What It Means When You Get Breakouts on Your Scalp

Have you ever scratched your scalp and felt something that seemed to resemble a pimple? Not the most glamorous topic of discussion here, but it's surprisingly a question we get asked often: "Can I get breakouts on my scalp?" The answer is yes, but more often than not, it's not a pimple at all. Here, the experts explain.

According to Delray Beach, FL, dermatologist Janet Allenby, MD, acne on the scalp is an inflammatory reaction around the hair and sebum follicles and can be caused by many things, but most frequently, it is hormonal and excessive sebum (oil) production that are the biggest influences. "The scalp can have acne outbreaks just like the face does, but is is less common and usually associated with more severe types of acne," she says. New York dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD, adds, "Should you have actual scalp acne, the fastest treatment is an injection of cortisone, which your dermatologist can administer." 

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What you think is an acne blemish might actually be something else, like excess oil or product on your scalp that can accumulate and irritate a little area of your scalp, mimicking a pimple or tiny scab. Dr. Engelman says that if the cause of your scalp acne is a buildup of product, dead skin cells or oil that clogs hair follicles, you can benefit from washing your hair with a clarifying shampoo, like Moroccanoil Clarifying Shampoo ($26), once a week.

The perceived blemish could also be a scaly patch as a result of dandruff or eczema. "Scaly patches on the scalp are more often seborrhea, aka dandruff, which is also and inflammatory problem. This is best treated with over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoos and conditioners," says Dr. Allenby. We like Phyto Phythéol Oily Hair Purifying Scalp Exfoliating Shampoo ($26), which strips the bad stuff out of your hair while keeping the good oils intact so your hair looks shiny and clean, not dull. 

If the scaly area doesn't go away, Dr. Allenby says it should not be ignored because it could be related to a medical condition, even certain cancers, that may need to be addressed by a medical professional. "Typically, if a person has a lesion on their scalp that looks and feels like acne but they don't have severe facial or back acne, it may be due to other medical inflammatory disorders and should be evaluated by a dermatologist."

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