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Forehead acne causes and treatments

Wondering how you can get rid of unwanted blemishes on your forehead? If so, you're not alone in your mission to achieve clear, glowing skin. For both men and women, the T-zone (nose, chin, and forehead) is notorious for being an area prone to breakouts due to its increased sebum production and large hair follicles.

What causes forehead pimples?

The frustrating answer is: a lot of things. Blemishes can appear on the forehead due to several different reasons. Like most acne types, excess oil production, dead skin cells, dirt, bacteria such as P. acnes, and fungi contribute to the formation of forehead pimples by clogging up pores of sebaceous glands.

Though it can be a bit intimidating, one of the first steps to treating acne pimples is to figure out why they're developing in the first place. Here are some things that may be contributing to your breakouts.

Teen with forehead acne

Your hair

Your hair could be the main reason you're experiencing forehead acne, particularly if you have oily hair and scalp. If you are not washing the oils away from your hair regularly, they can deposit onto your forehead, resulting in pore blockages and breakouts. Hair products may also be the cause of a spotty forehead. Products designed for hairstyling or straightening often contain potential acne-causing ingredients like cocoa butter, sodium lauryl sulfate, and coconut oil (typically referred to as cocos Nucifera oil in many ingredient lists).

To fight forehead pimples, be sure to wash your hair habitually and be mindful of which products you choose to put on your gorgeous locks. If you have bangs and face a stubborn breakout, try to keep your hair up and away from your skin whenever possible. Bangs and fringe can trap dirt, oil, and product against your forehead, creating a breeding ground for bacteria.

Pore-blocking cosmetics

While cosmetics and skincare products are supposed to make consumers have cleaner and more beautiful skin, some formulations can aggravate the skin and even cause more breakouts! If you have acne-prone skin, you may have heard that sticking to "non-comedogenic" products is best. But what does that mean?

Simply put, a product or ingredient that is comedogenic can lead to clogged pores. Therefore, something non-comedogenic is less likely to have adverse effects on the skin. Clogged pores can lead to several unwanted blemishes such as papules, nodules, pustules, and zits. Some common ingredients that may be causing your breakouts include:

  • Oils: This includes almond, avocado, and yes - even coconut oil. Oils are often found in natural products - but just because something is natural does not mean it is safe for all skin types.
  • Lanolin: This ingredient can be detrimental to those with acne-prone skin. Lanolin is the skin oil of a sheep and is highly comedogenic, and may lead to dermatitis. Other lanolin names are PEG 16 lanolin, acetylated lanolin alcohol, solulan 16, and ethoxylated lanolin.
  • Synthetic fragrances: Artificial fragrances often put into cosmetics can clog pores and irritate the skin. For some, it may even cause an allergic reaction and hives.
  • Stress: While it's been proven that stress alone cannot directly cause acne, research reveals a direct correlation between stress and unwanted body responses such as hormone imbalances, disruption to the skin's protective barrier function, and a slower cell turnover rate. These activities lead to a worsening of existing skin problems and can lead to new breakouts. To learn more about stress acne, check out this article!
  • Diet: Your diet and nutritional habits have a lot to do with skin health. High glycemic index foods have been shown to aggravate symptoms in those with acne-prone skin. Increased sugar can lead to inflammation, which causes breakouts. Look for anti-inflammatory foods such as fresh fruits, fish, and nuts. When reaching for meat or dairy, choose hormone-free, organic options when possible.

What are the different types of forehead acne?

Bacterial acne

Bacterial acne is prevalent, especially in teenagers. Acne breakouts on the forehead are often caused by hair products or wearing helmets, baseball caps, or headbands that rub on the skin. The best topical treatment ingredient for this type of acne is benzoyl peroxide 2.5%.

Fungal acne on forehead

Fungal acne results from an overgrowth of yeast on the skin; while this yeast (Malassezia folliculitis) is a regular guest to our skin, too much of it can lead to problems. Fungal acne breakouts often present themselves as papular acne (small red bumps.) One way to tell if your flare-up is fungal instead of "traditional" acne is if it's itchy or if it occurs in uniform batches and groups.

Malassezia fungi feed off of oil to survive, so it is commonly found in the body's oil-rich areas such as your forehead, chin, upper back, chest, and shoulders. When falling yeast (dandruff) from the scalp gets trapped along the hairline, it causes excess oil and sweat to build up in the area. This means skin cannot correctly exfoliate or retain moisture, sending the skin's microbiome out of whack.

Those suffering from fungal acne should look for a cleanser that includes salicylic acid and green tea extracts - both of which help by exfoliating the skin and killing bacteria. Other good treatment options for fungal acne are benzoyl peroxide 2.5% and ketoconazole (Nizoral shampoo).

What triggers forehead fungal acne?

Like traditional acne, fungal acne is caused when something is out of balance in our skin's microbiome.

Some reasons may include:

  • Hot climate
  • Use of topical and oral antibiotics
  • Sweat
  • Reaction to skincare products
  • Diet
  • Steroids and antibiotics

Subclinical (comedonal) acne

Subclinical acne, also known as comedonal acne, is a frustrating condition indicating that your skin is suffering. These seemingly harmless bumps are typically a precursor to full-blown acne as they are the technical first stage of any zit. Many of us have experienced subclinical acne as small flesh-colored or red bumps found just below the skin. These bumps are often referred to as comedones, a form of non-inflammatory acne.

If you are experiencing comedones on your forehead, consider using a high-quality salicylic acid cleanser and some oil-free wipes or a toner for mid-day refreshes. Exfoliating regularly and incorporating a retinol into your daily routine will also help heal and prevent subclinical acne breakouts. The best treatment creams for this type of acne will include retinol 0.25% or 0.5% and salicylic acid 2%.

What triggers subclinical acne?

Several things can trigger subclinical acne, including:

  • Stress
  • Poor hygiene habits
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Genetics
  • Over-washing of your face

Forehead acne treatment infographic

What are the best treatments for Forehead acne?

The first step to fighting forehead acne is a good skincare routine. Wash your face regularly (no more than two times per day) with a gentle medicated acne cleanser. This will get rid of excess oil and help clear out pores. You may also want to incorporate a daily toner and moisturizer.

If you are already following these basic skincare routine steps but are still facing forehead acne, try including these treatment options. If you are suffering from severe acne, getting medical advice from your dermatologist is always beneficial.

Benzoyl peroxide as a forehead acne treatment

Benzoyl peroxide (BPO) has anti-inflammatory properties and helps kill the bacteria responsible for acne (P. acnes). It also reduces the risk of bacterial resistance by suppressing inflammation and minimizing P. acnes concentrations in the skin. Due to its potency, BPO is regarded as the most effective acne medication.

In various studies, benzoyl peroxide was found to unclog clogged skin pores and reduce excess sebum production in the skin. Applying it to the forehead can help clear up pimples by removing dead skin cells and eliminating excess oils. Look for over-the-counter products that contain a concentration of 5% or less. The skin may face dryness when using BPO, so introduce this ingredient to your routine slowly.

Salicylic acid as a forehead acne treatment

Incorporating salicylic acid into your skincare routine can be a gamechanger for those suffering from forehead acne. This natural product is derived from willow bark and can help heal breakouts by unclogging the sebaceous glands.

Unlike benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid will not kill acne-causing bacteria, but it can effectively exfoliate the skin, sloughing away dead skin cells to help clear forehead blemishes. While just as effective, salicylic typically causes less irritation than benzoyl peroxide.

Cleaners, such as MDacne's Body Acne Cleanser and Facial Cleanser, are generally formulated with a 2% concentration of salicylic acid. This has been proven to be the most effective concentration; however, if you have super dry or sensitive skin, you may want to consider a treatment with 0.5%-1%.

Topical retinoids as a forehead acne treatment

Another great way to clear up acne is to use topical retinoids. They work well in treating both inflammatory and non-inflammatory breakouts, especially when it comes to whiteheads, blackheads, and tiny red bumps usually found on the forehead.

Retinol treatment creams are fantastic in assisting with the skin's cell turnover rate, cleaning pores, and minimizing the appearance of blemishes, fine lines, and wrinkles. Retinol treatments have also been shown to reduce visible scarring and prevent the development of new lesions.

Forehead acne prevention

Maintaining a good standard of personal hygiene habits is a great way to prevent acne development anywhere on the body, forehead included. While the occasional flare-up is inevitable, taking preventative steps is the best way to keep your skin clear and healthy.

To eliminate forehead acne, it's vital to combine treatment and prevention. Start with an effective anti-acne treatment with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid applied to the entire forehead (not just single pimples). Check your personal routine in the app for specific product suggestions!

Prevention of forehead acne pimples:

  1. Avoid wearing tight-fitting hats or headbands.
  2. Avoid hair gels (hair gels clog your forehead's pores and cause forehead pimples).
  3. Wash your hair every day. Oily unwashed hair in contact with your forehead skin will make acne worse on your forehead and temples.
  4. Avoid helmets, baseball caps, or headbands. These rub on your skin and cause more acne breakouts and more forehead pimples.
  5. Use a very gentle cleanser morning and night. In the morning, be sure to use an oil-free moisturizer or makeup.
  6. Apply a salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or retinoid treatment cream at night. These will unclog your forehead pores and prevent new forehead pimples.
  7. Remove any makeup before going to bed.
  8. Do not touch your face throughout the day.
  9. Wash your face immediately after any physical activity that causes you to sweat.
  10. Use a clarifying face mask 2- 3x per week to help tighten pores and reduce inflammation.

Want another way to kick forehead acne to the curb? Learn about the best vitamin supplements for people with acne.


To find the right acne treatments for your unique skin, take the free skin assessment by clicking here.

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