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Dermatologists Break Down How to Treat Scalp Acne

Scalp acne is the worst. It lurks undetected for god knows how long until a painful pass by your brush or comb gives up its location. After you are made aware that it exists, it’s game over. You can’t help but be tempted to check in on it or pick once in a while. If you’re over it, top docs break down how to treat scalp acne and more below. Read their expert advice now!

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What Is Scalp Acne?

Fabian Lliguin, cofounder and president of clean brand Rahua explains, “Scalp acne is a new expression and refers to almost every scalp irritation, including some severe scalp infections.” Dr. Marc A. Robert, CEO and founding partner of Hush & Hush, reveals that treating scalp acne isn’t as easy as it seems. “Scalp acne, although treatable, can be a bit tricky to navigate because some products can cause dryness and even flakiness,” he notes.

What Causes Acne on the Scalp?

According to NYC-based dermatologist Dr. Marnie Nussbaum, scalp acne can be caused by a cacophony of things. Typically, there isn’t just one lone reason why you are breaking out in this part of your largest organ. “Various things can cause scalp acne. It can be a buildup of dead skin cells which clogs the hair follicle or pore, excess sebum (oil) clogging the pores or even a buildup of hair products on the scalp can be the culprits behind the breakouts,” she says.

How Is It Different Than Face Breakouts?

“While both breakouts can be caused by excess dead skin cells and sebum clogging the pores, different bacteria or yeast may or may not be involved,” Dr. Nussbaum begins. “For example, facial acne may be caused by the bacteria p.acnes. Scalp acne (or folliculitis) may be caused by yeast (Malassezia family), staph, or demodex mites,” she concludes.

How Do You Treat This Type of Acne?

Dr. Nussbaum is chock-full of tips on how to get rid of this pesky type of breakout. In her view, the most common way to treat scalp acne is easy. “Scalp acne can be treated with various medicated shampoos that may contain salicylic acid or glycolic acid to exfoliate the dead skin cells or ketoconazole to combat the yeast,” she begins.”If these treatments are not working, and there is inflammation or hair loss, a dermatologist should be consulted immediately,” Dr. Nussbaum warns.

Dr. Marc agrees on this point, “If you’ve exhausted all options and still are experiencing breakouts on and along the scalp, see a doctor who can recommend a personalized plan of attack that may include a prescription antibiotic or even a retinoid.”

How Does Treatment Differ Between the Two Types of Acne?

According to Dr. Nussbaum, treatment is completely different between scalp and face breakouts. For scalp acne, your Rx will be more focused on avoiding zit triggers such as wearing tight hats, washing the hair thoroughly after working out, and exfoliation of the dead skin cells and debris. Facial acne’s root cause may be a result of numerous factors such as hormones, stress, p.acnes as well as excess sebum. Therefore, an oral antibiotic may be needed along with topical potions.  

Dominic Patawaran, MD, board-certified family medicine and integrative medicine physician and Collective Laboratories Medical Advisory Board Member, has additional intel on how to treat scalp acne. “From an integrative perspective, omega-3 fatty acids may help as a natural anti-inflammatory, tea tree oil shampoos may help with its natural antibacterial properties,” he begins. “Working on a diet lower in sugar and refined carbohydrates may also help decrease inflammation. Additionally, some probiotics, especially spore-based probiotics, can help with cystic acne by helping decrease inflammation and creating a shift in the skin bacteria,” he says.

Dr. Nussbaum and Dr. Marc both advocate for washing your hair thoroughly, especially after working out or using excessive hair products. Fabian Lliguin also had non-medicine solutions to treat your scalp acne, “Palo santo oil eliminates the microflora on the scalp (food for bacteria and fungi). Thus, the bacteria will starve and disappear, clearing the scalp of the most common bumps (scalp acne).”

In need of some product recommendations to treat your scalp acne? Check out THESE non-comedogenic hair products!

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