Red bumps, itchiness, inflammation and tenderness--if your scalp is breaking out, it can be a real annoyance. As your hair grows in, you're at risk for scalp acne and folliculitis. Thankfully, they can be treated, often easily and at home.
If you're breaking out as soon as your hair starts to grow, the most likely explanation is that you've got the same type of acne on your scalp as you would see anywhere else. If you're breaking out along your hairline, it might be scalp folliculitis. According to the Mayo Clinic, folliculitis appears as small bumps that are usually very itchy. If you're a male of African or Latino descent, and you're getting pimples on the back of your neck, it may be a rare condition called acne keloidalis nuchae.
Acne.org says normal scalp acne, just like acne over the rest of your skin, is caused by clogged pores. When your hair starts to grow, its natural oil lubricates your hair and scalp alike. This can make acne pop up. Folliculitis, on the other hand, is caused by bacteria and micro-organisms that have infected the hair follicle. This can happen after shaving your head, or if you sweat profusely. Acne keloidalis nuchae is a chronic condition that can be made worse by shaving or by a sports helmet or collar that rubs your neck.
As your hair grows to new lengths, your scalp needs different treatment. If you're breaking out, Acne.org recommends avoiding oily products and styling products, as well as heavy conditioners. Try using a gentle shampoo and avoiding conditioner. This can also help you avoid or clear up folliculitis, as long as it isn't serious or widespread. You can even ward off acne keloidalis nuchae breakouts by avoiding wearing hats and sports helmets and by washing your scalp regularly and gently.
You can use acne medications on your scalp acne just like on your face. Acne.org says to watch out for benzoyl peroxide, however; it can bleach your hair. Another trick is to use an anti-dandruff shampoo. The antifungal agents and zinc in dandruff shampoos may alleviate folliculitis and can also help with normal acne. If your breakout doesn't clear up on its own, see a doctor for advice and treatment.
In some cases, doctors will prescribe antibiotics or antifungal agents. This is usually for a case of folliculitis that won't clear up on its own. If you have serious boils, carbuncles or deep-seated acne, your doctor may drain your blisters, then prescribe steroids, cortisone or retinoid creams. However, as your hair grows to cover your scalp, you may just choose to ignore your acne. In most cases, it doesn't require medical attention.