Acne commonly develops on a person’s forehead, although it can also occur in various areas on the body.
In this article, we asked experts to discuss some of the most effective ways of treating and getting rid of pimples on your forehead.
Dr. Robert Morrell B.S., M.D., Dip.S.M.
Director & Founder, Di Morelli Skin Care
Everyone is genetically predisposed to acne. 85% of the population in the world gets acne at some point in their life.
The process of the acne itself is the plugging of the sebaceous oil glands, which then fill up with the fatty oil secretion called sebum. When the sebum breaks down, it turns into an acid causing the skin to be inflamed, swollen, and even infected.
Characteristically, acne occurs in numerous parts of the body where oil glands work the most including the forehead, cheeks, jaw, chin, and even the back.
When dealing with forehead acne, it is important to determine if there is any obstruction precipitating factors
Determining the causes of obstruction can deter the clogging of your pores. Obstruction causes can be anything mechanical such as subconsciously putting your hands on your face at your desk, wearing a helmet or a headband over your head as you exercise, or even the use of a dirty pillowcase and sleeping face down.
Check your hair products
When encountering acne along the hairline and the upper part of the forehead, your hair products might be the culprit. Hair products such as gel, serums, or even the shampoo you use may contain ingredients such as sulfates, alcohol, and coconut oil which can clog your pores.
Consider other causes such as hormonal imbalances and stress
If you’re entirely sure your acne isn’t caused by your hand pressure or any obstructions as stated above, it may be time to consider other causes such as hormonal imbalances and stress.
Hormonal spikes and imbalances (estrogen and progesterone) in women can cause increased production of oil through the sebaceous glands. Stress can also cause hormonal changes with the same results.
Improve your skincare routine
Once you identify the probable cause and eliminate it from your routine, you can follow an acne prevention protocol. The treatments are tiered based on the severity of the acne. Topical treatments are best used to treat mild to moderate forms of acne.
Check if the skincare products you are using are non-comedogenic. Non-comedogenic skincare products are specifically formulated to produce the same results without clogging your pores.
Look for products that contain Alpha Hydroxy Acids, such as Lactic Acids. These acids work to exfoliate the top part of the pore that gets plugged and opens the pore up for cleansing.
Another component to look out for are products that contain Beta Hydroxy Acids, like Salicylic Acids. These go down into the pores to dissolve the oil in order for them to be released from the skin. I personally recommend the use of a non-abrasive exfoliant 1- 2 weeks (or as tolerated by your skin) to remove dirt, oil, and dead skin cells from your pores.
After carefully choosing your skincare products, be sure to build healthy habits
Always wash your hands before touching your face as your fingers can deposit oil and bacteria onto your skin and into your pores. Refrain from rubbing your face excessively during cleansing as it may aggravate your skin, spreading the acne to the rest of your face.
If you have oily skin, avoid the use of hair products that are oil-based since these products can seep into the skin, clogging your pores and exacerbating the acne.
Seek professional help
If even with good hygiene and carefully chosen products, the acne persists, it is possible that you have severe acne which may require the guidance of a skin specialist or a dermatologist.
After the consultation, your doctor might recommend one of the following: topical treatments like Alpha-Linolenic Acids, oral medication, or skin treatments.
For Alpha-Linolenic Acids (ALA), these go down into the oil glands that are causing acne. The ALA acids are then exposed to blue light that destroys the bacteria growing in the pores and in turn, makes your skin healthier.
If the acne is incessant, mechanical exfoliants like dermabrasion or chemical exfoliants like acid peels are used to cleanse the skin. In North America, Mesobotox is the latest procedure to help with persistent acne.
This is a treatment wherein small amounts of botox is injected into the skin and it blocks the oil glands from overproduction. With no oil being produced on the skin, the acne diminishes within weeks. Done frequently at all ages and all stages of acne, one treatment lasts about 4 – 8 months.
Finally, in the case of oral medication, your doctor might suggest the use of antibiotics, tetracycline, and doxycycline such as Accutane. It is advised however to double-check with your physician regarding the associated side effects as these side effects have the potential to be severe depending on each individual’s reaction.
Dr. Edidiong CN Kaminska
Board Certified Dermatologist | Medical Director and Founder, Kaminska Dermatology
Before we discuss how to treat acne, let’s first describe what acne is. Acne is an inflammatory condition of the oil glands and hair follicles, causing clogging of the pores and overproduction of oils and bacteria to build up in the follicle.
All of this leads to inflammation resulting in acne. Oil glands and hair follicles are prominent on the skin of the face, chest, and back and these are common locations where acne forms.
Acne presents in various ways. There are whiteheads and blackheads, medically known as comedones; red bumps and pus bumps, also known as papules and pustules respectively, and lastly deep painful bumps under the skin, known as nodular cystic acne.
Acne can affect any age group; it is not restricted to teenagers. In my patient population, I see a lot of adult females who are experiencing acne for the first time.
Treatment depends on the type of acne one has.
For comedones, one of the best treatments is a topical retinoid/retinol
This class of medication helps smooth the bumps and turnover of the cells of the skin so that clogging will not occur. Topical retinoids can be found over the counter or by prescription.
One side effect of this medication is that it can often cause dryness and irritation. I usually recommend the application of a pea-sized amount to the affected areas a few times a week as tolerated. It is important to see a dermatologist to learn how to properly apply this medication for the best outcome for you.
Other over the counter medications include topical salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide cleansers and acne spot treatments
These products help to decrease bacteria buildup in the follicles allowing the acne to clear. All of these medications are equally helpful for papules and pustules as well.
Other acne treatments that can help include chemical peels and acne masks
Peels contain an acid that interacts with proteins of the skin to cause exfoliation and can improve the tone and texture of the skin and can clear acne. Usually, multiple treatments are done every 2-4 weeks. A common peel used for acne is a salicylic acid peel. Peels tend to work faster than over the counter products.
Facial masks are en vogue now. Acne masks that contain any of the following may help with forehead acne: salicylic acid, glycolic acid, benzoyl peroxide, niacinamide, oatmeal, sulfur, and/or clay.
All of these ingredients work on acne a little differently to help clear the skin. It may take some trial and error, but with patience and consistency, these products can work.
Make sure to avoid makeup or products with oil in them if you have forehead acne
Oils may further clog pores and contribute to acne. Wash the face at least daily with a gentle acne cleanser.
For nodulocystic acne, a topical medication typically does not help
For these patients and for someone with moderate or severe acne, prescription oral medication is used.
Rawn Bosley, MD
Board Certified Dermatologist, Prism Dermatology
Forehead acne is a very common issue with easy solutions to address this problem. Often times, acne along the forehead or hairline is related to products that are used on the scalp and in the hair. Essential oils and gels may clog the pores and lead to breakouts.
Cleanup after applying hair care products
Using a makeup or facial cleansing wipe to the face after applying hair care products may help reduce your risk for clogged pores. This can be repeated throughout the day if your skin is feeling oily or after sweating.
Sanitize your nighttime routine
Trapped oils within head garments and pillows may lead to breakouts on the forehead.
Exfoliating cleansers with gentle acids such as glycolic and salicylic acids are helpful in reducing congested pores along the forehead. These products can be used daily to reduce your risk of breakouts.
Seek professional help
Another common culprit for forehead acne is hormonal acne. This form of acne may involve the forehead along the hairline and also the lower face and neck. Hormonal acne can show up in many forms from small, fine bumps to larger painful cysts.
If you are struggling with these types of breakouts you should seek care from a board-certified dermatologist to appropriately manage your acne.
Dr. Zain Husain, MD, FAAD
Board-Certified Dermatologist | Founder, New Jersey Dermatology and Aesthetics Center
Forehead acne is a common struggle for many adolescents and adults. There can be many factors that can contribute to it including bacterial overgrowth, clogged pores, oil-containing cosmetic and hair products, and hormonal fluctuations.
Acne can vary in severity and presentation and treatment options are tailored accordingly.
It is important to evaluate the skincare products that you currently use
Make sure that they are non-comedogenic (non-pore clogging) including moisturizers, sunscreens, and makeup. I recommend cleansers which have anti-bacterial properties such as benzoyl peroxide or those that promote exfoliation such as glycolic acid and salicylic acid, which are all easily accessible over the counter.
Prescription topical and oral antibiotics can be effective in killing acne-causing bacteria and reducing inflammation
Topical retinoids such as tretinoin (Retin-A), adapalene (Differin), and tazarotene (Tazorac) are derived from Vitamin A and are highly effective in treating existing acne, improving scarring and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and preventing future outbreaks.
Severe acne cases can benefit from oral retinoids such as isotretinoin (Accutane), which can lead to significant improvement of inflammatory and cystic acne.
Other treatments that can improve acne include light-based treatments such as IPL (intense pulsed light) and PDL (pulsed dye laser) to reduce inflammation.
Chemical peels can be highly effective in treating acne and improving post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Some of my recommended chemical peels include salicylic acid, glycolic acid, Jessner’s solution, and trichloracetic acid (TCA).
For residual scarring, skin resurfacing lasers (such as ablative and non-ablative fractional lasers) and microneedling are effective for improving scars and improving skin texture.
Subscision of acne scars and dermal fillers can be used to improve scar appearance. However, I only recommend performing these procedures once the acne has been controlled and inactive.
For emergency breakout treatments prior to important events, such as weddings, prom, etc. a quick trip to the dermatologist for intralesional steroid injections can be the best and safest way to treat these pimples. A quick injection of dilute steroids can reduce inflammation quickly and effectively with minimal pain. Lastly, lifestyle and diet can play a significant role in acne.
Eat a well-balanced diet
Eating a well-balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruit, and lean proteins and drinking plenty of water can help with a clearer complexion. Adequate sleep is also important as is reducing the intake of refined sugars and processed foods.
Dairy has been shown to be an acne trigger in some patients, so limiting consumption of dairy can be beneficial, especially skim milk products which have been shown to be pro-inflammatory. Supplements containing niacinamide, derived from vitamin B3, and probiotics can help reduce skin inflammation.
To implement the best regimen for your acne, I would advise consulting with your board-certified dermatologist who can give individualized recommendations for your skin.
Dr. Yoram Harth
Board Certified Dermatologist | Medical Director, MDacne
Pimples on the forehead are very common. To reduce these annoying pimples, you will need to use a few preventive measures and start with the effective anti-acne treatment, preferably based on benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.
How to prevent pimples on the forehead?
Wash your hair regularly
Make sure that you wash your hair every day. Oily, unwashed hair that’s in contact with your forehead skin will clog your skin pores make your forehead and temples break out.
Avoid hair products
Also, avoid using hair gels, oils, and sprays as they can clog your pores and cause new pimples to form.
Avoid hats & helmets
Try to avoid wearing helmets, baseball caps or headbands — these rub on your skin and can cause more acne breakouts on the forehead. If you need to wear these, make sure to clean them regularly.
Most importantly, start using an effective topical acne treatment. Once you do all that, you can expect to see significant improvement.
Terrence Keaney, MD, FAAD
Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology, Howard University Hospital |
Founder and Director, Skin DC
Eliminate any triggers
If the acne is only located on the forehead, there is a possibility that hair care products may be clogging the sebaceous (oil) glands. Common culprits are thick, occlusive hair care products such as scalp oils, styling gels, waxes, or pomades.
Recommended over-the-counter treatments
Retinoids that are strong enough to treat acne used to only be available via a prescription. Fortunately, adapalene (Differin) gel is now available at your local drugstore.
Adapalene, a vitamin A derivative, works great for fine clogged pores (comedones) or mild inflammatory pink acne pimples.
Dr. Bryan Tran, D.O.
Osteopathic Physician | Co-founder, Dr. Formulas
Go on a low-glycemic index diet
This means avoiding sugar and milk and opting for whole grains. Substitute white rice with brown rice. Consume whole-grain pasta instead of bleached and enriched pasta. High-glycemic index foods like bananas and sugary beverages cause spikes in your body’s insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1 levels which worsen acne.
Avoid saturated fats and opt for omega-3 fats found in nuts and fish. Other supplements that can reduce inflammation are probiotics and turmeric.
Ensure healthy hormone levels
Hormones play a role in the development of acne. Obesity is known to lead to hormonal imbalances and can worsen acne, especially in women because it can lead to a polycystic ovarian syndrome which causes acne. Going on the low-glycemic index diet mentioned earlier will help with a healthy weight.
Studies show that a low-carbohydrate diet is actually more helpful for weight loss and metabolic parameters like cholesterol and triglycerides than a low-fat diet. Supplements that can help with hormonal balance include diindolylmethane (DIM) which is derived from cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower.
Wash your face and moisturize
Wash your face daily and moisturize afterward with a non-comedogenic moisturizer. A dry face will promote sebum production and acne.
Dr. Michelle Lee
Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon, PERK Plastic Surgery
Bangs can look amazing. However, oil from hair often rubs against the forehead, traps oil and dirt produced by the forehead and increase the chance of breakouts. If you are prone to forehead breakouts, make sure you avoid bangs in your hairstyle.
Removing dirt and oil is critical to keep the forehead clear
Cleansers with salicylic acid or alpha hydroxy acid are great at removing excess oil and exfoliate the dead skins.
Avoid headbands or hats when exercising
Hats and headbands can also trap oil on the forehead and making the skin more prone to breakouts.
Tiffany Harris, ISCP
Certified Skincare Therapist and Consultant, Dewy Glowy Skin
Finding the culprit of your acne breakouts can be tough, but fortunately, forehead acne is one of the easier areas to treat and understand.
In my professional experience, it usually stems from hair products like shampoos and hair sprays, which can run onto the forehead and exacerbate the pores. Shampoos with a coconut oil foundation are all the rage right now and can contribute to the problem.
And those with bangs, have double the trouble – yikes!
The best thing to do is to start checking your shampoos for pore-clogging ingredients
These can be ingredients like coconut oil, petroleum, silicones, jojoba oil, and shea butter. You can check the rating of comedogenic ingredients in your products here. (It’s best to stay away from 3-5 ratings if you’re experiencing forehead breakouts.)
One of my favorite (if you can stand the smell of it) shampoos to use is Neutrogena’s T-Gel. It helps with scalp buildup and doesn’t irritate the scalp or forehead with its salicylic acid base – perfecting for forehead breakouts. You can also balance it out with something like T/Sal to help with flaking on the scalp.
Use Glycolic Acid-based toners
As far as getting rid of the current acne on your forehead, using a glycolic acid-based exfoliating toner (see Pixi’s Glow Tonic) should help clear that up and with the shampoo changes to your routine, you can avoid future breakouts in that area.
Holistic Skincare Expert | Licensed Esthetician | Founder & CEO, Celsaderm Skincare
The number one solution to permanently ridding yourself of forehead acne includes a simple routine and some benzoyl peroxide.
Check out my 6-step solution below:
- Cleanse: Use a gentle, water-soluble gel cleanser daily
- Tone: Apply an alcohol-free toner loaded with antioxidants over entire face
- Exfoliate: With a beta hydroxy acid in gel or liquid form two to three times weekly
- Treat: Apply a 10% benzoyl peroxide gel to the affected area
- Hydrate: If needed utilize a lightweight lotion or serum moisturizer
- Protect: Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher (daytime only)
Also, keep in mind that sweating, hair products (shampoo, conditioner), and irritating ingredients (alcohol, fragrance) are all causes of forehead acne.
Nutritionist | Author, The Candida Diet
As our understanding of nutrition’s role in health continues to grow new knowledge on how it affects our overall health from the simplest issue to chronic disease is becoming clear.
Acne is no exception to the diet-health connection we experience. Acne is common, but diet plays a significant role in its development and persistence.
Be careful with your diet
Refined carbohydrates and sugars are highly inflammatory and also create a spike in blood sugar levels and insulin. High insulin rates have been shown to be consistent with high acne levels due to the chemical’s way of increasing sebum production.
Saturated fat, a staple in the Western diet, is thought to alter the body’s hormones in such a way that individuals who consume a lot of this unhealthy fat are more prone to acne.
While diet plays a causative role in acne’s development it can also be used as a preventative measure. Studies show vitamin A can help to prevent acne. This fat-soluble vitamin is found in cantaloupe, spinach, carrots, and sweet potatoes.