Scalp acne is a condition that affects most individuals at some point. For some people, acne on the scalp is much more than the odd pimple near the hairline or on the scalp itself – it can be a true outbreak that triggers a chain reaction of symptoms. Recurring pimples or severe acne can cause redness and scabbing that is visible through one’s hair, particularly in individuals who wear a short hairstyle. Parting one’s hair, wearing an up-do, and even swimming are tasks that can be ruled by the need to keep scalp acne hidden. Pimples on the head are not always a life-controlling issue, but some of the unseen symptoms can cause a great deal of discomfort for a person. For instance, common pimple-related symptoms such as itchiness, tenderness, or swelling can add a great deal of pain to everyday tasks like styling one’s hair or wearing a hat.
Brush-Up on Your Acne Knowledge
Understanding the cause behind acne flare-ups will go a long way in your efforts to prevent any kind of pimple plague – even on your head. Every bit of human skin is riddled with small holes known as pores. Most pores serve as a protective enclosure for the roots of hair follicles, even if a corresponding hair is so fine or lightly colored that it cannot be seen. Pores are also tasked with the important job of keeping the skin well-lubricated. Skin produces an oily substance called sebum which is secreted by pores in order to rehydrate skin cells. The everyday elements that your skin faces, including wind, sunlight, and chemicals, would easily turn your skin into a flaky desert without the help of sebum. Sometimes a pore may become blocked by a combination of naturally occurring substances such as dead skin cells and dirt. When mixed with sebum oil or even sweat these elements can create a blockade within the pore which prevents sebum oil from being released.
Bacteria, which is always present on human skin, may also become trapped inside the blocked pore which triggers a localized infection. As with other skin infections, the body activates an inflammatory response. Inflammation is normal but it does tend to cause symptoms that certainly let us know something is up. Common symptoms include swelling, redness, tenderness, and the development of pus. Depending on how deeply-rooted the bacteria is, it could take anywhere from 24 hours to several days before the tell-tale white or yellow “core” of the infected pore bursts or becomes reabsorbed by the body. As you can see, the initial cause behind acne on the scalp is the same as that which causes acne anywhere else on the body, the only difference is the location of the pimple and the method by which a pore become clogged.
Tips for Eliminating Acne
Do you find yourself gingerly brushing your hair in order to avoid nicking a pimple? Maybe you feel like you have to wear your hair against your preference because you want to better hide your condition. These are just a few examples of the ill effects that acne can cause. The following five sections describe simple but effective measures that not only speed up your recovery from an existing outbreak but also prevent future pimples from forming.
Avoid Greasy or Thick Styling/Hair Care Products
When dealing with the scalp, the most common cause of blocked pores involves the use of hair products. Styling products in some form or another have been used for thousands of years, but throughout history there have always been adverse side-effects to using things like wax, gel, mousse, and hairspray. Any time you add something to your hair or scalp that does not easily evaporate or become absorbed by skin and/or hair, the product will migrate to the skin of the head where it creates an unnatural film. In some cases, particularly when one uses hair gel or pomade, the layer created on the scalp can be extremely thick. In any case, airflow to the scalp is drastically reduced and the pores may become clogged by unreleased sebum, sweat, or the hair product itself. Reduced airflow also brings about the symptom of scalp irritation, which can actually lead to acne and a rash-like development.
If you use styling product then this could certainly be a contender for the cause behind your pimple-afflicted scalp. If you can manage, try to go a few weeks without using any kind of hair additive – even leave-in products like conditioner or anti-frizz treatment. The latter may not apply if you have long hair and only apply the product to the end of the hair where it will likely be absorbed by the hair instead of resting on the surface of the skin. If you occasionally use intense hair treatments such as deep-conditioning masques or hot oil products then the issue may be in how you apply the treatment. You see, deep-conditioners and hot oils are generally not meant to be massaged into the skin. In fact, most products of this nature will specifically instruct that the element be applied to the hair while avoiding the scalp. Restorative treatments are targeted towards repairing damaged hair – the closer you get to the roots, the less necessary this type of product becomes. You see, the hair closest to your head is newer growth which probably hasn’t been exposed to heat styling, old hair dye chemicals, and other common elements and therefore there really isn’t any need to apply pore-clogging restorative treatments to your hair’s roots (and the skin on your head).
Add Tea Tree Oil to Your Regular Shampoo
If you haven’t already decided to switch to a more “natural” shampoo then now is the time to do so. Many popular shampoos contain chemicals and irritating substances that are designed to enhance the color, smell, and consistency of the soap. These additives can not only irritate and dry-out the skin of the head but also prime the area for bacteria and other pimple-causing articles. A mild shampoo, preferably one with ingredients that you recognize (or can at least pronounce!) is a great starting point for getting rid of existing pimples and preventing future outbreaks. You can easily ramp-up the cleansing power of your shampoo by adding a few drops of 100 percent pure tea tree oil to the soap bottle. The general guideline for adding tea tree to shampoo is to use one drop of tree oil for every ounce of shampoo in the bottle. For instance, if you are adding tea tree to a new 10 ounce bottle of shampoo then you should add 10 drops of oil to the bottle and shake well before each use.
If you have never heard of tea tree oil before then you might be wondering why you should go out of your way to use it as an acne treatment. Tea tree oil is seen as a sort of “revered trinity” when it comes to infectious substances. Pure tea tree contains antiseptic properties, which means that it kills and prevents the growth of bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Studies have even shown that tea tree oil can eliminate antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This makes it a wonderful pore purifier and cleanser. Regular use of shampoo with added tea tree will gently clear up any lingering residues that may be contributing to blocked pores and will prevent future buildup and bacteria growth. This oil has the power to cut through natural and manmade oil-based products, so you might be able to sparingly use styling products without suffering adverse effects on your skin. While this oil is safe to use when heavily diluted with shampoo, conditioner, or carrier oil, it can sometimes cause irritation if the undiluted oil is applied directly to the skin.
Rinse Hair After a Workout
Whether you’re pumping iron at the gym or engaging in manual labor outside, your body will begin to sweat in order to reduce your body temperature during periods of heightened activity. Sweat is a mixture of water and minerals known as electrolytes. If you were to have a powerful microscope at your disposal then you would see that potassium, sodium, and magnesium – the primary electrolytes lost through sweat – are rough-edged and solid. Aided by sweat and sebum, these minerals can clump together and become lodged inside the skin’s pores, along with any bacteria hanging out on the surface of the scalp. If you have a fairly predictable workout schedule then you should be able to make some adjustments to include a quick shower to remove sweat and mineral buildup on your skin. If you tend to spend a lot of time sweating because of your job, exercise habits, or even a medical condition then you may have to put forth greater effort to removing acne-inducing buildup. In cases like this, it would be necessary to adopt a more stringent and long-term hygiene routine.
If your head is subjected to conditions that induce sweating on a daily basis then the easiest solution would be to rinse your hair and scalp each evening. It should not be necessary to use shampoo every day. In fact, this practice is discouraged because it can cause excessive dryness by continuously stripping away the natural oils from the skin and hair. Try rinsing your scalp with lukewarm water and take special care to massage your skin under running water. This will cause dirt and sweat debris to loosen from your skin and will encourage circulation. If you find that water alone does not seem to prevent pimples from forming on your head then you may want to use a 50/50 vinegar and water mixture to rinse your hair. Vinegar is an acidic element that can break through tough dirt and sweat buildup. It is best to dilute vinegar with water when applying it to the skin in order to prevent your skin’s pH from becoming unbalanced. Also, applying pure vinegar to hair can have a lightening effect, especially when the hair is exposed to sunlight. If you wish to avoid using vinegar at all then consider gently scrubbing your damp scalp with a tablespoon or two of baking soda, which will exfoliate your skin and rinse away without any lasting side effects.
Unless you have an issue with dry-scalp, you may find that abstaining from the use of conditioner will help to clear up and prevent acne outbreaks in this area. In general, conditioner is meant to replace the moisture that has been removed from your hair through shampooing, using chemical dyes, etc. Avoiding tough chemicals and shampooing with a gentle soap will dramatically reduce your need to use conditioner. Some conditioners can have a high oil content that isn’t ideal for individuals who are prone to acne on the scalp because the oil can contribute to clogged pores. Conditioner should also be used on a limited basis by people who are prone to having oily skin and hair as conditioner will only exacerbate the issue.
If you aren’t sure about completely cutting yourself off from conditioner then consider giving it a four-day trial. During these four days try to use mild soap and refrain from using any conditioning products at all. If your hair seems less oily and your pimples have receded then you can make the decision of whether to continue the sans-conditioner routine or to use conditioner on a limited basis, such as once each week. If you have long hair then you may also consider the possibility of applying the solution only to the ends of your hair in order to prevent tangling and split ends. As long as the conditioner does not come into contact with your skin or the roots of your hair then you should be able to notice less acne on your head.
Try a Medicated Shampoo
Medicated shampoo is a simple yet effective option for combating acne. There are several forms of medicated shampoo on the market which use different active ingredients to treat common scalp issues. Head & Shoulders, which is primarily marketed as a dandruff remedy, contains zinc – an element necessary for speedy tissue repair. When zinc isn’t being put to good use repairing damaged tissues, it can be used topically to bring a balance to oily skin and reduce the symptoms of inflammation. Other products, like Selsun Blue, use selenium sulfide – and antiseptic element that prevents topical bacterial and fungal growth. By reducing the presence of infectious organisms, pimple outbreaks will be less frequent. Another medicated shampoo that works well against acne on the head contains an ingredient known as coal tar. The name brand T-Gel is lesser-known than Head & Shoulders and Selsun Blue but it works on many levels to reduce inflammatory skin conditions such as dandruff, eczema, psoriasis, and acne. Coal tar is especially helpful against such conditions because it slows down the rate in which dermal cells are replenished. This ingenious method cuts back on flakiness which also eliminates excessive buildup that commonly leads to pimples.
All of the medicated soaps listed above are available in the shampoo section of most supermarkets. If you believe that you may need something a little stronger, as is the case with severe dry-scalp or flaking conditions which may trigger acne, then you may want to seek the help of a dermatologist. A dermatologist will be able to accurately diagnose any underlying condition and prescribe an appropriate shampoo based on your own personal requirements.