Everything You Need to Know About Scalp Acne But Were Too Scared to Ask

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Ah, yes, the ever dreaded — and rarely spoken of — scalp acne. It's the one kind of acne you can rarely see, but you can feel it whenever you wash your hair, brush it, style it, and sometimes, even when you just lay down. And since it's hidden beneath your hair, it's that much trickier to treat it.

Thankfully, though, there is almost always a solution. Here, we tapped TK hair experts and asked them everything there is to know about scalp acne so that we can treat it when it pops up and prevent it from occurring in the first place. Their insights, below.

What is scalp acne?

As the name suggests, it's acne on the scalp. According to trichologist Bridgette Hill, scalp acne often manifests as small pimples that can become itchy and sore but have not become infected by bacteria or fungus. Scalp pimples can also be quite raised, inflamed, and tender to the touch.

What causes scalp acne?

Hairstylist and co-founder of Rahua Beauty, Fabian Lliguin, credits your shampooing routine to your scalp acne. When you wash your hair too often, you stripp the natural nutrients from the scalp, especially if you’re using harsh, surfactant-rich shampoos. He says that shampoos like that “tend to strip the scalp from its vital nutrients and irritate the scalp.” Furthermore, he explains that the scalp and skin tries to defend itself and react with pimples and if it goes untreated for too long, the scalp will weaken.

On the other hand, cleansing too infrequently will also lead to scalp pimples. Just like a pimple you would experience on your face or your body, a scalp pimple is technically a follicle clogged with sebum, debris, dead skin cells, and product build-up. “When not cleansing often enough, oil and dirt clog the scalp, and can cause small infections that manifest in a series of pimples on the affected area,” Lliguin explains.

How to treat scalp acne:

Treating your scalp acne starts from treating the root of the problem — your shampooing routine. Whether you need to wash daily, or you can get away with washing once or twice a week, treating scalp acne first starts at developing a disciplined shampooing routine that works best for your lifestyle, hair texture, and your goals.

A pre-shampoo (aka "pre-poo) treatment can also be incredibly helpful to soothe and balance the scalp is also an important step. Hill recommends applying antimicrobial oils like peppermint, rosemary, and citrus to soothe and and purify the scalp without stripping it.

Both Hill and Lliguin recommend including some form of exfoliation, either with shampoo or with a spot treatment, to get rid of all the excess dead skin cells and product build up. (We suggest a gentle scalp scrub.) If you’re under-washing your hair, Lliguin also recommends cutting out conditioner for two weeks to avoid excess moisture while you work on re-balancing your scalp. In the meantime, switch over to water-based leave-in products (to avoid scalp congestion) and avoid sleeping on wet hair.

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