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Scalp Acne

The word "acne" typically summons images of pimples on the complexion, but many people develop acne breakouts on other parts of their bodies. Although acne can be triggered by a variety of factors, all acne blemishes stem from infections in the pores or openings in your skin. These infections develop due to clogs or blockages within the pore tubules. Dirt, dry skin and excessive oil can all form blockages, which trap bacteria under the surface of the skin.


Due to the conditions of the skin beneath your hair, your scalp is nearly as susceptible as your face is to acne breakouts. If you have oily hair, the sebaceous glands on your scalp produce a surplus of oil that can clog the pores and lead to breakouts. Dry, flaky skin is also common on the scalp, making the area rife with particles that can become lodged in the pores. Individuals who do not wash their hair regularly, and those who use styling products that can clog pores are more prone to acne breakouts underneath their hair.


Although scalp acne is usually invisible to those around you unless you suffer from thinning hair, the condition is often very uncomfortable. Scalp acne causes pain, particularly when you style your hair, touch your head or wear hats. On rare occasions, people with severe scalp acne report hair loss as a result of the condition.

Home Remedies

Since scalp acne is tucked away beneath your hair, it can be very difficult to treat the condition. To care for breakouts at home, shampoo daily and avoid keeping your head covered as much as possible to allow the air to reach the blemishes and heal the infections. Always wash your hair after strenuous activity and exercise to remove sweat that can build up along the hairline and exacerbate acne. Never pick or squeeze scalp acne blemishes as this can damage your hair follicles and cause permanent scarring.

Topical Prescriptions

For severe cases of scalp acne, your doctor can prescribe topical medications to help treat the condition. One commonly prescribed drug is tretinoin, a form of vitamin A, which hastens the skin cell turnover process in the areas where you apply the cream. By exfoliating your scalp, you remove the particles of skin that clog the pores.

Antibiotic ointments like clindamycin and erythromycin also play a role in healing scalp acne by eliminating the bacteria causing the infections within the pores. Unfortunately, topical treatments are often difficult to apply to the scalp area, decreasing their effectiveness. Some people are also unable to use prescription formulations due to side effects like redness and flaking.

Oral Prescriptions

Some doctors prefer to prescribe oral versions of the topical medications used to treat scalp acne for those with large blemishes or cysts underneath their hairlines. Oral erythromycin and clindamycin can both cause gastric discomfort, dizziness and other side effects. In addition, prolonged use of antibiotics can make the drugs less effective when they are needed to treat other types of illnesses. Because of this, most doctors will only use oral antibiotics at the start of scalp acne treatment and then have you switch to topical treatments after one or two courses of the drugs.

Light Therapy

Light therapy is a new innovation used to treat acne...

Light therapy is a new innovation used to treat acne, though it is not widely available in many parts of the United States. During a light therapy treatment, focused beams of light are aimed at the scalp for a period of several minutes. Although doctors do not fully understand why, light has a harmful effect upon bacteria and helps cure the infections that lead to blemishes. People with very sensitive or fair skin or those who have previously been treated for skin cancer may not be eligible to receive light therapy; the treatments have the potential to cause redness, swelling and stinging that are similar to sunburns.

Over-the-Counter Hair Care Products

Over-the-Counter products for scalp acne are the preferred treatment methods for many sufferers of the condition because they have fewer side effects and often are just as effective as clinical interventions. The easiest and most convenient way to treat scalp acne is through the use of hair care products. Although you'll have a difficult time finding products that are specifically labeled for scalp acne treatment, you can identify beneficial products by reading the ingredient labels and looking for items that are effective in the fight against acne.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid has long been used to treat acne all over the body. The acid belongs to the beta hydroxy class of acids and was originally derived from the bark of willow trees. Modern salicylic acid preparations are usually made in laboratory settings from the amino acid phenylalanine. When used in hair care products, salicylic acid promotes the exfoliation of the scalp and helps to eliminate clogs from the pores.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is a natural oil with a light yellow color and an odor that is similar to camphor. The extract is obtained from the leaves of the narrow-leaved paperbark or narrow-leaved tea tree. Clinical studies have found tea tree oil to have antibacterial properties, allowing it to treat the infections that lead to blemishes. The oil also soothes scalp irritation, which can make you feel more comfortable while acne heals.

Eucalyptus Oil

The eucalyptus is a flowering tree native to Australia and Southeast Asia. The oil distilled from the leaves is found in a number of hair care products. Like tea tree oil, eucalyptus has both antibacterial and soothing properties that promote the healing of blemishes and decrease discomfort associated with scalp acne.

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