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Pimples on Scalp: Causes, Prevention & Treatment

Athletes, with their intense routine of training and competition, face unique challenges in terms of personal care, including dermatological problems such as pimples on the scalp.

This condition, while common, can be particularly bothersome for those who are constantly on the move and in environments where sweating and the use of sports equipment are commonplace.

What causes pimples on scalp? 

Scalp pimples, also known as scalp folliculitis, occur when a hair follicle becomes congested with too much sebum, dead skin cells or product debris.

These pimples can range in size from small red bumps to larger, painful, scarring cysts (usually located on the back of the neck). They can itch, hurt or even cause hair loss if not treated properly.

Some of the most common causes of pimples on the scalp include:

  • Bacterial Infection

Bacterial scalp infections occur when bacteria penetrate the hair follicles through small cuts or wounds, which can easily happen in athletes due to frequent use of helmets or equipment that rubs against the scalp. More severe forms of acne contain more bacteria.

Staphylococcus aureus, a common inhabitant of human skin, is often responsible for these infections.

Although this skin condition can be worrisome, it usually resolves itself with the implementation of good hygiene.

  • Excessive oil production

Excessive oil production in the scalp can lead to oily scalp and contribute to the appearance of fungal folliculitis, especially in warm and humid environments, where fungi, such as yeasts, find fertile ground for their development.

This type is particularly frequent among active people, as intense physical activity leads to increased sweating, keeping the scalp in a state of high humidity. This humidity, combined with the overproduction of sebum, provides ideal conditions for fungi to thrive and multiply, leading to inflammation of the hair follicles.

  • Fungal infection

This type of infection occurs when fungi such as yeasts take advantage of a warm, moist environment to grow and multiply, which is especially common on the scalp of those who engage in intense sports or exercise.

Constant sweating keeps the skin moist and can disrupt the natural balance of microbial flora on the skin, providing an ideal niche for fungal infections to flourish.

  • Hair products

The use of hair products containing comedogenic ingredients can be a major cause of scalp problems such as pimples and acne.

These ingredients, which often include certain types of oils and silicones, are known for their ability to clog pores, which interferes with the skin's natural function of excreting sebum, dead cells and other impurities.

When pores become blocked, it creates an environment conducive to inflammation and bacterial growth, resulting in the formation of pimples on the scalp. This is particularly problematic with some types of conditioners, hairsprays, and other styling products which, although designed to improve the appearance and manageability of hair, can end up depositing on the scalp and contributing to skin difficulties.

This situation is especially exacerbated when products are applied directly to the scalp or near the scalp, where they can build up and persist, exacerbating the risk of acne breakouts and other issues related to clogged pores.

  • Sweat during your workout

Sweat generated during training can have adverse effects on hair and scalp health.

When sweat mixes with natural scalp oils and hair products, it can create an environment conducive to bacterial growth.

This situation can lead to a variety of dermatological problems, including scalp irritation and increased pimple formation and other infections.

In addition, the constant moisture that sweat brings to hair can alter its texture, making it more brittle and prone to breakage. This is because sweat, which contains salt, can strip hair of its natural protective oils, leaving it dry and brittle.

Managing this moisture is essential, as constantly wet hair is more difficult to style and maintain, and can become less manageable, affecting the health of the hair and scalp and the overall appearance of the hair.

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 presents unique challenges in terms of scalp care due to its tendency to become trapped within the follicle, a condition that can lead to inflammation and folliculitis.

This situation is particularly common and can be aggravated by improper shaving practices or the use of shaving mechanisms that are not suitable for this type of hair.

In addition, men who regularly shave the nape of their neck to maintain a specific hairstyle are especially susceptible to developing ingrown hairs. In addition to being painful, ingrown hairs can also become inflamed and develop into a more serious aesthetic and health problem.

The unique structure of curly hair, which tends to curve back toward the skin, makes it easier for these hairs to reinsert into the skin after the cut. This closes the cycle that leads to further irritation and inflammation in the affected area.

  • Folliculitis keloidalis

Keloidal folliculitis, also known as keloidal acne nuchae or keloidal acne, is an unusual and severe form of folliculitis characterized by a prolonged course and scar formation.

This condition predominantly impacts the nape of the neck and occurs mainly in individuals with a specific genetic predisposition.

What do pimples on the scalp look like? Signs and symptoms of folliculitis on the scalp (hair skin) 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.

However, it should be noted that conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis and scalp psoriasis, characterized by scaly, reddish plaques, can make it difficult to diagnose and properly treat folliculitis. For this reason, it is essential to consult with a specialist who can provide an accurate diagnosis and guide the proper management of these conditions.


For more information on this rare hair condition, folliculitis keloidalis, we recommend you consult the article available on DermNet. Also, if you would like to better understand how folliculitis in general manifests itself visually, you can read the Mayo Clinic's detailed article on folliculitis.

How to prevent scalp acne?

To prevent scalp pimples (folliculitis) and maintain a healthy scalp, it is important that you adopt the following hair care measures.

  • Wash your hair:

To prevent scalp problems caused by oil buildup, dead skin cells, hair product buildup and excessive sweating, it is essential to maintain good hygiene.

Use a purifying shampoo: a shampoo for swim and sweat is specially designed to address the challenges associated with sweat and chlorine exposure.

This shampoo features a specialized formula that penetrates deep into the scalp to remove minerals and other impurities that cling to damaged hair. Its preventive action is essential to prevent these impurities from penetrating the hair fibers, which could cause hair brittleness and breakage.

In addition, this shampoo has been carefully formulated to effectively cleanse away sweat and build-up without damaging the hair or scalp, preserving the health and integrity of the hair, even in conditions of high humidity and exposure to chemicals.

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.

  • Tie up hair:

Keeping hair away from the face and neck is necessary, especially during physical activities, to minimize contact with sweat and avoid skin irritation. Opting for hairstyles such as loose buns, braids, or ponytails can be an effective strategy.

However, it is important to be wary of overly tight hairstyles, which can lead to a condition known as traction alopecia. This condition, which is a common cause of hair loss among athletes, especially gymnasts, results from constant tension applied to the hair and scalp.

If after adopting certain hairstyles you experience pain or headaches, this may be a sign that the hairstyle is too tight, exerting excessive pressure that can damage hair follicles and lead to long-term hair loss.

  • Sweatband or headband: 

Wearing a sweatband or headband can be an effective solution for athletes and active individuals looking to keep sweat away from the hairline and scalp.

Furthermore, keeping sweat under control with a headband, in addition to helping prevent scalp acne breakouts, also improves comfort during exercise by preventing sweat from dripping into the eyes or face. This simple, yet effective habit is a practical way to protect the health of your skin while staying active, ensuring that your workout is more enjoyable and free of uncomfortable distractions.


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.  

  • 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.

  • Avoid touching your hair

It is essential to refrain from frequent touching of the hair while engaged in physical activities.

Constant handling of hair transfers sweat and bacteria from the hands to the scalp. This exchange can upset the natural balance of the skin and encourage the growth of bacteria, which in turn can lead to irritation, infection, or the development of acne on the scalp.

  • Silk Pillowcase:

Using a silk pillowcase for sleep can offer multiple hair and skin care benefits.

Silk, known for its softness and anti-friction properties, helps minimize friction between the hair and pillow, which reduces frizz and tangles during the night. In addition, the softness of silk prevents excessive abrasion that can contribute to clogged pores on the scalp, a problem exacerbated by night sweats.

This simple change in your bedding can make a noticeable difference in the overall health of your hair and scalp.

  • Avoid Tight Hats or Caps:

It is advisable to avoid wearing tight-fitting hats or caps, as these can trap sweat and create an environment conducive to the accumulation of moisture and bacteria, which in turn can lead to irritation and scalp concerns.

Instead of choosing accessories that are too tight, it is preferable to opt for looser-fitting options that allow better ventilation and reduce the possibility of irritation.

If you need to wear hats for style or protection, be sure to wash them frequently to remove sweat and impurities that may accumulate.

How to treat scalp acne?

Treating pimples or moderate scalp acne at home is feasible, especially in mild cases, and can be effective in controlling symptoms and preventing future breakouts. Some particularly useful strategies for those who train regularly include:

  • After training, rinse your hair with water to remove buildup and sweat. Try to use cool to lukewarm water to avoid damaging the hair shaft.

  • Change sweaty clothes immediately after exercising and use a clean towel to dry off. Apply a light lotion with antibacterial properties if necessary to help keep pores free of infection.

  • After properly cleaning the affected area, be sure to dry it thoroughly, remembering that moisture can promote the growth of fungi and bacteria.

  • Do not scratch or squeeze pimples or pustules, as this can worsen the infection and lead to scarring.

  • For mild scalp acne, you can apply a spot treatment such as a gel for workout acne. It reduces swelling and redness, keeping pores open, clean and free of bacteria.

  • For severe scalp acne, you can apply over-the-counter creams containing an antibacterial ingredient or antibiotic creams (such as Neosporin) to the affected areas as directed.

  • Use products with antifungal agents to fight and prevent fungal infections. These products, which include creams, shampoos and other treatments, are effective in treating pimples on the scalp, helping to relieve symptoms such as itching and flaking.

To learn more about showering tips read our blog post Showering After Workout - Essential for Skin to learn more about cold and hot water.

When to see a doctor?

If leg folliculitis is severe, recurrent or does not improve with over-the-counter treatments, it is essential to consult a dermatologist.


He or she can determine the underlying cause and recommend appropriate treatments, which may include oral medications and prescription topical antibiotics.


Scalp acne refers to pimples or folliculitis of the scalp, these pimples can cause discomfort, especially in people with an active lifestyle such as athletes.

While bacterial and fungal infections are common causes, frequent use of hair products and sweat buildup during training also contribute to this problem. The key to managing and preventing pimples on your scalp involves proper hygiene and hair care routines, as well as careful selection of specialized products.


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