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Pimples on Scalp: Causes, Prevention & Treatment

When we think of pimples, we often picture them on our face, chest, or back. However, pimples on the scalp can be just as frustrating and uncomfortable.


Whether you're dealing with occasional flare-ups or chronic scalp pimples, understanding the causes, prevention strategies, and effective treatments can help you achieve healthier hair and, a pimple-free scalp. 

In this blog post, we'll explore this common concern and provide insights on managing it.




 What causes pimples on scalp?


Scalp pimples, also known as scalp folliculitis, occur when hair follicles on the scalp become inflamed. These pimples can vary in size, from small red bumps to larger, more painful cysts that lead to scaring (usually located on your posterior neck). They can be itchy, sore, or even lead to hair loss if not managed properly.



Bacterial Infection


Bacteria can enter hair follicles through small cuts or wounds, causing infection. Staphylococcus aureus, a normal skin bacteria, is a common culprit. This skin condition typically clears on its own if proper skin hygiene is implemented.



Excessive Oil Production


Overproduction of sebum on the scalp can clog hair follicles, creating an ideal environment for bacterial growth and the development of pimples. The quantity of oil that is produced is genetically encoded.



Fungal Infection


Fungi like yeast can also cause folliculitis. This is more likely to occur in warm and humid environments. Active people are more prone to fungal folliculitis as sweat creates a high humidity environment.



Hair Products


The use of hair products containing comedogenic ingredients (oily ingredients that clog pores) can contribute to scalp pimples. This includes certain conditioners and styling products.


It is important to avoid conditioner on your scalp.



Sweat during your workout


Sweaty hair can negatively impact hair health by mixing with oils and products, leading to bacterial growth and potential scalp issues. The moisture from sweat can cause hair to become brittle, prone to breakage, and less manageable.

For more information on why sweat causes breakouts in active people you can read our blog post: Does sweat cause acne and sweat pimples?  


Ingrown Hairs


Curly or coarse hair is more likely to become trapped inside the follicle, leading to inflammation and folliculitis. It is the most common cause and it can be widespread if you shave the wrong way or are sensitive to shaving mechanisms. Men are at risk of developing ingrown hairs on the back of their necks if they shave to style their hair.



Folliculitis keloidalis


Folliculitis keloidalis, also called acne cheloidalis nuchae or acne keloidails, is an unusual severe form of long-standing folliculitis that causes scarring and hair loss. It usually affects the nape of the neck in genetically predisposed individuals.


For more information on this uncommon hair condition, you can read an article by DermNet – Folliculitis keloidalis.  



What do pimples on the scalp look like?


The signs and symptoms of folliculitis on your scalp (skin of your hair) may include:

  • - Small, red, pimple-like bumps near hair follicles.
  • - Itching, burning, or discomfort.
  • - Pus-filled blisters or sores.
  • - Pain or tenderness around the affected follicles.
  • - Redness and inflammation.


For more information on what folliculitis looks like you can visit this Mayo Clinic article – Folliculitis.



How to prevent scalp acne?

To prevent scalp pimples (folliculitis) consider the following measures and take control of your hair.


1) Wash your hair:


Build-ups and Sweat can lead to a greasy scalp and limp hair, while others may experience dryness and flakiness (caused by sebum and dead skin scalp cells). Excessive sweat can affect scalp health, leading to irritation and inflammation. 


Use a purifying shampoo: a shampoo for swim and sweat has a specialized formula that works to remove the minerals and other impurities drawn to damaged hair, preventing them from getting in and causing brittleness and breakage.

This shampoo was designed to remove sweat and build-ups without damaging your hair and scalp.


If you want to know all the details and benefits of a shampoo for swim and sweat, look no further and read our post on Best Shampoo for Swimmers and Other Athletes.



2) Tie Up Hair:


Keep hair off your face and neck with a loose bun, braid, or ponytail to minimize sweat contact. Avoid tight hairstyles that cause a condition called: traction alopecia, a common cause of hair loss in athletes like gymnasts.


If you feel pain or have a headache after certain hairstyles it is too tight and it can cause traction alopecia.



3) Sweatband or Headband:


Use a sweat-wicking headband or sweatband to prevent sweat from reaching your hairline and causing pimples on your scalp.


If you are experiencing breakouts not only on your scalp but in places where sweat accumulates you can read our blog post: How to get rid of Sweat Pimples? Guide for Athletes.  



4) Lightweight Hair Products directly on your scalp or pre-workout:


  • - Avoid heavy hair products that can trap sweat; opt for lightweight, non-greasy formulas.
  • - You can apply greasy formulas to your hair end. Just avoid the hair near your scalp.
  • - Use a conditioner only on your hair ends: Apply a conditioner to your hair strands. Make sure you do not apply it to your scalp as conditioner can cause hair loss.


5) Protective Styles:


Choose protective hairstyles like a top knot or high ponytail to reduce sweat absorption.


6) Avoid touching your hair


Refrain from touching your hair frequently during exercise, as this can transfer sweat and bacteria, leading to potential scalp issues.



7) Silk Pillowcase:


Sleep on a silk pillowcase to prevent friction and reduce sweat-related hair frizz and clogging of your pores.



8) Avoid Tight Hats or Caps:


Tight hats can trap sweat and lead to scalp irritation; opt for loose-fitting options or wash your caps frequently.


Remember, everyone's hair is different, so adjust your routine based on your hair type and preferences.



How to treat scalp acne?


Properly caring for your hair, especially after a workout is the most important step for a healthier scalp and consequently your hair. It's crucial to wash hair post-workout with a gentle shampoo to keep the scalp clean and healthy. 

Additionally, the acidity of sweat can weaken hair strands, making them prone to damage and breakage, impacting overall hair health. 



Cleanse your scalp after a workout:


Rinse with water: After your workout, rinse your hair with water to remove build-ups and sweat. Try to use cold to warm water to prevent damage to your hair shafts. To learn more about Showering tips read our blog post Showering After Workout - Essential for Skin to learn more about Cold and Hot water.

Use a shampoo that was designed for sweat acne: a shampoo for swim and sweat has a specialized formula that cleans and removes scalp buildup.



Antibacterial Creams:


  • For mild scalp acne you can apply a spot-on treatment like a gel for workout acne. It reduces swelling and redness, by keeping pores open, clean, and bacteria-free.

  • For severe scalp acne, you can apply over-the-counter creams containing antibiotics (like Neosporin) to the affected areas as directed.

When to see a doctor?


If your leg folliculitis is severe, recurrent, or doesn't improve with over-the-counter treatments, it's essential to consult a dermatologist.


They can determine the underlying cause and recommend appropriate treatments, which may include prescription medications.





Scalp pimples can be bothersome, but with proper care and treatment, it's manageable. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and effective treatments for this hair condition is the first step in achieving clear, healthy hair. Remember to always clean your hair post-workout, avoid oily products on your scalp, and seek medical attention if you aren’t improving.


Avanza Skin has products to prevent and treat scalp acne that arises from an active lifestyle. Find the right products that meet your skin and hair needs - in less than a minute Take our quiz to find out!