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

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You buy shampoo to clean and clarify impurities on your scalp and in your hair, right? But what happens when that backfires, and the product that’s supposed to cleanse actually leads to a skin freakout. If you’ve noticed acne or other blemishes around your forehead or on the scalp, it could be a result of the shampoo or other hair-care products you’re using. To get to the bottom of these pesky pimples in spots where they shouldn’t be, we turned to experts for their insight.

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.” New York dermatologist Orit Markowitz, MD, notes that if you’re breaking out, it may also be an indication of allergy to an ingredient in your shampoo.

If you have darker hair and are seeing an uptick in breakouts, 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,” explains Glenn Dale, MD dermatologist Valerie Callender, MD.

How can you tell if your breakouts are caused by shampoo?

Experts say bumps caused by shampoo often have a few unique identifiers. “When shampoo is the cause of your breakouts, you likely will get whiteheads and bumps along your hairline, forehead and nape of the neck,” says Fort Lauderdale, FL dermatologist Dr. Matthew Elias. According to Dr. Callender, shampoo breakouts can be “inflammatory and present as red itchy bumps or as blackheads” as well as whiteheads. Dr. Papantoniou notes that you may “also notice breakouts on the upper back and shoulders, especially if you have longer hair.”

How do you avoid breaking out from shampoo?

To avoid shampoo breakout altogether, Dr. Elias suggests looking “for products that say non-comedogenic or non-acne forming or oil-free to be certain they won’t clog your pores and lead to breakouts.” 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,” warns the doctor. “They can lead to buildup for some people,” she adds. For additional caution, try to avoid the ingredients that tend to cause a breakout listed below.

What are some common ingredients that can cause breakouts?

There are a handful of ingredients that are common offenders when it comes to causing shampoo-related breakouts. Dr. Elias says any oils, found in pomades, shampoos, conditioners, gels, sprays and waxes, can lead to acne. Dr. Markowitz notes that propylene glycol, tea tree oil and alcohol or alcohol-like ingredients can also lead to breakouts.

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