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What is the Best Shampoo for Scalp Acne?

Scalp acne can be awful. It’s like a dirty little secret. I used to avoid going to the salon to get my hair done because I didn’t want my stylist to see the breakouts of acne on my scalp. At that point I knew it was time to figure out a solution.

It actually took me longer to figure out how to get rid of the acne on my scalp than to clear up my face. I searched far and wide for the best shampoo for scalp acne, found a lot of information, and eventually through trial and error, I finally settled into a routine that solved the problem. You can do the same - I’m going to show you how.

How Common an Occurrence is Scalp Acne?

Though acne on the scalp tends to be very uncomfortable, it’s often overlooked because it’s not as “in your face” as other types, so to speak. It usually can’t be seen under most circumstances as it’s covered by your hair.

It’s true that acne on the scalp is less common than acne on the face or or body. As a teen, I thought I was the only person on the planet with this problem. Cures for scalp acne aren’t splashed all over magazine covers and mega websites in the same way as facial acne.

Of course you’re not alone. Almost everyone gets a pimple on their scalp from time to time. In fact, it’s so common that quite a large range of treatments have been developed to get rid of it.

What Causes Scalp Acne?

Scalp acne is caused by the same factors that trigger facial and body acne. Hormones and genetics play a large role. Hot, humid weather and compression of the hair follicles by a hat or helmet may also contribute to the formation of scalp acne.

To put it simply, acne forms when your hair follicles (also known as pores) become plugged. Bacteria trapped in the clogged pores then causes inflammation. This inflammation and the immune response that follows leads to the swollen pustules that we call pimples.

Hair products are another factor which can cause acne to form on the scalp. They tend to build up on the scalp, causing pores to become blocked. Unlike products intended for your face, hair products don’t usually take into account that some ingredients cause acne. This means you have to be extra diligent and read the labels on your favourite shampoos and conditioners.

Who is Most Likely to Suffer from Scalp Acne?

It seems that if you already suffer from dandruff, you’re potentially a most likely candidate to develop scalp acne. Dandruff is a condition characterised by itching, dry, flaking skin on the scalp. This buildup of dead skin cells can clog your pores - acting as a precursor to more severe acne.

Teenagers, whose hormonal fluctuations are commonly linked with facial and body acne, are also more likely to have scalp acne. Acne is a notoriously teenaged problem, though that’s certainly not always the case. Hormonal fluctuations continue throughout adulthood, especially for females during the menstrual cycle and pregnancy.

Potentially due to the compression of the scalp caused by caps, middle aged men are frequently afflicted as well.

Does This Mean Controlling Dandruff Can Help Control Acne on the Scalp?

It just might. Some doctors recommend controlling dandruff with medicated shampoo. This may even help to prevent acne on the face and body too (source). Head & Shoulders for acne? Who would have thought? I certainly didn’t until I read up on it.

Logically, it makes sense. Acne can be caused by dry skin cells clogging up the pores, and anti-dandruff shampoo eliminates dry, flaky scalp skin. It follows that it should be a helpful treatment.

Is Scalp Acne Really A Problem?

Scalp acne isn’t usually very serious. It doesn’t cause any real issues beyond an uncomfortable blemish that heals on its own most of the time. No big deal, right?

Not always, as it turns out. If left untreated, scalp acne can cause scarring and even bald patches. That’s a rather unpleasant possibility, at least in my opinion. As someone who has thin hair to start with - if changing shampoos may help to prevent bald patches, I’m definitely down for this simple change.

Scalp Acne Treatment Tips

If you’re having issues with scalp acne, you might consider changing hair care products. You may also evaluate if there are any other habits which may be contributing, such as frequently wearing a hat that smashes your hair follicles (poor things!)

If you decide to try to treat your scalp acne with a topical medication, make sure that you don’t use a formula that contains benzoyl peroxide. While one of the most popular and effective ingredients for treating acne, benzoyl peroxide can cause hair bleaching (source).

What to Look for in the Best Shampoo for Scalp Acne

As with any acne product, you should check out the list of ingredients when choosing a scalp acne treatment shampoo. Finding a product that removes excess oil without drying skin is paramount. Some shampoos even contain salicylic acid, an effective acne treatment.

Another popular anti scalp acne ingredient is tea tree oil. This essential oil is popular for all kind of anti-bacterial purposes.

Zinc is also currently being touted as a perfect shampoo ingredient to eliminate scalp acne. Head & Shoulders for acne is being thrown out there because the active ingredient in the anti-dandruff shampoo is pyrithione zinc. Let’s check out a few different shampoos for scalp acne.

Degrease by Maple Holistics

Quality

Price

Our rating

This shampoo treats scalp acne with a combination of essential oils and jojoba and argan oil. The essential oils are supposed to help regulate oil production and eliminate bacteria. The jojoba and argan oils are intended to moisturize the hair and scalp without being oily.

Pros


  • All natural ingredients
  • No sulfates or parabens
  • Conditions as well as cleanses
  • Great for very oily hair
  • Fresh, non-medicinal scent
  • May help soothe scalp irritation

Cons


  • Takes up to a few weeks to begin working
  • Some users experienced worsening symptoms
  • May leave hair without volume
  • Hair may not feel as clean as usual
  • Leaves hair tangly

Pharmaceutical Specialties Free & Clear Shampoo for Sensitive Skin

Quality

Price

Our rating

This product takes a balanced approach to scalp care. By keeping the pH of the hair and scalp level and utilizing a gentle cleanser to remove dirt and oil, this shampoo may help your scalp stay healthy and happy.

Pros


  • May help control dandruff
  • Minimizes scalp irritation
  • Fragrance free
  • Dermatologist recommended
  • Gentle formula is great for skin sensitivities

Cons


  • May leave residue in the hair
  • Hair may be tangled after use
  • Not ideal for all sensitive skin
  • Leaves hair dry
  • Can cause issues in color treated hair

Neutrogena T/Sal Shampoo

Quality

Price

Our rating

This shampoo made by the drug store product giant Neutrogena, has been a go-to product for scalp issues for years. It claims to reduce dead skin buildup on the scalp with a fragrance free, gentle formula.

Pros


  • Contains salicylic acid
  • Lathers well
  • Eliminates buildup on the scalp
  • Gets rid of dandruff
  • Stops itchy scalp
  • Fairly gentle for colored hair

Cons


  • Scent is unappealing to some users
  • Not for daily use
  • Tiny bottle for the price
  • Varied results

Tea Tree Peppermint Shampoo for Dandruff by Honeydew

Quality

Price

Our rating

This dandruff shampoo gets an antibacterial boost from tea tree oil to help fight scalp acne. The mint adds a crisp, invigorating touch. It uses intense hydrating oils to care for the hair and scalp as well. If you’re looking for a more natural, gentle product, this one might be worth a shot.

Pros


  • Tea tree oil kills bacteria and wards off head lice
  • Pleasant, natural scent
  • Safe for everyday use
  • Peppermint provides invigorating, cooling action
  • Jojoba and other oils nourish hair and scalp
  • Natural ingredients

Cons


  • Difficult packaging
  • May not eliminate all dandruff
  • Residue may remain in the hair
  • Can cause scalp irritation and dryness

Head & Shoulders Itchy Scalp Care

Quality

Price

Our rating

This is a twist on an everyday dandruff treatment shampoo. This Head & Shoulders for acne works by reducing scalp buildup and reducing inflammation and irritation with natural eucalyptus. Available at many major retailers and very inexpensive, this is a practical choice.

Pros


  • Uses “Hydra Zinc” formula to fight scalp buildup
  • Eucalyptus soothes skin and battles bacteria
  • pH balanced
  • Cost effective
  • Pleasant scent
  • Tingly and refreshing on the scalp

Cons


  • Some ingredients may cause sensitivity
  • Eucalyptus causes drying in some users
  • Tingling may reach the point of discomfort
  • Not “cruelty free”

The Last Word on the Best Shampoo For Scalp Acne

As far as treating scalp acne with shampoo goes, Head & Shoulders Itchy Scalp Care gets our vote. It has a proven track record, it is very reasonably priced, and it is easy to get your hands on. You don’t have to suffer these uncomfortable pimples if you find the best shampoo for scalp acne for you.

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