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What's scalp acne? Everything you need to know and how to treat it, according to an expert

scalp acne
Got scalp acne? Here's how to tellJonathan Storey - Getty Images

Many of us have faced the trials and tribulations that come along with acne; pimples, redness, scarring – it's not a barrel of laughs. But did you know you can get acne on your scalp, too?

We hate to be the bearer of bad news but scalp acne can be just as irritating and frustrating to treat as regular old acne. The good news? We've done the leg work and asked the pros exactly what to do if you know you have it and how to decipher whether you're suffering from scalp acne.

Here's everything you need to know about scalp spots and how to treat them. Ready for a clear scalp? Here's how to banish scalp acne for good...

scalp acne
Larysa Vdovychenko - Getty Images

What is scalp acne?

Just like the randomness of a breakout before a big occasion (a job interview, a first date, a party – pimples don't discriminate), the spots that erupt on your scalp are just as sporadic and spontaneous as the ones on your face.

"Scalp acne is simply that, acneic pimples on your scalp," says Consultant Dermatologist, Dr Anastasia Therianou.

As we well know, if your scalp isn't happy it can have an impact on your hair health when it comes to condition and growth. However, Dr Therianou warns that scalp acne leading to hair loss is still unlikely:

"However, if the inflammation caused by the pimples is severe, this is called folliculitis decalvans, and can cause hair loss and possibly scarring across the scalp as a result. However, this is rare."

What causes scalp acne?

As these breakouts are sisters to the ones you experience on your t-zone, they occur for the same reasons.

"Our scalp, and face, are covered in sebaceous glands. They’re responsible for making and secreting sebum - a substance that helps protect our skin and help it retain moisture. Most of your sebaceous glands connect to your hair follicles, when these glands are overproductive they produce too much causing our pores to clog. As a result, spots and breakouts will start to appear on the scalp," explains Dr Therianou.

Just like those with oily skin, those with hair on the more oily side will suffer more from scalp acne. There are also a few other elements at play as to why you might be experiencing these pesky head breakouts.

"Scalp acne can also be caused by simply not washing our hair as frequently as needed or if we’re using too many oily products on our scalp causing the pores to become blocked," says Dr Therianou.

For the gym bunnies out there, we have some bad news for you...

"If you work out frequently it’s essential that you’re washing your hair regularly, as your sebum and sweat will be building up on the scalp," says Dr Therianou.

So, make sure to properly clean your hair and scalp in that gym shower.

scalp acne
4FR - Getty Images

How to treat scalp acne

The good news is that scalp acne can be treated, without having to use up a whole shelf of hair products.

As per Dr Therianou advice, we've created a handy checklist you can run through when you next experience a flare-up of scalp acne.

Do wash your hair

"Frequent washes are important, especially after exercising or if people sweat a lot during the day for various reasons."

Don't use

"Sulphate-free or dry shampoos, as these will cause residue on the scalp to remain, therefore clogging the pores further resulting in scalp breakouts and sensitivity."

Do use

"Shampoos which contain salicylic acid, tar or selenium sulfide can help. For those who have tried these shampoos, and the pimples have not improved, they should seek help from a dermatologist, as most probably they would need treatment under prescription."

Ditch the oils

"Any type of oils applied directly to the scalp can make things worse. Also styling products which contain oils should be avoided if you’re experiencing scalp acne."

There, not too complex, right?

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