How to Tell If Your Shampoo Is Breaking You Out, According to Two Top Dermatologists

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I’ve struggled with different forms of acne all my life, but I’ve recently been seeing an uptick in blemishes around my forehead. I called my dermatologist for a good old freakout (this has become a common occurrence) only to learn that this new burden could be a jumble of many different things. Then it hit me: I’ve been trying all sorts of different shampoos. Instead of running back to my own expert with a list of queries, I decided to reach out to others for an in-depth explanation as to why all of this is happening. 

Why do shampoos break you out?
“Some shampoos contain oils—they can be olive, argon or coconut— that are pore-clogging, aka comedogenic,” says Melville, NY dermatologist Kally Papantoniou, MD. “These oils may not make everyone break out, but if you are prone to acne you may be more sensitive to oil-containing shampoos.”

If you have darker hair and are seeing an uptick in breakouts, Glenn Dale, MD dermatologist Valerie Callender, MD says this is normal. “Because black hair is frequently dry due to the curly nature of the hair, shampoos containing oils like cocoa butter or shea butter are frequently used.”

How can you tell if your breakouts are caused by shampoo?
Although it’s often hard to discover what’s breaking you out, shampoo breakouts, which Dr. Callender often refers to as “pomade acne,” often occur along the hairline and forehead. “You also might notice breakouts on the upper back and shoulders, especially if you have longer hair,” adds Dr. Papantoniou. 

It’s possible that blemishes look a specific way when they’re being caused by shampoo. “They can be inflammatory and present as red itchy bumps or as blackheads and whiteheads,” says Dr. Callender. 

How do you avoid breaking out from shampoo?
Dr. Callender’s biggest piece of advice? “Avoid the above ingredients and do not allow your hair to touch your face. After shampooing, wash the face with an exfoliating or foaming cleanser or, if you’re under a dermatologist’s care, apply your acne medication as instructed to prevent a flare up.”

The shampoo she recommends for a worry-free wash: Free & Clear Shampoo ($11). “It’s free of fragrance, gluten, essential oils and botanical extracts. Plus, it’s mainly used for patients with sensitive skin or who are prone to allergic reactions from hair care products.”

It’s also crucial to avoid falling for the classic “all-natural” marketing, notes Dr. Papantoniou. “I would be careful with some of the ‘natural’ shampoos because they can lead to buildup for some people,” she adds.

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