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Acne keloidalis nuchae: Overview

Acne keloidalis nuchae

What is acne keloidalis nuchae?
It’s a common skin condition, which is often mistaken for acne or razor bumps on the back of the neck and scalp. Without proper treatment, acne keloidalis nuchae (AKN) tends to worsen. Seeing a board-certified dermatologist when you notice the bumps can prevent this condition from causing raised scars and hair loss.

Is acne keloidalis nuchae contagious? No

Acne keloidalis nuchae

This skin condition often begins with acne-like breakouts on the back of the scalp or neck, as shown here. It is most common in Black males, often beginning between 14 and 25 years of age.

Black man with acne-like bumps on back of his neck

Why is this skin condition called acne keloidalis nuchae?

This name accurately describes what AKN can look like. People often develop acne-like breakouts and keloid-like scars on the back of their neck. "Nuchae" is the medical word for "back of the neck."

While these words accurately describe what AKN can look like, the bumps aren’t pimples or any other type of acne. The scars, which can develop without proper treatment, aren’t keloids. Also, the bumps and scars can spread beyond the back of the neck to the scalp.

If you have breakouts that look like acne, razor bumps, or raised scars on the back of your neck or head, please see a board-certified dermatologist. A dermatologist can tell you what’s going on and treat the condition.

How do you get rid of acne keloidalis nuchae?

While there is currently no cure for AKN, the right treatment and self-care can:

  • Get rid of the bumps

  • Reduce inflammation, which can lessen the swelling and pain

  • Prevent AKN from worsening

  • Reduce scarring

The right treatment usually requires prescription medication, a procedure that your dermatologist can perform in the office like laser therapy, and self-care. Most treatment plans include a combination of these treatments.

Board-certified dermatologists have the most experience treating this condition. A dermatologist can give you an accurate diagnosis, telling you whether the bumps are acne, razor bumps, or AKN. Some people who have AKN also have razor bumps or acne. Your dermatologist will then create a treatment plan tailored to your needs.

What can I do to treat AKN at home?

To treat the acne-like bumps on your scalp and the back of your neck, you need medical treatment. Self-care alone cannot treat AKN effectively.

Even knowing this, quick fixes can be tempting. You may come across products sold as home remedies for bumps on the back of the neck. These home remedies may come with a promise to get rid of the "pimples on your scalp" or "the acne on the nape of your neck" for good.

While these quick fixes sound great, they can be harmful. Some products like acid, which you are told to rub on your head and neck, can cause chemical burns and scar your skin.

That’s why dermatologists recommend skipping home remedies, which include acids, engine oil, and antibiotics.

When a dermatologist creates a treatment plan for AKN, it often includes self-care that you do at home. This may include changing the type of shirt you wear or how you wash your skin.

Patients tend to get the best results from treatment when they use both prescription treatment and self-care.

What can prevent acne keloidalis nuchae from getting worse?

Proper medical treatment can prevent AKN from worsening. Without proper treatment, you may develop new raised bumps. In time, these bumps can become scars, which cause permanent hair loss.

That’s why dermatologists encourage anyone who has bumps on the back of their head or neck to make an appointment. A board-certified dermatologist can tell you whether you have AKN.

To see pictures of how AKN can start and change over time, go to: Acne keloidalis nuchae: Signs and symptoms.

Image used with permission of the JAAD Case Reports. (JAAD Case Rep. 2019 Jun 8;5(6):529-34.

Brahe C, Peters K, et al. “Acne keloidalis nuchae in the armed forces.” Cutis. 2020 May;105(5):223-6.

Kelly AP, Bayat A. “Acne keloidalis nuchae.” In: Taylor and Kelly’s Dermatology for Skin of Color (2nd ed.), McGraw Hill, USA, 2016:224-9.

Maranda EL, Simmons BJ, et al. “Treatment of acne keloidalis nuchae: A systematic review of the literature.” Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). 2016;6(3):363-78.

Ogunbiyi, A, “Acne keloidalis nuchae: Prevalence, impact, and management challenges.” Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2016 Dec 14;9:483-9.

Written by:
Paula Ludmann, MS

Reviewed by:
Amanda Friedrichs, MD, FAAD
Chesahna Kindred, MD, MBA, FAAD
Omolara Olowoyeye, MD, FAAD

Last updated: 7/28/22