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 about scalp acne and acne shampoos, 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.
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.
According to one reviewer: "T/Sal is the only shampoo I use. A dermatologist told me to purchase this a decade ago for my irritated scalp. I use a little on my scalp, let it soak in for a minute before rinsing. Haven't had scalp problems since. It works."
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. Over 2,500 reviewers have given it stellar reviews, and it has earned an impressive 4.5-star rating.
According to one reviewer: "I had itchy scalp with red bumps that look like acne. Before this I tried tea tree oil for a month without result. This shampoo solved all my scalp problems within a week. I'm seeing my hair grew fuller. It has a great scent though very faint. My only shampoo from now on."
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.
According to one reviewer: "Nice large bottle that lasts a long time. Definitely helps prevent ingrown hairs/ acne on the scalp and doesn’t necessarily strip your hair of all natural oils."
4. An Anti-Fungal Sulfur & 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 the 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.
According to one reviewer: "I use this product for body acne and keratosis pilaris. It works as well as the prescription sulfur cleaners I have used, at a fraction of the cost."
5. An Apple Cider Vinegar-Based Shampoo & 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.
According to one reviewer: "I get acne on my scalp as well as dry/oily scalp, depends on the season. This shampoo is amazing and it got rid of the acne on my scalp! I ran out of the shampoo and had some pimples pop up which means time to re-up on my supply."
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.
According to one reviewer: "Worked great. Was breaking out on my scalp from my previous shampoo so I tried this one. Cleared it up in a week. Smells great too."
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, and contains no dyes or artificial fragrances; it's even hypoallergenic and safe for sensitive skin.
According to one reviewer: "What can I say? This stuff works. I've dealt with scalpacne in the summer for years. I've tried several shampoos and this is the first to actually work."
Dr. Anna Guanche, MD FAAD a board-certified dermatologist, dermatologic surgeon, and the founder/director of the Bella Skin Institute.
This article was originally published on