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How to Use Salicylic Acid for Scalp Acne

If you’ve ever had a pimple you’ve probably heard of salicylic acid—but what is it exactly? And how can it help your hair/scalp? Though we’ve heard about it hundreds of times, we realized we were clueless. To remedy this, we went to the expert and checked in with board-certified dermatologist Dr. Lindsey Zubritsky. Here’s everything you need to know about how to use salicylic acid for scalp acne.

Person using salicylic acid to treat scalp acne | Mane Addicts
(Image Source: Getty / Su Phrr’a Can Thrta Wang)

So, What Is Salicylic Acid?

“Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid that works to dive deep into the pores and unclog them by helping to remove excess oil or sebum buildup. It’s a chemical exfoliant that helps with acne as well as hair and skin congestion,” explains Dr. Zubritsky. Ah, who knew our hair could be congested? Free us up!

How to Use Salicylic Acid for Scalp Acne

“Salicylic acid comes in different strengths, but in general I recommend using it one to two times per day depending on the condition. It comes in both a wash and a leave-on ingredient. It tends to increase dryness if overused, so I recommend starting out only using it a few times a week and build up to daily use as tolerated. I recommend pairing this ingredient with moisturizers in order to prevent or improve salicylic acid-associated dryness. It also can make our skin more susceptible to sunburns, so I always recommend pairing it with an SPF,” Dr. Zubritsky shares.

Who Should Avoid Using Salicylic Acid?

While most skin and hair types can benefit from salicylic acid in some way, Dr. Zubritsky warns you to use it with caution if you have skin or scalp sensitivity. “Those with eczema or who are particularly vulnerable to dryness or irritation should start out using only once a week. I also recommend patch testing the product or ingredient prior to use to ensure no reactions occur. Furthermore, I recommend avoiding if you have any open wounds on your skin or scalp,” she continues.

How It Helps With Scalp Acne

“Salicylic acid is an excellent ingredient to help with scalp acne,” Dr. Zubritsky explains. “It helps to unclog hair follicles, which can buildup over time with sebum, debris, oil, and hair product buildup. Gentle exfoliation with salicylic acid one to two times per week can not only treat but also prevent scalp acne.” And when the scalp is pimple-free and clear, more hair can grow in thicker and stronger.

Best Salicylic Acid Products for Scalp Acne

“I like shampoos that contain salicylic acid as the main ingredient to help treat or prevent scalp acne,” she explains. “One of my favorite products is Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Shampoo. This contains 3% salicylic acid to not only address acne but also targets psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff).”

Treating scalp acne also comes down to how you wash your scalp. “When treating or preventing scalp acne, it’s also vital that you are appropriately cleansing and rinsing hair products, shampoo/conditioner, and oil/sebum from your scalp. I recommend to my patients to use the Waterpik® HairWand Pulse Spa System for their showerhead. The pulsating comb shape spray reaches down to your roots for an effective rinse, scalp massage, and leaves your scalp feeling clean. It provides fast and effective rinsing for the best hair cleansing experience,” adds Dr. Zubritsky.

Need some extra advice on how to manage scalp acne? HERE you go!

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