Have you ever considered switching out your facial cleanser for Head and Shoulders to fight your acne? TikTok wants you to.
It’s led to a huge spike in searches for using Head and Shoulders for skin issues and recommendations to use it as skin care. You can find wellness and beauty influencers recommending Head and Shoulders for clear skin and how to use it for blemish control. This basic dandruff shampoo is, according to the Internet, good as an acne treatment, for acne management, treating breakouts and is fine to put right on your face.
The idea is pretty simple: just spot treat your acne with dandruff shampoo. The ingredient that fights dandruff in Head and Shoulders, zinc pyrithione, may be effective at treating what’s called fungal acne. But on TikTok, it seems that this shampoo can do just about anything for your skin. Apparently this affordable, brilliant hack has the potential to replace all my acne products in one fell swoop.
And if that sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is.
We spoke with dermatologists to learn exactly how Head and Shoulders for acne-prone skin works.
Some Acne Isn’t Technically Acne
To explain why this hack isn’t that effective against pimples, it’s important to understand what these TikTok creators are actually experiencing. While they are seeing an improvement to their skin after using dandruff shampoo, dermatologists say it isn’t because the shampoo is treating their acne.
Firstly, because dandruff shampoos like Head and Shoulders contain anti-fungal ingredients, it can positively impact what’s commonly called fungal acne, or Malassezia folliculitis.
New York dermatologist Marina Peredo, MD explains that fungal acne gets its name because of how the condition presents. “Fungal acne is a skin condition that occurs when hair follicles become infected with a fungus called Malassezia yeast,” Dr. Peredo explains. “It can appear as a sudden breakout of small red pimples around the hair follicles and look similar in size to pimples.”
So, fungal acne looks like acne, but isn’t.
According to Melville, NY dermatologist Kally Papantoniou, MD, Malassezia folliculitis can be distinguished from traditional acne. “Fungal acne is an ‘acne-like’ skin condition caused by overgrowth of a yeast, called pityrosporum,” Dr. Papantoniou explains. “It is usually worsened by sweating and hot, humid climates. It is different from traditional acne, in that it is not blackheads and clogged pores, but rather superficial inflamed little pus-filled bumps, usually clustering on the forehead and chest.”
The inflammation it causes can be painful and though it presents like typical acne, it ultimately will need their own kind of treatment.
Head and Shoulders Makes Sense for This Type of Blemish
According to Dr. Papantoniou, Malassezia folliculitis is usually treated easily with anti-fungal products. “This [fungal acne] is successfully treated with anti-fungal cleansers and or creams,” she explains. “The response is usually relatively quick.”
Though these products are successful, it isn’t uncommon for people to turn to dandruff shampoos that also include anti-fungal ingredients. That’s why there is some truth to Head and Shoulders benefits for acne. “Some people use Head and Shoulders shampoo, which has the active ingredient zinc pyrithione to help reduce overgrowth of the causative yeast,” Dr. Papantoniou says.
Dr. Peredo explains that Head and Shoulders shampoo for acne, or Head and Shoulders for body acne, is really only effective if your symptoms weren’t that serious to begin with. “If the condition of the fungal acne is mild, it can be treated by ketoconazole shampoo or Head and Shoulders shampoo,” she explains.
The way dandruff shampoo works on this skin condition is similar to what it does to stop dandruff– in fact it’s that same kind of yeast, Malassezia, that causes dandruff. This naturally-occurring fungus survives off of the oils we produce in our hair, and to most people, it’s completely harmless.
That said, when you’re sensitive to this common microorganism, you can develop itchiness, scalp flakes and irritation. That’s what dandruff is, a bad reaction to this common yeast.
Since there’s no cure, shampoos like Head and Shoulders employ active ingredients, like zinc pyrithione, to keep those symptoms at bay. But this yeast isn’t going to just go away — it’s with you for life. That means that dandruff isn’t a condition you can cure, but one that you have to keep treating.
If you experience dandruff or other fungal conditions, like psoriasis, it may help you identify if the pimples you are experiencing is actually fungal acne.
Ultimately, Dandruff Shampoo For Acne Is Not Recommended by Dermatologists
In spite of its apparent TikTok success at clearing fungal acne, Head and Shoulders isn’t for your face.
Dermatologists typically aren’t going to recommend Head and Shoulders for acne.
New York dermatologist Michelle Henry, MD explains that dandruff shampoos are too harsh for our faces. “Using shampoo on the face is not recommended for treating fungal acne, also known as Malassezia folliculitis,” she explains. “While some shampoos contain anti-fungal ingredients like ketoconazole or zinc pyrithione, these ingredients are meant to be used on the scalp and may be too harsh and drying for the face.”
In fact, a lot of shampoos contain ingredients we would consider too harsh or comedogenic for the face. “Additionally, shampoos may contain other ingredients that can be irritating to the skin and exacerbate acne,” Dr. Henry explains.
What Should You Do If You Suspect You Have Fungal Acne
While you can use Head and Shoulders for acne management, your best bet is to see a dermatologist.
“If you suspect you have fungal acne, it’s best to consult with a dermatologist who can recommend an appropriate treatment plan,” Dr. Henry says. “They may recommend topical or oral antifungal medications, as well as skin-care products containing ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to help manage the condition.”
There’s a lot you can do to help keep this condition in check.
“Maintaining good hygiene, avoiding oil-based skin-care products, and using a gentle, noncomedogenic moisturizer can also help prevent and manage fungal acne,” Dr. Henry explains.