We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission Here’s our process.
Healthline only shows you brands and products that we stand behind.
Our team thoroughly researches and evaluates the recommendations we make on our site. To establish that the product manufacturers addressed safety and efficacy standards, we:
- Evaluate ingredients and composition: Do they have the potential to cause harm?
- Fact-check all health claims: Do they align with the current body of scientific evidence?
- Assess the brand: Does it operate with integrity and adhere to industry best practices?
We do the research so you can find trusted products for your health and wellness.
Read more about our vetting process.
Was this helpful?
Using over-the-counter products can generally treat your scalp pimples. However, if the acne is persistent, you may need prescribed medication from a doctor.
Acne on the scalp, or scalp folliculitis, is most common along your hairline. This condition can cause small and itchy pimples. Sometimes these pimples also become sore and crusted.
A pimple on your scalp may be:
- mild, includes blackheads and whiteheads
- moderate, includes papules and pustules, which appear on the skin’s surface
- severe, includes nodules and cysts, which are imbedded under the skin
Severe scalp acne (acne necrotica and dissecting cellulitis) can develop blackened crusts and leave permanent scars. Contact your doctor if you are experiencing persistent acne that’s causing hair loss, bald patches, or severe pain.
You can treat a pimple on your scalp with many over-the-counter (OTC) products. But visit your doctor if the pimple lingers or you suspect it might be something else.
Pimples occur when pores, or hair follicles, get clogged. This can occur when dead skin cells, naturally occurring oil that keeps the skin moisturized (sebum), and bacteria enter the pores. The cells cannot exit the pore, which results in acne in a variety of forms. More severe forms of acne contain more bacteria.
The types of organisms that cause this inflammation include:
- Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes)
- Staphylococcus epidermidis
Reasons for clogged pores may include:
- product buildup from shampoo or other hair products, such as gel or hairspray
- not washing hair frequently enough to clean scalp
- waiting too long to wash your hair after a workout
- wearing a hat or other headgear or equipment that’s caused friction against your scalp
Is it safe to pop a pimple on your scalp?
It’s best to avoid popping or picking at pimples on the scalp. This type of trauma to the skin can lead to worsening of the condition and a deeper infection. Gently washing the scalp regularly with shampoo and warm water can help many conditions improve on their own. It is important to minimize irritation to the scalp that can come from razors, hair products, high heat, and chemical treatments. These can cause inflammation and irritation that can lead to further complications. The kinder you are to your scalp and skin, the less likely you are to have problems.
— Judith Marcin, MD
Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
Was this helpful?
The key to treating scalp acne is to prevent your pores from clogging. It’s the oil blockage and buildup that causes acne. Keeping your scalp clean is important. But you’ll want to make sure your shampoo or conditioner isn’t causing your scalp acne.
If you suspect your shampoo or conditioner is causing the issue, you may consider trying some new products. For mild and moderate acne try products with ingredients like:
- salicylic acid (Neutrogena T/Sal Shampoo): exfoliates dead skin cells so they do not enter pores and cause acne, but less effective than benzoyl peroxide
- glycolic acid (Aqua Glycolic): helps with exfoliation and kills micro bacteria
- ketoconazole or ciclopirox (Nizoral): antifungal agents in antidandruff shampoos
- tea tree oil (Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle): antibacterial properties may help fight acne
- jojoba oil (Majestic Pure): may not get rid of acne, but adding to your shampoo may help reduce acne inflammation
Use oil-based products in moderation to avoid clogging your pores. If you also use hair products like waxes, pomades, hair sprays, and clays, you may want to invest in a sulfate-free clarifying shampoo (Ion). Clarifying shampoos remove dirt, oil, and product buildup from your hair. Avoid using this type of shampoo too often as it can dry out your hair, especially if it’s been dyed or heat-damaged.
Medications for scalp
Talk to your doctor if OTC therapies don’t work or if you start experiencing hair loss. You may need a prescription treatment to reduce inflammation. For severe or persistent cases, your doctor may recommend:
- topical antibiotics or steroid cream
- oral medications, such as antibiotics or antihistamines
- isotretinoin, for severe acne
- light therapy
- steroid injections
- physical extractions to clear pores
Do not continue using a product if you suspect you are allergic to it.
If your pimple does not respond to acne treatment or seems like it could be something else, contact your doctor.
The affected area may be another condition, such as:
- skin cancer, such as a basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma
- a deep infection or abscess
- seborrheic dermatitis, a common condition that leaves scales, redness, and dandruff
- a cyst
Acne treatments typically take up to four to eight weeks to begin to work. You may also have to keep treating the area to avoid recurrences. Dermatologists recommend using a mild, everyday shampoo if you need to wash your hair frequently. This can be used alongside an instant conditioner. Studies have shown that mild shampoos do not interfere with normal hair growth.
Pimple scars can take up to six months to fade. It’s important not to pick at acne as this could create deeper scarring. It may also spread the bacteria.
As you continue to treat your acne, be sure to be gentle when massaging your scalp. Avoid scrubbing with your fingernails as this can irritate the skin and open wounds.
Determining the cause (such as clogged pores) and making lifestyle changes can help with acne prevention. You’ll also want to look for products that won’t cause too much buildup on your scalp and won’t dry it out. This includes waxes, hair sprays, clays, and other hair products that are free of certain chemicals and additives.
For a list of comedogenic ingredients, visit acne.org. Comedogenic ingredients are known to clog pores, especially for people with sensitive skin. Popular comedogenic ingredients that you may find in shampoos and conditioners include sulfates and laureth-4.
Reducing scalp irritation may help decrease cases of scalp acne.
Remember to wash your hair after working out, wearing headgear, or other possible activities that caused sweating. Keeping your sleeping area clean, including changing your pillowcases and taking off makeup (to prevent acne along the hairline) may help too.
Diet and scalp acne
One review of
For an anti-acne diet, try limiting carbohydrate-rich foods and increasing foods with:
- vitamin A
- vitamin D
- omega-3 fatty acids
- dietary fiber
If you note a flare-up after eating a particular food, you may want to consider eliminating it from your diet. Keep a food diary to keep track of what you’re eating and when flare-ups occur.
- Antibacterial soaps.
- Anti-dandruff shampoos like selenium sulfide.
- Antifungals like ketoconazole or ciclopirox.
- Benzoyl peroxide.
- Oil-free products.
- Salicylic acid.
How long will it take for a scalp breakout to clear up? As with most skin treatments, clearing up your head acne probably won't happen overnight, so patience is key. “You should notice fewer new pimples and the old ones starting to clear in about six to eight weeks,” says Dr. Clay-Ramsey.How do you get rid of pimples on your scalp naturally? ›
Garlic. With loads of salicylic acid, antioxidants, antiviral, and anti-fungal properties, garlic is a sure shot way to treat your scalp acne. You can rinse your hair with garlic tea (don't think too much about the smell), and you'd see those pesky scalp acne disappear in no time.What happens if you get a pimple on your scalp? ›
Your scalp is full of hair follicles and oil glands. If the follicle or pore becomes clogged with dirt and oil, this can lead to acne. 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.Why do scalp pimples hurt so much? ›
Dermatologic: Skin conditions such as eczema or acne can cause inflammation of the scalp. This inflammation can cause multiple bumps that result in excessive itching/scratching, tenderness, and pain.What do scalp pimples look like? ›
Scalp folliculitis usually looks like clusters of small red bumps and can initially be mistaken for an acne breakout. If left untreated, folliculitis can spread to other hair follicles, and the bumps may get more inflamed. You may also get blisters that break open, ooze pus and turn crusty.Should I be worried about a pimple on my scalp? ›
Scalp pimples aren't usually dangerous. However, they can be painful and hard to treat if they're hiding under hair. If you're not careful about taking care of them, they can get worse and lead to scarring. The good news is, treating scalp pimples might be as easy as changing your shampoo.Why won't the pimple on my scalp go away? ›
If your pimple does not respond to acne treatment or seems like it could be something else, contact your doctor. The affected area may be another condition, such as: skin cancer, such as a basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma. a deep infection or abscess.Why is there a pimple like bump on my scalp that won t go away? ›
Folliculitis. Folliculitis is a skin infection caused by damage to your hair follicles. This infection can result in raised red bumps that look similar to acne pustules. Other symptoms include pain, stinging, and pus drainage from the site of the infection.Are scalp pimples caused by stress? ›
Things like travel, stress, and lack of sleep can also cause scalp acne, Schultz adds. When your cortisol levels rise, your body is more likely to produce oil. 1 This excess oil can cause acne.
Stress also increases the cortisol levels in our bodies, and cortisol levels have a direct correlation with the hair follicle. This causes stressors to trigger scalp issues that can lead to the growth of different fungi and bacteria or a flaky, itchy scalp.Why is there a pimple bump on my head? ›
Scalp folliculitis is a condition in which hair follicles on the scalp become inflamed. The inflammation can cause a pus-filled bump that may resemble a pimple and can grow larger. The symptoms of folliculitis can include: itching.Will a pimple with a head go away on its own? ›
Basically, what happens if you don't pop a whitehead is that it goes away on its own, usually in 3 to 7 days. It may happen that you wake up one morning and notice the pimple is gone.What is a pimple or cyst on scalp? ›
What is a pilar cyst? Pilar cysts are relatively rare noncancerous (benign) cysts that grow from your hair follicles. Most pilar (pronounced pīlər) cysts surface on your scalp (head), but they can appear on your face, neck, arms and legs. Pilar cysts are sometimes called trichilemmal cysts or wens.What antibiotics are used for scalp pimples? ›
The following medications may be helpful for scalp folliculitis: Topical antibiotics (eg, fusidic acid gel), clindamycin solution, erythromycin solution. Mild topical steroid lotions or creams. Oral antihistamines.What is a hard bump on the scalp without pain? ›
Epidermoid cysts are small, hard lumps that grow under the skin. These slow-growing cysts frequently occur on the scalp and face. They don't cause pain, and are skin-colored or yellow. A buildup of keratin below the skin is often the cause of epidermoid cysts.How do you know if a bump on your scalp is serious? ›
Generally, if you detect any lumps or sores that appear suddenly, seem to change in appearance or become painful, you should seek a medical opinion. The clinician will be able to monitor any changes and, if necessary, investigate further by means of biopsies or other medical imaging tests.How do you get rid of a big pimple that won't come to a head? ›
Applying a warm compress can help to treat a blind pimple. The heat can open up pores, which may draw the pimple closer to the skin's surface and create a head. The formation of a head enables the sebum, cells, and bacteria to exit the skin. The heat from the compress can also help to relieve pain.What is a big pimple that won't come to a head? ›
What is a blind pimple? A blind pimple, also known as cystic acne, is a pimple that lives beneath the surface of your skin and doesn't come to a head. It is often in the form of a red, painful bump beneath the skin. Blind pimples are caused by oil getting trapped beneath the skin.What does a scalp cyst look like? ›
Pilar cysts grow around hair follicles and usually appear on the scalp. They are yellow or white and form small, round or dome-shaped bumps. They grow slowly, are often harmless, and may disappear on their own. In some cases, a doctor can remove them.
However in more serious cases, if not treated, scalp acne can lead to a scaring condition known as scarring alopecia. It arises when inflammation on the scalp scars the tissue and as a result destructs the hair follicle. This disrupts the hair growth cycle and leads to irreversible hair loss when hair cannot regrow.What disease causes pimples on scalp? ›
Folliculitis is a common skin condition that happens when hair follicles become inflamed. It's often caused by an infection with bacteria. At first it may look like small pimples around the tiny pockets from where each hair grows (hair follicles). The condition can be itchy, sore and embarrassing.Are scalp pimples hormonal? ›
“You may find their formation correlates with hormonal changes, like menstruation. Just like the skin on your face, your scalp can get a bit cranky and spotty leading up to your period. This is because oil secretion can increase, which increases the likelihood of blocked pores.”Can anxiety cause sores on scalp? ›
Quick answer - yes it can! It might seem a peculiar connection, but there's a very clear link between stress and skin problems, and an itchy, scabby scalp is definitely one of those!What does a folliculitis look like? ›
It usually looks like a sudden acne breakout. Each spot may have a red ring around it, which is a sign of the infection. Folliculitis caused by sitting in a hot tub.How I cured my folliculitis? ›
In fact, most mild cases of folliculitis improve with home care. There are two home remedies that are best for folliculitis: a soap wash and a warm compress. A soap wash is exactly what it sounds like–a good scrub with soap and water. You should clean affected areas twice a day with warm water and soap.How do I get rid of bacterial folliculitis on my scalp? ›
Your doctor usually can treat mild folliculitis with an antibiotic cream or ointment. If you have folliculitis on your scalp, you may use a medicated shampoo. Antibiotics you take as pills can treat infections deeper in the skin. Other treatments that may be used include antifungal and antiparasitic medicines.How long does folliculitis last? ›
The rash appears as small red bumps or pus bumps that can itch or be mildly painful. Folliculitis is common on the buttocks, arms and legs - especially the thighs. Most improve in 7 to 10 days. Sometimes after the rash is gone, dark marks can be left behind.What happens if you don't pop a pimple with a head? ›
Your pimple will disappear on its own, and by leaving it alone you're less likely to be left with any reminders that it was there. To dry a pimple up faster, apply 5% benzoyl peroxide gel or cream once or twice a day.Should I squeeze a pimple with a head? ›
In general, you can gently pop a whitehead pimple once, but don't try to draw more out again later. Doing so can lead to scarring. You should never pop a pimple that does not have a whitehead or is deep under the skin. Deep inflamed acne can be due to nodular breakouts or cysts and should not be squeezed.
Contact your doctor if you are experiencing persistent acne that's causing hair loss, bald patches, or severe pain. You can treat a pimple on your scalp with many over-the-counter (OTC) products. But visit your doctor if the pimple lingers or you suspect it might be something else.Can stress cause bumps on scalp? ›
Similar to acne on the face, scalp acne can cause small bumps or pimples to form on the scalp. It's often the result of excess oil and dead skin cells clogging the pores. A variety of factors can cause this, including genetics, diet, hormones, and stress. While unpleasant, scalp acne isn't usually a serious condition.What causes folliculitis? ›
Folliculitis starts when hair follicles are damaged or when the follicle is blocked. For example, this may occur from rubbing against clothing or shaving. Most of the time, the damaged follicles become infected with staphylococci (staph) bacteria.Why do I have pimple like scabs on my scalp? ›
Folliculitis is an infection of the hair follicles that can cause acne-like pimples or crusty sores. This condition is common after hair removal, especially shaving. For people who shave their heads, the following may help prevent folliculitis on the scalp: exfoliating the scalp before shaving.How do you get rid of scalp sores? ›
Mild cases often benefit from medicated shampoo designed to treat the scalp and ease itching. Ingredients to look for in OTC medicated shampoos include salicylic acid and tar. If that doesn't help, or your condition worsens, see your doctor. Severe cases may need topical or injectable steroids.What are signs of stress on scalp? ›
Any one or combination of these stress response changes can cause symptoms that affect the scalp, such as burning, itchy, tight, tingling, crawly, pressure, pain, and so on. Acute stress, such as from anxious behavior, is a common cause of scalp symptoms.What removes folliculitis? ›
Clean the affected skin.
Gently wash the infected skin at least twice a day with an antibacterial soap or cleanser, such as benzoyl peroxide. Use a clean washcloth and towel each time and don't share your towels or washcloths. Use hot, soapy water to wash these items.
The rash appears as small red bumps or pus bumps that can itch or be mildly painful. Folliculitis is common on the buttocks, arms and legs - especially the thighs. Most improve in 7 to 10 days. Sometimes after the rash is gone, dark marks can be left behind.