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Experiencing breakouts certainly is not desirable but nevertheless happens to everyone in some surprising places. Not so fun fact: You can get pimples anywhere you have pores…so pretty much anywhere on the body. Some areas are certainly more common than others due to increased oil production, but anywhere with a pore is technically susceptible to breakouts.
One peculiar place you may see little clogged pores pop up is along the hairline. These pimples aren't necessarily caused by the same factors that trigger facial or body pimples and should be cared for a little bit differently because there's, well, hair involved. We're going to walk you through what causes hairline breakouts, how to keep them from creeping up, and how they're different from scalp pimples so you can be in the know. Let's get into it.
There are tons of different causes when it comes to these types of breakouts (and zits in general to be frank), but here are a few common ones:
When you cleanse your skin, it's essential to wash your face all the way into your hairline, which is rule No. 1 Katie Sobelman, organic esthetician and skin care educator, teaches her clients who struggle with hairline breakouts. "First, I would make sure they are thoroughly cleansing their entire face. The small strip of skin just before the hairline is often skipped while cleansing. If breakouts persist, I'd have them revisit their hair care routine," Sobelman says.
Especially if you regularly blend your foundation, powder, or bronzer into your hairline (which is great for an even, natural-looking base), all of that makeup should be washed off at the end of the day; otherwise, it builds up over time.
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We know, this may be a bummer for those of you who live for layering on hair oils or generously spritzing your roots with dry shampoo, but we have to tell you the truth: "A lot of times, hairline breakouts occur when hair products like mousse, gel, or super occlusive, oil-based products (i.e., argan oil) get on the face," Neda Mehr, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Pure Dermatology Cosmetic & Hair Center, says. This means you may want to consider switching up your hair products to be a bit more breakout-friendly. Don't worry, we have a few recommendations to help below.
A good headband keeps your strands back, whether that be for working out or just because, but they can also cause hairline breakouts. "Basically anytime any substance—whether it's facial oil, hair products, facial moisturizer, or sweat—clogs that area and you're wearing a headband or sweatband, that is usually the cause," Mehr explains. So if you're experiencing hairline breakouts, be sure to wash your headband post-wear.
There are benefits to not washing your hair daily (depending on your hair type and scalp condition of course). That being said, the longer you wait to cleanse your hair, the more likely it is that oil and dirt will accumulate and cause hairline breakouts. So make sure you switch out the dry shampoo for an actual hair cleanser when necessary.
A dirty pillowcase can cause breakouts on the skin, hairline included. Though you may be more likely to break out on areas your pillow touches the most, like your cheeks, your hairline is also susceptible to contamination from a dirty pillowcase. Be sure to throw it in the wash every single week—or even go the extra mile with a satin pillowcase. It boasts benefits for both your hair and skin (more on that here).
Now that you know why hairline pimples happen, let's dive into how you can keep them at bay. Of course, your best strategy depends on the cause of your breakouts in the first place. These rules are best practice for the health of your skin in general, but especially for the hairline.
When it comes to pimples that have already claimed a spot along your hairline, there are a few ways to encourage them to disappear more quickly. Below, find our favorite products to reduce the appearance of pesky pimples, including a mix of skin and hair products.
This shampoo is formulated for dandruff relief because it contains a chemical exfoliant but doubles as an anti-hairline pimple option as well. With 2% salicylic acid, this wash helps slough away buildup and dry skin to ensure the pores on your scalp and hairline are clean. This powerful active is blended with chamomile and aloe to ensure your scalp stays calm and soothed as well.
If you want a product that uses natural ingredients that actually work, look no further. This product contains standout breakout fighters such as witch hazel, pink clay, squalane, and zinc (which when used topically can help regulate sebum production). It's packed with hydrating ingredients that create a safe environment for your breakout to heal rather than drying it out and destroying the surrounding moisture barrier—and leading to even more problems. Use one to two pumps on the affected area and leave on overnight.
If salicylic acid alone isn't enough, this shampoo doubles down on hairline pimples by calling in a natural hero: tea tree oil. This astringent oil has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties but leaves your moisture barrier intact. This product also packs the cooling power of menthol, which helps relieve an irritated scalp. As always, be sure to work this shampoo into your hair and reach all the way to the hairline. More tea tree shampoos here.
Benzol peroxide is an extremely effective ingredient for clearing up breakouts. This mask contains 2.5% benzoyl peroxide, making it strong enough to target the pimple without completely stripping skin of its natural moisture. The peroxide is also micronized, meaning it penetrates deep into the skin to combat breakouts at the root. Use as a full face mask (if your skin will tolerate it) or as a spot product for pesky hairline pimples.
Clay masks can help to pull out impurities and encourage clearer skin, making them especially beneficial to acne-prone skin. This mask from Biba Los Angeles is a double-agent, working wonders on an oily t-zone and as a powerful spot treatment. Because it comes in a squeeze tube rather than a jar or pot, you can make use of as little or as much as you want without contaminating the rest of the product. But this one is potent, so remember that a little goes a long way.
Though you may naturally group together hairline and scalp pimples, the two are not completely the same thing. "The skin of the scalp is some of the thickest skin on the body and has more sebaceous glands than the skin on our face. It also has to contend with copious amounts of hair, which makes this skin more prone to buildup," Sobelman said. She explained that the skin on your scalp is not very efficient at maintaining barrier function, which can lead to breakouts and excessive dryness.
Although scalp skin may be different from the skin on your face, the same general rules apply: Cleanse, exfoliate periodically, and hydrate.
Hairline pimples can be particularly bothersome, especially if they're persistent. Luckily, if you cleanse your face into your hairline and shampoo your hair the same, you should be good to go. If breakouts persist, look into changing your hair care products. Remember: It's best to wash headbands every time you wear them or steer clear of them altogether. To combat existing breakouts, reach for deep-cleansing shampoos and spot treatment products to nip them in the bud. And if you want to learn more about scalp breakouts, we've got you covered.
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Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.