Many people think that zits and pimples are only a problem on the face. But if you’re a true blue acne-prone gal like me, you’ll know those pesky blemishes will show up almost anywhere—including the scalp.
But unlike facial acne, you can’t slather on expensive creams and spot treatments on your scalp. You have to go a less direct and more practical way of treating it.
The easiest and most highly recommended way of slowly but surely zapping away those scalp pimples is by switching to a shampoo and conditioner to help you treat your acne.
What is scalp acne, and what causes it?
Scalp acne can occur across the hairline, under your hair, and at the back of your head. They’re less common than facial acne but are just as distracting, and at times, painful. The only plus is that they’re hidden under the hair, so it’s less likely to deflate your self-esteem.
Pimples on the scalp are caused by clogged pores, which then lead to inflamed hair follicles. These inflammations can even lead to infections if you pick at the pimples with your nails.
There are tons of reasons acne can occur, from excess sebum production (better known as oily skin) to using way too many heavy products and oils in your hair care routine.
Dead skin cells piling up around the follicles is another cause of scalp acne. This is why it’s essential to exfoliate your scalp once in a while too.
Product buildup, especially from hairspray, dry shampoo, and other leave-in products, can also add to the irritation of the hair follicle. If you love to use these products, make sure you thoroughly wash your hair every so often.
Sometimes, it all boils down to proper hygiene. If you love to hit the gym and work out, make sure you don’t wait too long before taking a bath and washing the sweat off your hair.
But be careful about washing the hair too much. Just like oily skin on the face, stripping our scalp of natural oils with harsh cleaning ingredients like sulfates can signal to your pores to produce more oil, which can cause more pimples.
Find the hair wash frequency you’re comfortable with and won’t cause too much trouble on your scalp.
How can I treat and get rid of acne on the scalp?
Well, the first thing you should remember is that you should never touch those scalp pimples. Don’t even attempt to squeeze, pick, or scratch at them, no matter how tempting it is. If they crack or bleed, you run the risk of making the pimple worse and even infecting the wound.
What you should do is make sure your hair and scalp are clean, so no dirt and excess oil can cause pimples and irritate ones already there. Medicated shampoo can wash away all the impurities.
If you want to choose your own shampoo and conditioner to treat your scalp acne, look for anti-inflammatory, acne-fighting ingredients that can help manage your condition.
Some of my favorite exfoliating acids to look for in products are salicylic acid and glycolic acid. These help slough gently off dead skin cells on your scalp and treat pimples. Benzoyl peroxide is also useful in killing the bacteria that causes acne.
If you want to go the more natural route, try looking for shampoos and conditioners with tea tree oil and apple cider vinegar. These have antibacterial properties that can cleanse your scalp acne and soothe it too.
You can also opt for your go-to dandruff products, which are usually designed to treat the scalp anyway gently. These also relieve itchiness from your breakouts.
Now for the fun part! Here are some shampoos and conditioners I recommend for treating your scalp acne effectively:
Top Shampoo and Conditioner for Acne
1. Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Shampoo
Neutrogena’s dermatologist-recommended therapeutic shampoo contains 3% salicylic acid to soothe severe scalp conditions, including acne. This active ingredient gently exfoliates dead skin cells and penetrates existing pimples to treat them from the root.
What’s great about this shampoo is that it continues to work hours after your shower by softening your hair with a conditioning formula free of harsh preservatives or fragrance.
It also relieves itching and irritation brought upon my active pimples and crusty scabs.
2. L’Oréal Paris Elvive Extraordinary Clay Rebalancing Shampoo
This rebalancing shampoo is formulated with three refined clays that help purify the scalp and manage oily roots, leading to fewer pimples. It also helps hydrate the ends of your hair.
It also contains salicylic acid to help treat active acne and blemishes on your scalp. It gently exfoliates dead skin to make sure your follicles aren’t clogged.
Using this shampoo can also mean washing the hair less often because it keeps the scalp grease-free for up to 48 hours.
3. Vanicream Free and Clear Shampoo
Sometimes, all your irritated and acne-ridden scalp needs is a gentle formula to cleanse it without harsh ingredients. Thankfully, this mild shampoo by Vanicream can do the trick.
The shampoo helps get rid of dandruff flakes and scales. It also controls the oiliness of the scalp.
This dermatologist-recommended shampoo doesn’t contain harsh ingredients like sulfates, parabens, dyes, and fragrances that can further irritate the pimples on your scalp. It’s designed with sensitive skin in mind, so it’s perfect for acne-prone scalps.
4. Vanicream Free and Clear Conditioner
For gentle yet deep nourishment, pair the previous shampoo with this matching Vanicream conditioner!
This conditioner was also designed for sensitive skin, so it doesn’t contain any potentially irritating ingredients like sulfates, parabens, fragrance, lanolin, and others.
It helps to detangle the hair to make it more manageable and easy to style after your shower. It also leaves your scalp feeling soft and soothing, which is perfect if you’re coming from painful and itchy breakouts underneath your hair.
5. Avalon Organics Tea Tree Mint Scalp Normalizing Shampoo
To soothe and relax your pimple-ridden scalp, try out this tea tree and eucalyptus mint shampoo by Avalon Organics. The essential oils will stimulate your scalp as you wash it thoroughly. It also relaxes your mind with the refreshing mint scent.
This shampoo is infused with so many organic ingredients that are good for your scalp and hair. For example, it has aloe water to hydrate the hair and wheat proteins to strengthen and fortify your hair strands.
It also has a unique combo of citrusy and refreshing essential oils for your enjoyment, such as lemon, orange, and rosemary.
6. Avalon Organics Tea Tree Mint Scalp Normalizing Conditioner
This pH-balanced conditioner by Avalon Organics is a superb follow-up to the shampoo above.
It contains tea tree and mint that can revitalize you and your scalp in the shower. It also has aloe leaf water and fatty alcohols that can soften and hydrate the hair to keep it healthy. It also nourishes the scalp to give you scalp comfort.
Other organic ingredients like rosemary, sea kelp, glycerin, and pro-vitamin B5 add softness to the hair and leave it with a lustrous but natural shine.
7. Head & Shoulders Itchy Scalp Care 2-in-1 Shampoo + Conditioner
If you’re looking for a trusted anti-dandruff shampoo to get rid of those flakes and scales from scalp acne, Head & Shoulders should be your go-to. One of their best products is this 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner from their itchy scalp care line.
The eucalyptus in this formula adds a refreshing touch to your shower, leaving a cooling effect that also helps to soothe the skin on your scalp. It also hydrates the scalp lightly, so it isn’t severely dry.
Because it’s a 2-in-1, it’s super convenient for washing and conditioning. You get a clean scalp and hydrated locks all in one product.
8. Yes to Naturals Tea Tree and Sage Shampoo
With this shampoo from Yes to Naturals, you get soothing properties of natural tea tree and sage oils and the exfoliating power of salicylic acid. You get the best of both worlds, all while cleansing your scalp and hair.
Tea tree is one of the top ingredients for soothing dry scalps that have acne, so it’s something you should look into if you suffer from that. Paired with sage, it’s practically unstoppable.
The shampoo also leaves the scalp quite moisturized, so it shouldn’t bother you with dry flakes and itching.
9. Yes to Naturals Tea Tree and Sage Conditioner
This matching conditioner from the previous shampoo can also provide scalp comfort and relief by hydrating and moisturizing both the scalp and hair.
It has a tea tree and sage, which can soothe your dry scalp. It is also infused with sweet potato extract and kukui seed oil to nourish your hair and give leave it shiny and soft to the touch.
When used with the matching shampoo, it’s clinically proven to relieve scalp symptoms in eight days.
10. SACHAJUAN Scalp Shampoo
This shampoo by SACHAJUAN would sooth scalp irritation from dandruff and acne with a combination of piroctone olamine and climbazole. These two antifungal agents cleanse your pimples and make sure no bacteria is irritating them more.
Salicylic acid exfoliates the scalp to make sure no dead skin or other gunk is stuck in the hair follicles.
It’s also formulated with rosemary oil, mint, and ginger extract to maintain a healthy moisture balance in your scalp and hair.
11. SACHAJUAN Moisturizing Conditioner
This conditioner is an excellent follow-up to the shampoo we just talked about. It’s made with ocean silk technology and infused with nourishing argan oil to make sure your hair is moisturized profoundly and has no frizz.
While it isn’t specifically designed to care for the scalp, it has hydrating ingredients that can soothe the bumps on your scalp and calm inflammation through rich moisture.
12. Luseta Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo and Conditioner
The apple cider vinegar in this shampoo and conditioner set by Luseta can calm down irritated and inflamed acne on the scalp through its antimicrobial and soothing properties.
These sulfate and paraben-free products clarify the scalp to eliminate excess sebum that can turn into acne. They also encourage healthy hair growth by stimulating the hair follicles.
Wheat and soy proteins also help repair damaged hair and strengthen it moving forward, which is always a plus.
13. Aveeno Scalp Soothing Apple Cider Vinegar Blend Shampoo
If you want a more gentle ACV shampoo, go for this Aveeno one. Oat is the first ingredient in this shampoo, and it’s well-known for treating and soothing the scalp, so it’s perfect for inflamed scalp acne.
This shampoo gently but thoroughly clarifies the hair from the root to the tip to ensure no excess oil or grime is left. It’s also free of sulfates, parabens, and dyes to make sure you only get the good stuff.
14. Aveeno Scalp Soothing Apple Cider Vinegar Blend Conditioner
If the previous Aveeno shampoo piques your interest, you should also check out this matching conditioner!
Oat is still the main ingredient, which softens the scalp and the hair to keep it hydrated and soft without a greasy residue left behind. It leaves the hair soft, making it easy to manage and detangle even after your shower.
The apple cider vinegar also gives the hair some natural glow and shine to keep it looking healthy even under the sun.
15. CLn Healthy Scalp Shampoo
While this CLn shampoo was designed for scalp conditions like folliculitis and severe dandruff, it also works super well for scalp acne.
This hypoallergenic and fragrance-free shampoo eliminates excessive oil on the scalp and hair that can end up clogging the hair follicle and developing new pimples. And it does so while leaving the hair rejuvenated, refreshed, and deeply cleansed.
Now that you know all about scalp acne and how to combat it get ready for a more confident you! Pick out some of the products that caught your eye and kiss those clogged hair follicles, excess sebum, and distracting scalp pimples goodbye.
Be patient with the shampoos and conditioners on this list—they might not zap away your scalp acne right away, but they’ll make those itchy, painful bumps on your head more manageable in no time.
https://www.allure.com/story/scalp-acne-treatments-shampoo by Janell Hickman
https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/scalp-acne-shampoo by Aimee Simeon