You probably already know that pimples can pop up on places other than your face, but it’s not just your back, chest, and booty that are blemish-prone. The scalp is another spot where zits happen, although using the term “scalp acne” isn’t exactly as straightforward as it may seem. Scalp acne refers to breakouts, such as red pimples and pustules that develop on the scalp. It results from a build-up of oil and clogged pores, bacteria, and inflammation. It can also be cause by friction from clippers uses to buzz a man's hair. 

What are Pores

Pores are tiny indentations in your skin’s surface which allows the skin to breath, detoxify and pass gases and excrete fluids from the body.  The main function of pores is to allow the passage of gases and fluids through the surface to regulate bodily functions such as sebum and temperature control. Hair follicle pores support the lubrication of the scalp and hair through the excretion of sebum. When pores clogged, it can cause various skin issues and on the scalp it can cause scalp acne

What are Clogged Pores

Clogged pores happens when excess oil, dead skin cells, sweat, and other impurities accumulate on the insides of the pore. There are many reasons you can end up with clogged pores, especially if you have oily skin or are prone to acne. The lacking of a good men’s skincare routine with twice daily cleansing with men's face wash, 2x weekly exfoliation with a men’s face scrub, and a healthy application of men's moisturizer after every cleanse can also be blamed. Clogged pores are more prevalent in men due to our thicker and oilier skin.  So it is important to use the right men's skincare products to control excess sebum and prevent pores from clogging.

Once your pores are clogged, the resulting acne can come in a few different forms. These can range from minor blackheads and whiteheads to more serious blemishes like inflamed papules, pustules, nodules, or cysts.

Pore Clogging Ingredients

Comedogenic is the scientific word for pore clogging ingredients.  While these types of ingredients aren't the sole cause of acne and breakouts, they certainly can be a root cause of the problem. Pore clogging ingredients in haircare products make it much more likely that pimples will form especially in someone with naturally oily hair and scalp or someone who harbors the bacteria that causes acne. Using haircare with these pore clogging ingredients can increase the risk exacerbating scalp acne and facial acne as well. 

So what makes an ingredient likely to be pore clogging? Comedogenicity isn't a perfect science, in some cases, ingredients can interact poorly with your sebum, making it thicker, while other ingredients are too thick and don't rinse off completely leaving residue on the scalp.  Pore clogging ingredients are typically occlusives, these sit on top of the hair and scalp, forming a seal that ends up trapping oil, particularly when someone who already has oily hair and scalp to start with. Some pore clogging ingredients add more oils to the scalp, causing cells to stick together and adhere more tightly instead of sloughing off as they typically do from the lining of the pore.

Comedogenic Scale 

Haircare and skincare ingredients are rank on the comedogenic scale ranging from 0 to 5, with 0 being non-comedogenic (least likely to clog pores) and 5 being highly comedogenic (most likely to clog pores).  Understanding this scale give you a general guideline to make more informed decisions when choosing your haircare products and reading the ingredient labels.  

What Causes Scalp Acne

acne on scalp, urth

Our scalp, and face, are covered in sebaceous glands. They’re responsible for making and secreting sebum - a substance that helps protect our skin and help it retain moisture and the skin barrier healthy and protective. Most of your sebaceous glands connect to your hair follicles. When these glands are over productive they produce too much sebum, and sebum harden within the pores, it plugs the pores causing it to become clogged. As a result, spots and breakouts will start to appear on the scalp.  You can still get scalp acne even if you have good hygiene, but sweat, oil, and dirt buildup from improper or incomplete washing can lead to clogged pores.

For the gym rats out there, if you work out frequently it’s essential that you’re washing your hair regularly, as your sebum and sweat will be building up on the scalp.  So, make sure to properly clean your hair and scalp after working out.  Better yet, if your posh gym has a steam room, head in there for a 15 min session per week to detox all the pores from head to toes. 

You may also need to reexamine your hair care routine. Lots of acne on scalp are caused by pore clogging ingredients found in shampoo, conditioners, styling clays, pomades, hair powder and hairsprays that leave residues on your scalp causing clogged pores. 

Avoid Pore Clogging Ingredients

Many hair products are oil based, to impart softness and shine, which may trigger scalp acne in those who are already have oily scalp and are prone to acne.  Ingredients high on comedogenic scale such as petroleum, silicone, cocoa butter, sodium lauryl sulfate, ammonium lauryl sulfate, mineral oil, jojoba oil, coconut oil, and lanolin that can trigger scalp acne, especially if residue is left on the scalp or facial skin.  Read the ingredient labels carefully!  If your hygiene is good but you’re still dealing with scalp acne or facial acne along the hairline. It could be the pore clogging ingredients in your hair care and styling products. 

Scalp Acne Treatments

If your scalp acne is caused by your shampoo or other cosmetics, it will go away on its own when you stop using them. It can take up a few weeks to see improvement, but the first thing to do is to change your hair routine and products. ‌

  • Switch to shampoo, conditioner, and hair styling products that do not contain comedogenic ingredients. The label should say things like, oil free, noncomedogenic or no pore clogging ingredients.
  • ‌Keeping the dirt, oil, and sweat off your scalp will help keep your pores clean. You might need to wash your hair more often, especially if you have oily hair, use a lot of styling products in your hair, sweat a lot in the day, or have dirt or grime in your hair from the day‌. Try shampooing every other day.  Shampooing your hair daily may strip your scalp of its natural oils knocking it out of balance.  The result?  You scalp will produce more sebum (oil), the exact outcome you're trying to minimize. 
  • To wash your hair, focus on the scalp. The hair on your head is not living, and while your hair products can help keep your hair shiny and healthy-looking, it’s actually more important to wash dirt and oil from your scalp.‌ Massage shampoo onto your hair and scalp and gently massage the shampoo onto the scalp for at least a minute then rinse thoroughly. 
    avoid pore clogging ingredients to treat scalp acne, urth
  • It’s also important to make sure you fully rinse all the extra shampoo and conditioner off your scalp and face. The pimples along your hairline might be caused by buildup from improper rinsing.‌ The product residue can also transfer to whatever touches your hair, which can add to the problem. Make sure to wash everything that touches your head, including, pillowcases, hats and headscarfs if you're experiencing scalp acne. 

Ingrown Hairs on Scalp

Ingrown hair on scalp (Folliculitis) is a common skin condition that happens when hair follicles become inflamed. It's often caused by a bacterial infection. Initially it may look and feel like small pimples around the tiny pockets from where each hair grows (hair follicles). The condition can be itchy, sore and inflamed. The infection can spread and turn into crusty sores. Mild folliculitis will likely heal without scarring in a few days with basic grooming and hair cleansing routine. More-serious or repeat infections may need prescription medicine. Left untreated, severe infections can cause permanent hair loss and scarring. Certain types of folliculitis are known as hot tub rash and barber's itch.

For the most part, scalp acne are from pore clogging ingredients found in shampoo and other haircare and styling products. Just switching haircare products to ones without pore clogging ingredients in your hair routine alone can get rid of the problem but it will take time. Other times, scalp acne is a bit more complicated and needs treatments prescribed a dermatologist. 

If you're dealing with facial acne as well then take a read thru PORE CLOGGING INGREDIENTS TO AVOID IF PRONE TO ACNE to gain some insight on ingredients to avoid in your men's skincare products. 

Just as important as hair care is to prevent scalp acne.  A good skincare routine is important in minimizing facial acne. urth has curated skin care kits for men to simplify men's skincare routine. These plant powered men’s skin care products are formulated with non pore clogging ingredients like chamomile, green tea, ginseng and pure essential oils to cleanse, brighten and nourish skin for a healthy and clear complexion. Improved and better skin after every use. Perfect for all skin types - including men with sensitive, dry, combo, and oily skin.