Help for breakouts on the hairline and scalp

Regular breakouts are bad enough, so it hardly seems fair when acne-prone skin on the scalp and breakouts along the hairline show up, too. Don’t be discouraged: there are simple tricks and proven solutions to keep those pesky scalp breakouts and forehead bumps from appearing. We share what’s worked for us based on scientific research, not hype.

Common causes of hairline breakouts

Surprise: the haircare products you use can be a sneaky reason why you’re breaking out on your back, neck, chest, and hairline. Styling products especially – pomades and waxes – are the biggest culprits, but moisturising shampoos and conditioners can contribute, too.

Ingredients in shampoos and conditioners, such as emollients, quaterniums, acrylates, and wax-like thickening agents, are designed to cling to hair, which is great. The problem is they can also cling to skin, potentially clogging pores. Here’s what to do:

  • Shampoo and condition your hair first and rinse well, tilting your head backward under the shower head. Tilting downward (so the water rushes over your face) can deposit “clingy” haircare ingredients on your skin.
  • Follow with your gentle, fragrance-free body wash, paying attention to your neck, upper back, chest, and hairline.
  • Use only the amount of conditioner you need. Excess conditioner doesn’t help your hair or skin.
  • When you apply styling products, take care to avoid the skin around your face. Love hairspray? Protect your skin from its pore-clogging holding agents with a clear, plastic face shield available online.
  • Avoid putting creams, waxes, or pomades on any hair that touches your face.
  • Silicone serums aren’t a problem. Silicone is porous, so it won't suffocate your skin or cause scalp bumps.

How to target acne-prone skin on your forehead

You should address forehead breakouts the same way that you do for acne-prone skin on the rest of your face. The exception? If you’re dealing with clogged pores, not with acne-prone skin. You’ll know the difference because acne-prone skin causes raised, red bumps that can ooze fluid and feel uncomfortable; clogged pores, on the other hand, aren’t red, don’t swell up, and rarely cause discomfort.

Here’s the step-by-step routine for addressing acne-prone skin on the forehead:

What about breakouts on the scalp?

The same haircare products that trigger breakouts and clogged pores on the forehead and hairline can cause problems on the scalp, too. But scalp breakouts are tricky; a BHA exfoliant can work wonders, but the typical lotion, cream, or gel form isn’t easy to get directly on the scalp.

Here are some tips for dealing with breakouts on the head and clogged pores that lead to scalp bumps:

  • Be sure your shampoo rinses cleanly. Avoid conditioning and “2-in-1” formulas.
  • If you use conditioner, apply it only to the ends of your hair and rinse well.
  • Apply a liquid BHA exfoliant using a cotton bud. Leave it on your scalp overnight, and shampoo your hair in the morning.
  • Don’t apply any creamy, thick, or paste-like styling products near the scalp.
  • If you have acne-prone skin on the scalp that’s red and swollen, be extra-gentle when combing or brushing your hair.
  • See a dermatologist if the acne-prone skin on your scalp doesn’t improve.

Read more about acne and breakouts.


Do you want more skincare advice, tips and exclusive offers?

Sign up for our newsletter and become a Paula's Choice Member. Your benefits:
+ Welcome gift*
+ Exclusive deals*
+ Skincare advice
+ Birthday gift

Email Address*:

* Only valid for new registrations. Valid on orders from 300 kr.

References for this information:

International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, June 2015, pages 59–75
The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, July 2014, pages 19–31; and April 2010, pages 24–38

Customer Service

Need help with finding the right product for your skin? Our customer care team are skincare and product experts and can guide you to the best skin of your life.


Sign up for our newsletter to receive exclusive offers and expert skincare advice