As if run-of-the-mill facial acne wasn't enough to deal with, acne on your scalp is absolutely another thing many have to wrestle with. Scalp acne forms when there's a buildup of clogged oil, dead skin, or bacteria in pores. The best shampoos for acne prone skin can help treat your breakouts at their source. To find out more, Bustle reached out to Dr. Anna Guanche, MD FAAD a board-certified dermatologist, dermatologic surgeon, and the founder/director of the Bella Skin Institute.
Dr. Guanche’s advises avoiding oil-based shampoos since “[…] the main components of acne is increased sebum (oil) production that can lead to clogged pores.” This means that using oil-rich or ointment-based products with ingredients like silicone, jojoba oil, shea butter, and petroleum may not be the best for acne prone skin, according to Dr. Guanche.
However, she does qualify, when it comes to acne treatment there’s no universal treatment and, for some, oils like jojoba and coconut can be “[…] compatible with acne prone skin because of their anti-inflammatory and soothing properties. [...]”.
Although your scalp and hair require delicate ingredients that won't cause dandruff or make your locks brittle and dry, many ingredients found in the best acne products for skin work for your scalp too, like salicylic acid, which is the main ingredient in Dr. Guanche’s top pick, Neutrogena T/Sal, a shampoo “[…] that would not aggravate acne, rather, it may help improve it. It's also free of fragrance and dermatologist-recommended to treat dandruff, psoriasis, and dermatitis.”
Otherwise Dr. Guanche advises tea tree shampoos, sulfur-based shampoos, antibacterial shampoos, and apple cider vinegar shampoos since apple cider vinegar-based shampoos are “acidic, antibacterial or keratolytic, which makes them more compatible with oily skin.”
Some shampoos contain chemicals and harsh ingredients that, unbeknownst to many consumers, can clog pores and create a messy situation on your scalp and along your hairline. Generally, searching for shampoos for sensitive skin or those free of sulfates and mineral oil can help keep pimples, whiteheads, and blackheads at bay.
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1. This Salicylic Acid Shampoo For Fast, Powerful Results
Salicylic acid is a hydroxy acid commonly used to treat acne, psoriasis, and other skin conditions — including dry scalp that can lead to pimples. Not only is Neutrogena T/Sal Shampoo Dr. Guanche's top pick, but it also contains a fast-acting power punch of ingredients, with 3% salicylic acid taking top billing as its star. It's also free of fragrance and dermatologist-recommended to treat dandruff, psoriasis, and dermatitis. Plus, since this purchase comes with five 4.5-ounce bottles, you'll be covered for a while.
What fans love: "This has reduced almost all of my husbands dry itchy flaky scalp after a week of use! It also clears acne!! We both definitely recommend!!!!"
2. An Anti-Fungal Shampoo That Banishes Bacteria From Pores
When pores are clogged with bacteria, you can experience a major case of scalp acne. The ProBliva anti-fungal shampoo combines emu oil, coconut oil, jojoba oil, grapefruit seed extract, and more to help eliminate bacteria and fungi while treating inflammation that can lead to dandruff and acne. Almost 1,000 reviewers have given it stellar reviews, and it has earned an impressive 4.7-star rating.
What fans love: "I’ve struggled with acne on the back of my scalp for years. I’ve been using this stuff now for about a month and the acne is completely gone! Will definitely be ordering again."
3. A Tea Tree And Peppermint Shampoo With Lavender Oil
Over time, the old skin that accumulates with dandruff can lead to painful and unwanted breakouts on the scalp. Banish dandruff naturally with this Tea Tree shampoo, which contains tea tree, a recommended shampoo base for acne-prone skin according to Dr. Guanche. It also has peppermint and lavender oils — all of which are proven to help flaky, dry skin — and this shampoo has absolutely no parabens.
What fans love: "Absolutely love this shampoo. I was struggling with dry scalp and breakouts of scalp acne. Since using this product for several months I no longer have those issues! Love the smell as well."
4. An Anti-Fungal Sulfur And Salicylic Acid Soap Bar
It might take some getting used to at first, but this salicylic acid and sulfur bar soap contains two of Dr. Guanche's recommended ingredients for a shampoo that's great for acne-prone skin: salicylic acid and sulfur. This bar soap can heal acne, itch, and dry skin anywhere — on your body, face, and scalp. Expect a slightly stinky experience (that's the 10% sulfur working alongside 3% salicylic acid), but reviewers say it's worth it: it will clear up your scalp and can do wonders for facial acne, to boot.
What fans love: "Superb product. I have fought breakouts on my scalp for several years and this is the only thing that has touched it."
5. An Apple Cider Vinegar-Based Shampoo And Conditioner Set
With a 4-star rating after over 10,000 reviews, this apple cider vinegar-based shampoo and conditioner set is a great buy for those looking to rid their scalp of acne as Dr. Guanche likes apple cider vinegar for its antibacterial, acidic, or keratolytic properties. Plus this set's ingredients include coconut oil, which Dr. Guanche said works for some people who struggle with scalp acne because of its "[...] anti-inflammatory and soothing properties." The coconut oil along with aloe promises to help strengthen and rejuvenate hair while the apple cider vinegar clears pores. Plus, this pick has vitamins E and B5, keratin proteins, and palmetto extract which promises more hydration for your hair and scalp.
What fans say: "I truly love this stuff. I get acne on my scalp with just about every other shampoo and conditioner I've tried. I also have fine, oily hair. Not only has my hair not been oily at all but I haven't had a single problem with my scalp, and my hair looks and feels fuller."
6. An Organic Shampoo With Ingredients Straight From The Forest
If Snow White had a favorite shampoo, this would be it: a hypoallergenic, organic soapberry shampoo made with olive leaf, gotu kola, and chamomile, which battles dandruff with an extremely gentle formula. It's free of sulfates, parabens, silicone, DEA/MEA, perfume, and dyes.
What fans say: "[...] This shampoo is amazing. [...] After one wash, my acne calmed down immensely. [...] Beyond that, my hair line broke out and scalp had weird clogged pores from using chemically dense dry shampoo aerosol sprays. I’ve never had so much problems with my skin and hair until the recent stress. [...] There’s antibacterial properties and I’m just amazed that not only does this product give me smooth hair but also combats acne.[...] Fantastic buy! Well worth it. Cleared my skin, scalp and smoothed my hair while solving some portion of my stress. I never thought I would say that about a shampoo."
7. A Hypoallergenic Shampoo Made With Natural Oils
This natural shampoo for oily and greasy hair contains ingredients like basil, cypress, jojoba, rosemary, and lemon essential oil that restore sebum and pH balance on your scalp, eliminate excess oils, prevent dandruff, and alleviate itch. Remember, Dr. Guanche qualifies that jojoba oil can be great for some people dealing with acne prone skin given its anti-inflammatory and soothing properties. This shampoo is also paraben and sulfate free, contains no dyes or artificial fragrances; it's even hypoallergenic and safe for sensitive skin.
What fans love: "I was skeptical about this product working at first and on my first use it didn't really seem to do anything. I came back to see what other people had said and they said to follow the directions as instructed. I wasn't letting it sit for the full amount of time so I wasn't seeing any results, but once I started following them, I saw results instantly. Great for people who have oily hair and good for scalp acne."
Dr. Anna Guanche, MD FAAD a board-certified dermatologist, dermatologic surgeon, and the founder/director of the Bella Skin Institute.