build-Up Control
A dermatologist recommended shampoo, the Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic clears buildup as it relieves itch and flaking. The key ingredient here is salicylic acid, which effectively cuts through oil and sloughs off dead skin cells, leaving your scalp clearer and healthier. This conditioning formula is also free of added colourants, preservatives, and fragrance, so it’s great for sensitive scalps too.
Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Shampoo Scalp Build-Up Control retails for S$27.90. Click on the links below for the most updated prices.
Derma-E Scalp Relief Shampoo
A doctor-developed, clinically tested formula for severely inflamed or irritated scalps (inflammation and breakouts go hand in hand), this shampoo from Derma-E contains a blend of neem, burdock, and bearberry as well as menthol to soothe the scalp, providing instant relief as the salicylic acid gets to work.
Derma-E Scalp Relief Shampoo retails for S$11.96. Click on the links below for the most updated prices.
Sunday Riley Clean Rinse
While this isn’t a shampoo, Sunday Riley’s Clean Rinse is still a great at-home scalp treatment. The micellar water rinse contains both BHAs and AHAs (salicylic and glycolic acid, to be exact) to dissolve sebum and dead skin cells. This formula is also packed with witch hazel, rose clay, and free fatty acids to condition the scalp.
Sunday Riley Clean Rinse retails for S$56.33. Click on the links below for the most updated prices.
Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-exfoliating Scalp Scrub Shampoo
Infused with Binchotan charcoal to draw impurities from the scalp, this unique scrub shampoo from Briogeo is your ticket to optimal scalp health. Ideal for those with dry, irritated and flaky scalps, this micro-exfoliator removes dead skin cells and product buildup to combat dryness and quell irritation.
Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-exfoliating Scalp Scrub Shampoo for S$65 (226ml). Click on the link below for the most updated price.
Sachajuan Scalp Shampoo
Stockholm-based label Sachajuan opts for a minimal approach to treating your tresses. This scalp shampoo is formulated with rosemary oil, menthol, salicylic acid, and ginger extract to diminish dandruff and soothe an irritated scalp, so your hair is left fresh and moisturised.
Sachajuan Scalp Shampoo retails for S$38. Click on the link below for the most updated price.
Treatments that reduce pimples on scalp
Sometimes, nothing beats a professional scalp treatment. Check out these salons and hair treatment centres that are said to provide the best treatments you can get in Singapore.
Forest Salon Bedok Deep Cleansing Scalp Treatment and Spa
An oily scalp doesn’t just lead to pimples, but it can also pave the way for dandruff. This pampering treatment from Forest Salon Bedok deeply cleanses, removes excess sebum, and nourishes the scalp for softer, moisturised hair and a clearer scalp.
Get the Forest Salon Bedok Deep Cleansing Scalp Treatment and Spa at S$29.99 instead of S$38 on Salon Finder!
Vesure Hair Therapy Scalp Detox Treatment
Unclog your scalp’s pores for healthier hair with Vesure Hair Therapy’s Scalp Detox Treatment. It incorporates a scalp detox mask and O3 steam to dissolve sebum and prevent itchiness, dandruff, and hair loss for a clean and refreshed feeling.
Get the Vesure Hair Therapy Scalp Detox Treatment at S$45 on Salon Finder!
GC Hairdressing Exfoliating Scalp Treatment
Excess oil and buildup can cause zits to pop up, but did you know it can also result in hair fall? This is why your scalp needs a deep cleanse, like this Exfoliating Scalp Treatment from GC Hairdressing.
It sops up sebum and other irritants that may cause dandruff and hair loss. Even better, you can enjoy a pre-service aromatherapy session to truly relax and unwind.
Get the GC Hairdressing Exfoliating Scalp Treatment at S$54.40 instead of S$68 on Salon Finder!
Tips to prevent the reoccurrence of pimples on scalp
Assess your lifestyle
Remember to wash your hair after working out, wearing headgear, or other possible activities that cause sweating. Keeping your sleeping area clean, including changing your pillowcases and taking off your makeup before bed should help too.
Check your hairstyling products
If there’s a sudden breakout on your scalp, it may be a reaction to a new styling product. In the same way that certain skincare and makeup products can be comedogenic, so can haircare.
This is especially true if you are applying a product to your root or scalp, like you might a dry shampoo, styling cream, or hairspray. Look for comedogenic ingredients that may be causing the issue, like waxes, mineral oil, and dimethicone.
If skipping your styling routine is non-negotiable, just be sure you are properly rinsing out the products regularly.
Don’t pick your pimples
When it comes to preventing pimples on your scalp, the same rules apply here as on your face, namely keeping your hands off. Picking and prodding at blemishes will only make them worse.
It can lead to acne scars that pose a special problem along the hairline. When you damage a hair follicle, it will weaken regrowth. If the damage is severe enough, it may cause the hair to shed entirely and never grow back. Yikes.
We hope our guide on scalp acne has been helpful, and that you learned a thing or two about preventing its reoccurrence!