Wait, Can Your Shampoo Really Cause Acne?
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Among the various culprits that have come under scrutiny, shampoo has emerged as a subject of interest, with claims circulating about its potential to trigger or exacerbate painful acne breakouts.
Before we get into it, it’s important to know that there are also various types of acne, and Trina tells us that this includes “Comedones (blackheads), Papules (red bumps), pustules (pus-filled acne), and cysts (these remain encapsulated under the skin and should not be squeezed).”
Acne is a complex dermatological condition that arises from a *combination* of factors. While it is mostly affected by genetics (thanks, Mum and Dad), there are also lifestyle factors such as hormonal fluctuations, diet, and skincare habits that can affect the condition.
But, can shampoo affect acne? Let’s get rid of the suds so we can see the clearer picture!
Does shampoo cause acne?
Factors like hair type, skin type, frequency of shampoo use, and individual sensitivity are all variables that *should* be considered when dissecting this intricate relationship.
Mariano tells us that “due to the short contact time and nature of shampoos, they rarely cause acne.”
But it’s worth noting that “a shampoo could dry out the scalp or make it too oily and that could then cause some acne issues,” says Trina. This is especially true for anti-dandruff and purple shampoos, which are known to strip the hair.
Additionally, shampoos that rely heavily on SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) and SLES (Sodium Laureth Sulfate) to cleanse hair can be stripping, which can disrupt the skin’s natural moisture barrier, leaving you more vulnerable to acne breakouts – not ideal.
“However, hair products are not routinely tested for acne so there is no label indicating that the product does not cause acne: non-acnegenic or non-comedogenic,” says Mariano.
“The type of acne that hair products can cause is usually different from the typical teenage acne that consists of blackheads and whiteheads and it is distributed along the hairline. Oily products applied to hair can cause acne on the face by the hairline.”
Clogged hair follicles cause also pimples on your scalp (known as scalp acne). Your hair follicles are the canals where your hair grows out of your skin and they could be clogged due to a buildup of hair products like shampoo, hair gel or hairspray.
Although shampoo rarely causes acne, “conditioners, especially leave-in conditioners can,” Mariano warns.
Trina backs this up, she says that “depending on ingredients and how oily your scalp is,” your conditioner *could* be causing your pesky breakouts.
But what other products that we may be using can cause acne?
What haircare products can cause acne?
The American Academy of Dermatology says, “Shampoos, conditioners, and styling products can cause whiteheads and other types of acne in these areas. The bumps can be so subtle that you can feel but not see them. Some people develop numerous, closely packed bumps that they can see.”
“Even if you’ve never had acne, hair care products can cause breakouts. This is so common that there’s actually a medical name for it – acne cosmetica. This literally means acne caused by products we apply to our skin or hair.”
If we think about it, we are usually advised to let our conditioner soak into the hair for a few minutes before washing it out – and where is your hair when you’re doing this? On your back.
This can leave occlusive ingredients on your back that can cause what’s commonly known as ‘backne’, similarly, hair products used close to your temples or hairline (think serums and dry shampoo) can potentially cause breakouts on your forehead. These will generally look like blackheads and whiteheads along the hairline.
Basically, anything that can block pores can cause acne. Potentially pore-blocking ingredients are known as comedogenic, while ingredients less likely to block pores are known as non-comedogenic.
Healthline backs this up, saying “Hair spray, dry shampoo, and texturizing products can come in contact with your skin and cause outbreaks, so you may want to consider oil-free, noncomedogenic options for these products.”
It’s pretty important to know which products are comedogenic so that you can avoid them.
Some of the most common comedogenic ingredients include:
- Cocoa butter
- Coconut oil
- Wheat germ oil
- Corn oil
- Soybean oil
- Almond oil
- Apricot kernel oil
- Avocado oil
- Castor oil
Pomades and other gels can also contain comedogenic ingredients and, while they may be harmless when it comes to your hair, if any come in contact with your skin, you could notice some breakouts – this is known as pomade acne.
Other common haircare ingredients such as dimethicone (a type of silicone used to add shine and manageability to hair), shea butter and coal tar can *potentially* block pores or cause outbreaks in sensitive skin.
These comedogenic ingredients are often found in conditioners, leave-in conditioners and hair serums – Oh. No.
But don’t worry dear readers, we have the experts on hand to inform you on how to avoid acne breakouts from your hair products.
6 steps to avoid acne breakouts from your hair products
1. While it’s unlikely that your shampoo is causing your acne, if you’re concerned that a product you are using may be the culprit, it’s advised that you switch to a haircare product that doesn’t contain surface active ingredients like SLS or SLES, and products that are silicone-free to see if that works. Failing this, you should visit a dermatologist.
2.For blocked pores around your hairline, you should consider using shampoos that contain salicylic acid (a beta hydroxy acid which works to unblock pores) or, for fungal acne, try using an anti-fungal shampoo.
3.As for conditioners, leave-in conditioners and serums, consider switching to silicone-free products and avoid contact with your skin.
4.A good idea is to clip your hair up loosely off your back rather than letting it sit there (remember, your hair is more fragile when it’s wet so don’t tie your hair up tightly.)
5.We love serums at LTG HQ, but make sure to avoid the serum touching your skin or hairline.
6.Mineral oil can also trap other ingredients, such as sweat and dead skin cells, leading to clogged pores. So if you’re oily and acne-prone, you might want to avoid this ingredient to keep blemishes at bay.
While shampoo is unlikely to cause acne, depending on how you use it and the ingredients it may still be a contributing factor. It’s much more likely that products like conditioner and serum are causing your breakouts though.
Take a look at the ingredients list on your conditioner and shampoo bottle and weed out any products that contain harsh or comedogenic ingredients.
Acne can be *truly* soul-destroying (if you’re suffering, I feel your pain), making us feel like shutting ourselves out from the world. But, don’t do that!
If you are concerned about your acne or it’s really painful, we advise switching your products or taking a visit to the dermatologist to discuss treatment options and the possibility of oral antibiotics.
Trust us, your skin will thank you for it!
Meet the experts
Board-certified dermatologist Mariano Busso, M.D., who operates one of Miami, Florida’s busiest practices for the better part of three decades, has recently opened a West Coast counterpart in the heart of Beverly Hills, California.
He has authored some 40 medical journal articles and/or textbooks to date. His work is so well-regarded that he was hand-selected by the FDA to sit on its advisory panel where, among other things, he helped develop national guidelines for the use of fillers.
Trina Renea is a renowned celebrity Esthetician, opening her world-famous Facial Bungalow in 2004. Known for a personal and particular style that has put her on the leading edge of the skin care industry, she is now referred to as a “skin master”.
Trina has been featured in Vogue, Marie Claire, and Refinery29; women all over Los Angeles have flocked to her to keep them looking and feeling fantastic.