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Are your hair care products causing breakouts?

African-American woman with acne near hair line
The oils in hair care products can cause tiny breakouts along your hairline and forehead.
Do you have tiny bumps along your hairline, the upper part of your forehead, or both? Have you noticed tiny bumps along the back of your neck?

The culprit may be your hair care products. Shampoos, conditioners, and styling products can cause whiteheads and other types of acne in these areas. The bumps can be so subtle that you can feel but not see them. Some people develop numerous, closely packed bumps that they can see.

Even if you’ve never had acne, hair care products can cause breakouts. This is so common that there’s actually a medical name for it—acne cosmetica. This literally means acne caused by products we apply to our skin or hair.

Why some hair care products cause breakouts

When hair care products contain oil, the oil can find its way to your skin. Once this happens, the oil can clog your pores. Clogged pores can lead to acne.

When hair care products are the culprit, you’ll likely get whiteheads and tiny flesh-colored bumps called “papules.” These can appear along your hairline, forehead, or the back of your neck.

What gets rid of this acne?

When you stop using the product(s) clogging your pores, the acne will slowly clear.

Sometimes, it’s easy to determine the product(s) causing the breakouts. If you’re using a hairstyling product that contains a lot of oil, such as a pomade, that’s likely the culprit.

Give acne time to clear

After you stop using acne-causing products, it can take 4 to 6 weeks for the acne to clear.

Woman examining acne

The cause could also be something less obvious. Many hair care products, including shampoos, conditioners, styling gels, waxes, pastes, and sprays, contain oil.  Even shaving creams and aftershave can contain oil. You’ll want to consider whether any of these products could be causing your acne.

If nothing seems the likely culprit, stop using products when you don’t see one of the following words on the label:

  • Won’t clog pores

  • Oil free

  • Non-comedogenic

  • Non-acnegenic

Wash off residue from hair care products

To see clear skin, you’ll must also get rid of the residue from hair care products. This residue can stick to just about anything. Be sure to wash everything your head touched, including:

  • Pillow cases and sheets

  • Caps

  • Hats

  • Headbands

  • Visors

When a dermatologist can help

This type of acne tends to clear on its own once the product(s) causing the problem stops coming into contact with your skin. You should see clearing within 6 weeks. If your skin doesn’t clear by then, you may want to see a dermatologist for help.

Getty Images

Fulton JE, Acne Rx: What acne really is and how to eliminate its devastating effects! Self-published; 2001.