What are pimples on the scalp?

Pimples on the scalp occur due to clogged pores. Using pore-clogging hair products is another culprit.
Pimples on the scalp occur due to clogged pores. Using pore-clogging hair products is another culprit.

Getting a pimple is no fun. Acne spots are uncomfortable and unsightly. They can crop up anywhere on your body, including on your scalp.

Scalp pimples aren't usually dangerous. However, they can be painful and hard to treat if they're hiding under hair. If you're not careful about taking care of them, they can get worse and lead to scarring.

The good news is, treating scalp pimples might be as easy as changing your shampoo. Learn about what causes scalp pimples, how to treat them, and prevent them in the future.

Symptoms of pimples on the scalp

All pimples, including the ones on your scalp, pop up because of clogged pores. When oil, dead skin cells, or hair care products block a pore on your head, it can get irritated and develop into a pimple.

Scalp pimples are easy to identify. Like pimples anywhere on your body, they appear as raised bumps that may be tender to touch. For some people, they may pop up in clusters.

Pimples on your scalp may show up around the hairline or further under your hair. Some are simply raised patches that you can feel with your fingers.

Other scalp breakouts are more severe. The pimples can be sore or may develop into a pustule with a fluid-filled head. Acne can also result in itching or dry, flaky patches of skin.

The pimples might cause discomfort or pain when you wash, brush, or style your hair.

Types of pimples on the scalp

Pimples on your scalp are similar to pimples on any other part of your skin. Recognizing them helps understand how to treat them. There are three types of pimples:

1. Whiteheads and blackheads

These are small bumps that you can feel when you touch your scalp. They may be whitish or flesh-colored bumps called whiteheads. Blackheads are red bumps with a dark spot on top.

2. Papules and pustules

Papules are raised bumps with no head. If there is a cluster of them, they might feel rough or sandpapery. Pustules are bumps filled with a white or yellowish material, similar to a blister.

3. Nodules and cysts

These pimples are the most severe. Nodules are raised bumps that are firm to the touch. Cysts feel softer because they are filled with fluid.

Not every type of skin irritation on your scalp is acne. You may want to consult a doctor to rule out other skin conditions. These other conditions might include:

  1. Scalp psoriasis: Psoriasis is a common condition. It causes the skin to grow too quickly and form bumpy red patches. Psoriasis occurs anywhere on your body, including the scalp. It can be itchy or painful.
  2. Atopic dermatitis: This is a type of eczema and can appear on your scalp. It can cause dry skin, blisters, or an itching or burning sensation.
  3. Scalp folliculitis: If hair follicles become clogged and inflamed, it causes folliculitis. Certain hair care products or shaving your head can cause scalp folliculitis.
  4. Seborrheic dermatitis: This condition is known as cradle cap when it happens to babies. However, it can occur at any age. In adults, it causes greasy-looking flakes and redness.

A doctor can tell the difference between these conditions and help you figure out the best treatment.

QUESTION

Acne is the result of an allergy. See Answer

Causes of pimples on the scalp

Scalp pimples are caused by clogged pores. The build-up of skin oils and dead skin cells can be the reason for acne. Pore-clogging hair care products are another culprit.

Hair care products that contain heavy ingredients like oils are a trigger for breakouts on your scalp. Certain gels, styling waxes, pomades, or creams are also a cause of pimples. Even some shampoos and conditioners can clog pores.

You can prevent scalp breakouts by looking for washing and styling products that are labeled as oil-free or non-comedogenic.

When to see the doctor for pimples on the scalp

Most of the time, you can treat scalp pimples at home with over-the-counter acne treatments. You might want to switch to a shampoo with anti-acne ingredients. If that doesn't work or you are worried that you may have an infection due to pimples, you should call your doctor.

You should also see your doctor if your acne hasn’t cleared in 6 weeks.

Diagnosis for pimples on the scalp

When you visit a dermatologist about scalp pimples, they should just need to take a look at your skin to understand the problem.

Treatments for pimples on the scalp

If you think your scalp breakout is caused by your hair care routine, stop using the products that you suspect are the problem. Make sure to wash your hair at least every other day to prevent build-up that can clog pores.

If you have determined that your hair care products have caused your scalp pimples, thoroughly wash anything that might have picked up residue from the products. This includes headbands, caps, and pillowcases.

Look for these ingredients to help with scalp breakouts:

  1. Salicylic acid
  2. Azelaic acid
  3. Benzoyl peroxide

If you have severe scalp acne, your doctor might give you prescription-strength shampoo or a topical cream. You might also need a prescription-strength antibiotic or antifungal medication if your doctor recommends it.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/10/2021
References
American Academy of Dermatology: "10 REASONS YOUR SCALP ITCHES AND HOW TO GET RELIEF."

American Academy of Dermatology: "ARE YOUR HAIR CARE PRODUCTS CAUSING BREAKOUTS?"

American Academy of Dermatology: "SCALP PSORIASIS: CAUSES."

American Academy of Dermatology: "SEBORRHEIC DERMATITIS: OVERVIEW."

American Academy of Dermatology: "WHAT KIDS SHOULD KNOW ABOUT KINDS OF PIMPLES."

American Family Physician: "Topical Therapy for Acne."

AOCD: "FOLLICULITIS."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Acne."

National Eczema Association: "Atopic Dermatitis."