Zits can be a pest regardless of where they’re located. But there’s something especially frustrating about breakouts that crop up on the forehead since they appear right where everyone can see them (hence the one upside to butt pimples). If this happens to be a common skin woe for you, you’ve likely wondered what causes pimples on the forehead so you can prevent them from showing up in the first place.
According to the experts, it’s important to remember that various factors play a role in the development of acne, says Dr. Snehal Amin, M.D., board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology — forehead zits included. Common culprits include genetics, bacteria, hormones, and inflammation, he explains. But when it comes to the forehead area, Amin says excess oil is likely the cause: Sebaceous glands, which produce oily sebum, are found at high density on the scalp and forehead, making the forehead one of the oiliest parts of the face.
“Acne related to oils in the skin usually occur in the T-zone area, [including] the forehead,” says Dr. Shari Sperling, D.O., board-certified dermatologist at Sperling Dermatology. Hormonal acne, on the other hand, is typically seen on the jawline and chin.
Since excess oil production is the cause, here’s what the pros say about how to get rid of pimples on the forehead — and stop them from happening.
We only include products that have been independently selected by Bustle's editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.
1. Regularly Wash Pillowcases & Towels
Forehead breakouts aren’t just happening because of the oil your skin naturally produces — external factors can be contributing to the buildup, too. “Breakouts on the forehead are from oils and bacteria,” Sperling explains. And they can be triggered by things the skin on your forehead comes into contact with throughout the day, she says — such as your hands or unwashed items, for example.
Thus, Sperling strongly encourages everyone to stop touching their face, as this can transfer bacteria to the surface. Also helpful? Regularly switching out your pillowcases, face towels, and even your hats. This is always important, but especially so if you sweat often — as sweat can contribute to more breakouts down the line.
2. Consider Your Hair Products
While you might not be applying hair products directly to your face, they can still affect it. Dermatologists say that using thick hair creams, or even washing your hair infrequently, might be clogging your pores.
“Hair is often the culprit for forehead acne,” Amin tells Bustle. “Oil from your hair can deposit on your forehead and clog pores there, and hair care products such as pomades, oils, gels, and waxes often contain ingredients, like cocoa butter and coconut oil, which are notorious for causing acne.” Try taking a break from your hair products, or switching to something lighter, and see if your forehead clears up.
3. Opt For Gentle & Lightweight Skin Care
Quite like hair products, the skin care products you’re using can lead to breakouts. If you have combination skin, for example, Amin says to avoid using face oil or thick creams while broken out — even if they’re not applied to your forehead. And be sure to ditch any comedogenic ingredients, like cocoa butter, mango butter, and beeswax, he adds.
What’s more, Amin recommends avoiding stronger topical treatments, such as benzoyl peroxide and retinoids, while having an active breakout. “It’s best to stick to milder [treatments] and gentle cleansers when the skin is very red and inflamed,” he says. That’s because super-active ingredients can dry your skin out — which leads to the next point.
4. Stay Moisturized
While it may seem counterintuitive if you’re experiencing a forehead breakout, it’s key to use a topical moisturizer. “It is important to moisturize even when you have acne-prone skin,” Amin explains. “The build-up of dead skin cells from dryness can clog your pores, and dry skin makes pores more vulnerable to breaking open and allowing bacteria [in], which causes acne to get deeper in the skin.” Apply a moisturizer twice a day to ensure your complexion stays hydrated and strong as it heals from the breakout.
Shop Blemish-Fighting Skin Care
The Hydrating Gel
Amin suggests this Neutrogena moisturizer as it’s oil-free, non-comedogenic, and formulated with hyaluronic acid to hydrate dry skin without weighing it down. Bonus points for being able to buy it at the drugstore.
The Gentle Cleanser
While this cleanser contains salicylic acid to clear pores and lactic acid to exfoliate, it’s safe for sensitive skin (and especially treating psoriasis). It’s fragrance-free, and keeps the complexion calm and hydrated thanks to niacinamide and urea.
The Blemish Control Serum
This lightweight serum contains potent but sensitive-skin friendly turmeric for quashing and preventing breakouts, fruit-derived alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) for gentle exfoliation and unclogging pores, plus niacinamide for reducing inflammation. Together, these skin care superstars address acne while simultaneously calming the complexion.
The Breakout-Friendly Antioxidant Serum
A cult favorite, this lightweight formula features a heavy-duty boost of vitamin C, which fights discoloration and fine lines without blocking pores — and it’s one Amin recommends for combination and acne-prone skin types.
The Spot Treatment
Stick one of these pimple patches on day or night: Not only will it prevent you from touching your zit, but your skin gets an acne-clearing dose of salicylic acid along with vitamin C plus soothing aloe vera leaf extract, all while being discrete.
Choi, C.W. (2011). Facial sebum affects the development of acne, especially the distribution of inflammatory acne. JEADV. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-3083.2011.04384.x
Makrantonaki, E. (2011). An update on the role of the sebaceous gland in the pathogenesis of acne. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3051853/
McLaughlin, J. (2019). Propionibacterium acnes and Acne Vulgaris: New Insights from the Integration of Population Genetic, Multi-Omic, Biochemical and Host-Microbe Studies. Microorganisms. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6560440/