How to Get Rid of Those Annoying Zits on Your Scalp

It’s nice that scalp zits are hidden and all (as opposed to the facial variety), but they can often be the most painful type of pimple (especially when you brush, ugh). They’re also the hardest to treat because—you guessed it—they’re covered by your hair.

“The main cause for acne on the scalp is that cells and oil get stuck in the hair follicles,” says Whitney Bowe, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. “As the dead skin cells and oil accumulate on the scalp, they serve as food for bacteria that turns into acne.”

This happens most commonly to those with naturally oil-prone scalps or people who sweat often. So what can you do to treat scalp acne? Your best prevention strategy is to wash your hair regularly. Yes, we know the latest talk—the less cleansing, the better—but hear us out. “If you just rinse the hair with water, you’re not getting rid of the oil,” says Bowe. “You do need some of these almost detergent-like molecules where one part attracts water and the other attracts oil. The oil binds to oil on your scalp, and then the water attaches to the water as you rinse, so it can actually bind to the extra oil and wash it down the drain.”

To get rid of this annoying and painful problem, you need to follow proper hair care hygiene. There are also some natural remedies and simple tips that can help speedup the healing process.

If the scalp acne is getting too painful or does not show signs of healing, visit a dermatologist for proper diagnosis and treatment. At times, antibiotics may be prescribed.

1. Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is an effective remedy for acne and other scalp issues. This essential oil acts like an antiseptic, disinfecting the pores and quickly drying out the acne.

It even kills the bacteria that cause acne and also reduces the redness and itchiness.

You can choose any of the following remedies:

  • Mix 5 drops of tea tree oil in 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive or coconut oil. Massage this oil on your scalp and rinse it off after 1 to 2 hours. Repeat once daily.
  • Alternatively, add tea tree oil to your regular shampoo (2 to 3 drops per ounce of shampoo). Then, use it to wash your hair daily. When using this remedy, make sure to leave your shampoo in your hair for a couple of minutes before rinsing it off.
  • Another option is to put 1 or 2 drops of tea tree oil onto a moistened cotton swab and dab it gently on the affected area on your scalp. Leave it on for a few hours, then rinse it off with cool water. Repeat twice daily.

Note: As some people may have an allergic reaction to tea tree oil, it is highly recommended to do a patch test if you are using it for the first time.

2. Turmeric

Turmeric is another excellent natural ingredient with which to treat scalp acne. The compound known as curcumin in turmeric contains potent antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

It can inhibit the growth of P. acnes bacteria. It is even effective at reducing pain and preventing acne scars.

  • Mix ½ teaspoon of turmeric powder with ¼ to ½ teaspoon of extra-virgin coconut oil to make a thick paste. Apply it on the affected areas. Wait 1 hour, then wash it off with your regular shampoo. Repeat once daily.
  • You can also take 450-mg curcumin tablets, twice daily. Always consult a doctor before starting any supplement regimen.

3. Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar also helps fight scalp acne. Its antibacterial and antiseptic properties help clear the hair follicles of bacteria and oil that cause acne. Plus, it restores the pH balance of the scalp to prevent further breakouts.

  • Mix apple cider vinegar with an equal amount of lukewarm water, and rinse your washed hair with this solution. Wait 5 to 7 minutes, then rinse your hair again with clean water. Do it every time you shampoo your hair.
  • Also, add 1 teaspoon of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar to a glass of warm water and drink it twice daily.

Note: Do not apply undiluted apple cider vinegar on your hair, as it can be too strong for your scalp.

4. Aloe Vera

Another popular ingredient to reduce and remove acne on the scalp is aloe vera. It can help kill the bacteria causing the acne, prevent infection, reduce inflammation and promote healing. It even helps maintain the pH balance of the scalp.

A 2010 study published in the Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research highlights the medicinal properties of aloe vera, such as anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anesthetic, antiseptic and antimicrobial. It is good for the skin as well as the hair and scalp.

  • Cut open an aloe vera leaf and remove the gel. Apply this pure gel on the affected area twice daily for a week.
  • Alternatively, thoroughly mix ½ cup of aloe vera gel and the juice of ½ of a lemon. Apply it on your damp hair, giving more focus to the affected area. Wait 30 minutes, then rinse it off with lukewarm water. Do this once daily for a few days.

5. Indian Lilac

Indian lilac, commonly known as neem, is highly effective for treating any type of acne. It has antiseptic and antibiotic properties that help dry out acne quickly.

It is even effective at easing the symptoms of extreme itching, pain and inflammation.

In fact, a 2013 study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine notes that neem is good for treating chronic skin conditions including acne, psoriasis, eczema, ringworm and warts.

Use either of these remedies once daily until you are satisfied with the result.

  • Boil a handful of neem leaves in 2 cups of water for 10 minutes. Remove the leaves and grind them to make a fine paste. Apply the paste on the scalp, giving more emphasis on the affected area. Wait 30 minutes, then rinse it off with the water in which you boiled the neem leaves. Finally, rinse your hair with plain water.
  • Mix 5 drops of neem oil with 1 teaspoon of extra-virgin coconut oil. Massage it directly into the scalp and leave it on overnight. Wash your hair and scalp with a gentle shampoo or neem-based shampoo the next morning.

6. Tomato Juice

Tomatoes are an excellent source of salicylic acid, which is effective at treating any type of acne. Salicylic acid helps dry up the acne.

Tomatoes also help reduce the production of sebum, one of the causes of scalp acne, and helps maintain a healthy pH on your scalp.

  • Apply fresh tomato juice evenly on your scalp. Wait 10 minutes, then rinse your hair with warm water. Repeat once daily for a few days.
  • Another option is to prepare a mixture with 1 tablespoon of tomato juice, a few drops of lemon juice and ½ teaspoon of raw honey. Dip a cotton ball in it and apply it on the affected areas. Wait 5 minutes, then rinse it off with warm water. Use this remedy once daily for a few days.

7. Honey

Raw honey has antibacterial as well as antioxidant properties that collectively help inhibit growth of bacteria that cause scalp acne. It is also effective at reducing the redness and pain.

  • Dab a little raw honey on the affected area. Wait 10 minutes before rinsing it off with warm water. Repeat twice daily for a few days for best results.
  • Alternatively, mix 2 tablespoons of honey and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Apply it on the scalp using your fingers. Wait 20 minutes, then rinse it off with lukewarm water. Use this remedy once daily.

8. Garlic

Another popular kitchen ingredient that helps heal scalp acne is garlic. It has antioxidant and antibacterial properties that help treat acne breakouts on the scalp caused by a bacterial infection.

Garlic can even soothe the inflammation, reduce the pain and speedup the healing process.

  • Boil 4 to 6 peeled garlic cloves in 3 cups of water for 5 minutes. Cover and allow it to cool down. Remove the garlic cloves and use the water to rinse your hair. Wait 10 minutes, then rinse with clean water. Repeat once daily.
  • Alternatively, you can apply either crushed garlic cloves or a few drops of garlic oil directly on the affected area, 2 or 3 times daily.
  • To keep your scalp and skin free from acne, include garlic in your diet.

9. Scalp Hygiene

To treat and prevent scalp problems like acne, you need to take proper care of your hair and scalp.

  • First and foremost, you need to regularly wash your hair to prevent the buildup of oily residue on your scalp. You can use a medicated shampoo containing salicylic acid for combating acne and preventing future breakouts.
  • Keep your combs, brushes, curlers and hair clips clean by regularly washing them with soapy water. Also, make sure to wash your headgear and towels.
  • If your head sweats a lot, rinse your hair and scalp each evening with plain water.
  • When washing your hair, massage the scalp for a couple of minutes. This will help loosen up dirt and sweat debris and also encourage circulation.
  • When dealing with scalp acne, keep away from greasy hair styling products like wax, gel, mousse and hairspray. These products can lead to blocked pores.
  • Those having oily hair should use conditioner on a limited basis, as conditioner will only exacerbate the issue.
  • Avoid using conditioner for a couple of weeks to help to clear up and prevent acne outbreaks.
  • If using a conditioner, apply it on the hair ends only and avoid using it on the roots.

Here are some Additional Tips:

  • Apply a warm, moist washcloth or compress on the affected area several times a day to relieve discomfort and help the acne drain, if needed.
  • Avoid shaving your head when suffering from scalp acne. It will increase the risk of infection.
  • Do not squeeze or scratch the acne, as it can lead to infection and slow down the healing process.
  • Drink detox drinks to cleanse your body of toxins and wastes that cause such skin problems.
  • Avoid oily, deep-fried and spicy foods.
  • Control your stress level, as excessive stress can worsen your condition.
  • Protect your head from direct sunlight when going out in the sun.
  • Those having long hair are at a higher risk of scalp acne breakouts, so if you wish, you can choose a shorter hairstyle.