Are Your Hair Products Causing Your Acne?

Petrolatum- and wax-ridden formulas could be the reason behind pesky breakouts, say our dermatologists.

Freshly washed hair and cleansed skin should make for a healthy scalp and clear complexion, but this isn't always the case. If you have ever noticed the appearance of breakouts after using a new hair product, for example, you're not alone. Dr. Camille Verovic, FAAD, a dermatologist and the founder of Girl+Hair, explains that acne starts out as a micro blackhead or whitehead, which is essentially a clogged pore, and then culminates into actual acne after it becomes more inflamed—and a leading cause of this condition could very well be the formulas you apply to your hair. But before you begin tossing out your favorite shampoo and conditioner, read on. Ahead, we gathered more insight from dermatologists to understand why your hair products could lead to zits—and how to combat these breakouts head on.

woman in mirror with glowing skin
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Keep an eye out for pore-clogging ingredients.

According to Dr. Iris Rubin, MD, a dermatologist and the founder of SEEN—a hair care line designed around preventing acne—not only are the ingredients in your products potentially clogging, but how they interact could ultimately impact skin, too. "One ingredient could be fine on its own, though clog pores when combined with another," she explains. "Some ingredients to watch out for include certain oils, waxes, and polymers (which give styling products their hold)." While there actually isn't specific data on comedogenicity (or pore-clogging propensity, Dr. Rubin says), you should simply test products with caution and avoid using petrolatum-like ingredients on your skin and scalp.

Try hair products that cater to skin, too.

"If you notice breakouts, especially on your forehead and along the hairline of your temples, you may want to reconsider the hair products you are using," Dr. Verovic says. "Styling pomades or waxes are the first place I would take inventory." After this point, she suggests using hair products that can effectively clean your scalp—like Girl+Hair CLEAR+ Apple Cider Vinegar Clarifying Rinse ($13, You can also try other products—like SEEN shampoos, conditioners, or creams (from $29,—that are specifically formulated without clogging oils.

And if your hair product-induced breakouts are concentrated on your back or neck? After stopping the potentially irritating shampoo or conditioner, "try a benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid body wash," Dr. Rubin advises. "And it's a good idea to use the medicated body wash on your acne-prone body areas for prevention—not just when you get a breakout." She shares that beginning with a body wash, as opposed to a medicated cream, can be more helpful for those those harder-to-reach spots, like the back. And, of course, be patient. Dr. Rubin adds that acne can take about a few weeks to start clearing up.

Experiment with your routine.

After assessing your hair essentials, Dr. Verovic recommends giving some a break for short periods of time. "If you find those products in your routine, I would hold off on using them to see if they were truly causing the acne," she explains, adding that skincare is just as important over all. "[Cleanse] one to two times a day and [use] mild chemical exfoliators (alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids, or polyhydroxy acids), especially on the forehead and along the temples." Using a retinol at least three times each week can help too, she adds.

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