Oils are arguably your hair's best friend, especially if you've got naturally kinky strands. Not only do oils restore moisture and help reverse damage, but they also plant nutrients on your scalp. But an overproduction of oil, or sebum, can cause scalp acne. Since most of our scalps are completely covered in hair, treating scalp acne can be a brutal task.
Rolanda Wilkerson, Ph.D., principal scientist at Procter & Gamble, says the same three things are largely to blame for both facial and scalp acne - a unique microbiome, sebum, and hair.
"The scalp however has a much higher degree of hair and creates for some the perfect environment for an imbalance on the scalp," Dr. Wilkerson says. "The fungus in the scalp’s unique microbiome feeds off of excess sebum and is the primary culprit for scalp issues. In addition to this, sebum on the scalp can clog the follicles along with dry skin cells or flakes. This clogging of follicles is what can create pimples on the scalp."
Ideally, treating scalp acne shouldn't affect your hair. That's why many are drawn to natural remedies rather than chemical solutions to solve this beauty crisis. But Dr. Wilkerson cautions on leaning on natural remedies to solve scalp acne long-term.
"Natural remedies may provide an acute short-term benefit, but do not get to the source of the problem," she says. "Often dryness and itch are a symptom of a greater concern which is dandruff that is primarily caused by microbial imbalance on the scalp. Unless the source of the problem is addressed issues like itch, which often accompanies a dry scalp, will still prevail. This is why it’s important to integrate regular scalp care into a beauty regimen."
For those interested in natural remedies while trying to work out the source of the problem, there are rinses and treatments that won't hurt your hair or scalp to try. Just consider reaching out to a dermatologist for some long-term treatment targeting your specific concern.
Here are some natural remedies those with scalp acne swear by — even if not medically sound for a long-term solution.
1. Tomato Juice
Tomatoes are an excellent way to establish a healthy pH for our skin and hair, plus they're packed with salicylic acid. That's what makes tomatoes a known natural remedy for acne. According to Allure, topical treatments high in salicylic acid are especially effective in treating scalp acne.
Those with acne say giving hair a tomato juice rinse adds shine and relieves those pesky scalp pimples.
While we're on the subject of salicylic acid, garlic has plenty of it — not to mention a crazy amount of antioxidants, antiviral, and anti-fungal properties. Focus on the healthy aspects of garlic and less on the potent smell, because it can easily be rinsed out.
Those with acne — myself included — rinse their locks with a garlic tea, using four peeled cloves of garlic and approximately three cups of boiled water.
3. Apple Cider Vinegar
I've used apple cider vinegar as a restorative hair rinse many times, but I never considered that it was working overtime keeping my scalp as healthy as my afro. With an innate ability to restore pH levels and all those antioxidants, ACV is def one of the easiest and more popular ways to treat scalp acne naturally.
Not only will a simple rinse of one part apple cider vinegar and two parts water give your hair a healthy boost, you'll also give your scalp astringent properties that may alleviate painful blemishes.
4. Tea Tree Oil
Obviously, you can't really discuss any type of natural acne treatment without mentioning tea tree oil. This powerful essential oil has some serious anti-inflammatory properties.
Purchasing shampoos with tea tree oil in it a way many treat pimples on the scalp, but you can also spot treat with the essential oil as needed.
5. Jasmine Essential Oil
Jasmine essential oil is a great way to combat outbreaks anywhere your the body. Since benzoic acid is present and it naturally removes dead skin cells (a common cause of breakouts on the scalp), many say it's perfect for treating scalp acne.
For treatment, dilute jasmine essential oil with grape seed oil and massage directly onto your scalp. Grape seed oil shouldn't clog your pores and many claim that the oil has actually helped clear their acne as well. According to Prevention, grape seed oil contains vitamin E and linoleic acid which are excellent treatments for blemishes.
This post was originally published on June 15, 2015. It was updated and republished on July 2, 2019. Additional reporting by Katie Dupere.