Scalp Acne Meaning, Causes, Symptoms, Pictures, Treatments, Remedies and Preventions

Scalp Acne Meaning, Causes, Symptoms, Pictures, Treatments, Remedies and Preventions

What is scalp acne and what causes it? Acne is a skin condition that affect mostly of the face but it can also seen on back, shoulder, neck, chest and scalp.

Going specifically to scalp acne, this problem can cause a lot of discomfort and you may even be compelled to scratch or pop them, especially if it are accompanied with itchiness.

Many things can cause acne in scalp in both adults and children or babies. Here`s is a complete review of acne scalp meaning, causes, symptoms, treatments and preventive measures and more.

Key Facts about Acne

A few facts you need to know about acne in general, whether it is face acne, chin acne, scalp or chest acne include the following:

  • Acne is usually mild but can leave behind acne scars if it is a serious problem.
  • Acne is a skin conditions involving oils glands at the base of the hair follicles
  • Acne occur in people of all races, all ages but common in women during periods, pregnancy, and in teenagers during puberty
  • Genetics can also be a risk factor to acne
  • Medical experts believe that surge in hormone androgen levels is the major cause
  • Types of acne include pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, pustules, papule, nobules and cysts
  • Having sex or masturbating will not make acne any better or worse.
  • Acne is not infectious, you cannot pass to other people
  • Acne and pimples are two different things
  • Squeezing pimples or acne on head can worsen the condition
    Scalp acne picture - red bumps on scalp
    Scalp acne picture – red bumps on scalp

Acne on Scalp Meaning- Formations & Types

Acne is a skin condition that form when sebum, dead skin cells and hair follicles bunch together to form a plug. The plug will then be infected by bacteria resulting a swelling called acne. The words acne and pimple often used to mean the same thing but the truth is that, they are not one. It is severe or infected acne that result to pimples.

Acne on head just form the same way as other body acnes form. Actually, acne often form as a result of a combination of 3 factors and they are:

  • Production of excess sebum by the sebaceous glands
  • Clogging of the pores by excess sebum and dead skin cells
  • Bacterial infection (Propionibacterium acnes) leading to inflammation and swellings

Whiteheads, blackheads, pimples, pustules, cysts, boils, nobles and papules will then form as a result of pore blockage. They formation will depend on the depth of inflammation and pore blockage i.e. pimples while cysts are due to deeper inflammation and infection.

On the other hand, whiteheads form when excess sebum comes out to the skin surface while blackheads form when the same sebum is exposed to the air and become oxidized.

Major Scalp acne causes

Having an idea of what scalp acne is; it is time to look at some of the causes of scalp acne.

Hormonal imbalances (during puberty, before menstruation, pregnancy and menopause)

Hormonal imbalances can lead to many skin changes. The changes normally is common during puberty, early pregnancy, before menstruation and menopause.

The reason why acne scalp can develop during this stages is that there are increased level of certain l hormones (especially androgen) that can trigger overactive oil glands. This will lead to excess sebum that will eventually block the follicles hence a new acne on head is born. confirms that, “More than 80% of cases of adult acne occur in women. It’s thought that many cases of adult acne are caused by the changes in hormone levels that many women have at certain times.”

Stress scalp acne

Quick Acne Remedy highlights that, stress is the most common causes of painful acne on scalp. This condition is also related to many skin disorders leave alone acne scalp. It usually triggers many skin problems, or worsen the already existing acne problems.

Hair care products

Many hair products are usually oily, greasy and can block the skin pores on the scalp leading to formation of acne on scalp. Therefore, we should be extra careful with hair products such as hair oils, conditioners, dyes and gels, because they can block the pores leading to acne in scalp.

Oily Scalp and dry skin

Many researchers have outlined that, persons with oily or dry scalp are prone to scalp acne. According to, “Mostly, when hair gets oily after a day or just a few hours, it causes clogged pores. The skin naturally produces sebum.” Therefore people with oily or greasy scalp will develop acne, blackheads and whiteheads if such excess oil is not dealt with, well cleaned and more regularly.

Oily scalp and scalp acne
Oily scalp and scalp acne

Acne in families

Acne also tends to run in certain families. If one or both of you parent had acne then you are also likely to develop it and it can be very severe even at earlier age.

Certain drugs can cause scalp acne

There are certain kind of medications that have been found to contribute to the development of body acne including acne on head.

Such medications can influence the crucial body hormones hence leading overactive oil glands. This will result to overproduction of natural body oil (sebum) which will thereafter block the pores leading to zits on scalp. Some of these medications include:

  • Steroid medications
  • Anti-epileptic used to treat epilepsy
  • Lithium used to treat bipolar disorder or depression among others

Friction or pressure headgear (helmets, hats, headband and caps)

Wearing helmets, hats, headbands, caps or bandana is not a problem but the worry is; how often do you wash your headwear? Remember this can play an important role in the development of scalp rash. Your scalp skin can be irritated when these headwear increases scalp perspiration, this can result to acne.

Again, persistent rubbing of your scalp by helmets and hats can also cause acne. Try not to put anything on your head when treating acne and make sure to wash your hair immediately after putting on any headgear.

Dirty environment

Dirt does not cause acne but can increase the chances of one getting acne. Therefore, always be keen with items that encounters your scalp skin. Dirty pillows and sheets that constantly rub against your scalp skin can also trigger zits on scalp. Pillow cases must be cleaned at least once in a week to get rid of skin oils and products that may build up on them.

More triggers of acne on scalp

Other causes of scalp acne include the following:

  • Unwashed oily hair
  • Hot, humid conditions
  • Smoking can also contribute to scalp acne among the aged
  • Improper diet
  • Allergic reaction

Scalp acne symptoms

The resultant symptoms here will depend on the scalp acne causes. Mild symptoms may sometimes be not seen if they are covered with hair but severe symptoms are usually seen i.e. when they lead to bald patches and bad odor on the scalp. Touching the scalp acnes during brushing or combing may cause extreme pain or even bleeding. Here are the common symptoms accompanying scalp acne:

  • Itchy scalp with bumps or painful bump on scalp
  • Pimple like bumps on scalp
  • Red bumps on scalp
  • Crusting and oozing
  • Bald patches and scarring
  • bumps on scalp
  • Inflammation and itching in scalp

How common is scalp acne

According to dermatologists, approximately three-quarters of 11 to 30 year-olds will get acne at some time. Acne can affect people of all races and all ages. Acne tend to be more common in adolescents and young youths but people aged above 50 can also still suffer from this annoying condition.

According to, “Although acne affects both men and women, young men suffer from acne for longer – probably because testosterone, which is present in higher quantities in young men, can make acne worse.”

However, scalp acne is not a common as facial acne i.e. it affects a relatively smaller population as opposed to facial acne.

Scalp acne treatment- medications and home remedies

Below are all the medications, treatments and cures that are very effective for treating acne. However, before applying any of them, you must test for your skin sensitivity, since some of the below scalp acne treatments may irritate your skin and even make it to darken.  Consult with your dermatologist before apply them on our scalp skin in case you do not know your skin type, or what may suit it.

Topical antibiotics

Topical antibiotics for acne product work by killing the bacteria that triggers acne and it reduces inflammation. Topical antibiotics are often used together with oral antibiotics and are only available with a prescription. Erythromycin and clindamycin are good examples of topical antibiotics.

Oral antibiotics

This kind of medication is used to treat moderate to severe zits on scalp.  Oral antibiotics usually trigger some side effects that can be very unwelcoming. It can also interfere with the functions of birth control pill thus you should use another alternative birth control medication as you undertake oral antibiotics. This is again strictly a prescribed treatment.

Benzoyl peroxide

This is another perfect acne spot treatment. It is used to get rid of the bacteria that cause acne on scalp and exfoliate the scalp skin slightly. Therefore, it is very effective for clearing blackheads and whiteheads (mild forms of acne). This is again a prescribed if stronger while mild are OTC products.

Benzoyl perioxide can help in scalp acne
Benzoyl perioxide can help in scalp acne


This is an acid extracted from vitamin A. It performs wonders by unblocking pores and limits the acne causing bacteria. It mostly used to treat whiteheads and blackheads. Its common brand is Retin-A. Tretinoin is not available over the counter.

Salicylic acid

Another way on how to get rid of scalp acne is through application of salicylic acid. It dries out skin and help exfoliate it doing away with the dead skin cells and excess oil that may cause scalp acne. It is also very effective for mild cases of acne.

salicylic acid is very good with scalp pimples
salicylic acid is very good with scalp pimples

Combined oral contraceptives (hormone therapy)

This can be used by some women and adolescent girls with frequent acne breakouts. This kind of medication combine estrogen and progestin in contraceptive form. Sad news about this kind of hormonal acne treatment is that it has several side effects such as headaches, weight gain or nausea. Some people can experience severe side effects e.g. risk of blood clot among other symptoms. However, this is rare.

Home remedies for scalp acne

Several home remedies can be ideal for acne on scalp. They have unclogging, antibacterial, and exfoliating properties that make them effective for preventing or treating scalp acne. They are recommended for only mild forms of acnes. They simply unclog and disinfect the pores as well as killing the acne causing bacteria. Below is the list of the commonly used home remedies for Scalp acne:

  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Turmeric
  • Tea Tree Oil
  • Aloe Vera
  • Indian Lilac
  • Tomato Juice
  • Coconut oil
  • Baking Soda
  • Lemon Juice
baking soda remedy for scalp acne
baking soda remedy for scalp acne

Tips and advice for scalp acne removal or prevention

Apart from applying the above treatments, follow this simple advice to help you remove or prevent scalp acne:

  1. Never scratch, squeeze or pop any pimple
  2. Always make allergy test before applying new cosmetics
  3. Often wash your headwear with soapy water
  4. Avoid stressful situations
  5. Don’t over use alcohol, pepper, hot sauces and spices
  6. Strengthen your immune system to reduce infections especially for those with comprised immunity
  7. Reduce the consumption of salt and sugar
  8. Drink plenty of fluids
  9. Keep your hair clean to avoid buildup of sebum and dead skin cells.
  10. Avoid direct exposure to excessive sun
  11. Avoid putting headwear most of the time
  12. Always use medicated shampoo for acne

In summary, scalp acne is usually not dangerous but can cause some pain and look unsightly. It can also make the hair care very difficult. Always seek immediate medical care if home remedies and over the counter acne products are not working for you.

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Our List of Reference
  1. Acne: Causes, Diagnosis and How to Get Rid of Acne:
  2. Scalp Acne Causes, Symptoms and Treatment of Pimples on Head:
  3. How to Get Rid of Scalp Acne:
  4. 20 Tips To Get Rid of Scalp Acne For good:
  5. Acne:
  6. Acne – Causes:
  7. How to Get Rid of Those Annoying Zits on Your Scalp: