If you have persistent forehead acne you can’t seem to get rid of, there are several possible explanations. You could be using the wrong acne treatment, you may have an oily skin type, or you need might want to switch up your hair care products. The most probable cause of acne on the forehead depends on your skin type and what kind of acne you have. Pimples are typically caused by different factors than blackheads or whiteheads, and they are treated differently as well. Generally, most people have acne on their foreheads because the forehead is part of something called the “T-zone.”
What is the T-Zone?
The T-zone is a T-shaped area of the face that includes the forehead and nose. This region is one of the most common places to get acne because of its increased oil production. One of the main causes of acne is excess oil (also called sebum) because it can clog the pores, and this is an especially prominent problem in the T-zone.
Sebum is produced by sebaceous glands in the skin and is released through the pores, and even though it can be related to acne, it is an important aspect of healthy skin. Oil provides a layer of protection between the skin and any potential irritants, which might transfer bacteria to the pores or trigger the inflammation response, both of which can also cause acne. So a small amount of sebum is actually a good thing.
The T-zone is more likely to have issues with acne because it typically produces much more sebum than the rest of the face. The T-zone has a higher concentration of sebaceous glands than any other area of the body. It can contain anywhere from 400 to 900 sebaceous glands per square centimeter. When all of these glands are producing oil, they create much more oil than the skin needs, and this excess can easily clog pores.
Sebaceous glands create sebum beneath the skin, then release it into a duct leading to the surface of the skin. The sebum makes its way to the surface, and you rinse it away at the end of the day using a face wash. But 400-900 sebaceous glands produce more sebum than there is room for on the surface of the skin. The excess stays in the pores, where it can get trapped, creating a blackhead or whitehead.
Why Do I Have Pimples on My Forehead?
If excess oil is supposed to clog pores and lead to blackheads or whiteheads, then it might seem odd that many of us also have pimples on our foreheads. But pimples form as a result of a minor infection caused by a specific kind of bacteria called p. acnes, and these bacteria feed on the sebum our skin produces. In areas where there’s an excess amount of sebum, like in the T-zone and on the forehead, p. acnes bacteria have an increased food source, and their numbers can multiply quickly.
Increased numbers of p. acnes bacteria don’t automatically lead to acne, however. There’s a third factor that contributes to all acne: inflammation. Inflammation causes the skin to swell slightly and tighten the pores. This is another reason excess sebum gets trapped in the pores—inflammation constricts the pores, making it more difficult for the sebum to escape. When this constriction occurs, p. acnes bacteria also get trapped in the skin, creating a minor infection.
Unlike on the surface of the skin, the bacteria have nowhere to go when they’re trapped in a pore, so the body treats them as a threat. The immune system triggers more inflammation to prevent the bacteria from spreading to other pores, which is why pimples tend to be more raised and painful in comparison to blackheads or whiteheads. The immune system also sends cells to kill the p. acnes bacteria, often killing themselves in the process as well. These dead bacterial cells and dead immune system cells generate pus, which is what gives pimples their characteristic yellow-ish head.
Excess sebum is very likely to clog pores, which most people associate with blackheads or whiteheads, but pimples can also form if bacteria are trapped in the clogged pores as well.
What Is My Skin Type?
The T-zone is known for producing more oil than the rest of the face, but if you have dry skin, this could be a good thing. How your forehead acne forms (and more importantly, how to treat it) is largely dependent on your skin type.
Generally speaking, there are four main skin types: normal, dry, oily, and combination. “Normal” typically means the skin doesn’t have persistent or significant acne, but that might not be the best name for it. 80% of people have acne at some point between ages 11 and 30, so acne-prone skin is actually far more normal.
Oily skin typically produces an excess amount of oil not just in the T-zone, but all over the face and/or the body. Because the T-zone has extra sebaceous glands, it might produce even more excess oil, making acne extremely likely. If you have acne primarily in your T-zone, you most likely have an oily skin type. Oily skin types are also more likely to have pimples rather than blackheads and whiteheads. The excess sebum provides more food for p. acnes bacteria, so all it takes is a little inflammation to generate a pimple.
Dry skin generally doesn’t produce enough sebum to keep the skin well-lubricated and protected from irritants. Without the thin, protective layer of oil over the skin, even minor irritations can cause problems. When the skin is irritated, it tries to protect itself through inflammation and a quick burst of oil production. Because these come at the same time, the extra sebum can easily get trapped in the inflamed pore and lead to blackheads and whiteheads. Dry skin types usually have more blackheads and whiteheads rather than pimples because without extra oil, p. acnes bacteria have less food so their numbers stay relatively low.
Like the name implies, combination skin combines both oily and dry skin. This is different for every person with a combination skin type: some people have oily skin all-over sometimes, and dry skin all-over other times, while others may have very oily skin in their T-zone and very dry skin in their U-zone (the complementary region to the T-zone which includes the cheeks and chin). This skin type could have an even mix of blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples, but because the T-zone is almost always oily in a combination skin type, they are more likely to get pimples on the forehead, like an oily skin type.
Could My Hair Care Products Be Causing My Forehead Acne?
Even though hair care products aren’t intentionally applied to the skin, they almost always make contact. Everything from shampoo to pomade could contribute to forehead acne, especially along the hairline or at the temples.
Shampoo, conditioner, and other products you might use in the shower sometimes contain chemicals that are good for the hair but bad for the skin, and when you rinse them out, the suds could wash over your face and cause irritation. The best way to avoid this problem is to make sure you rinse your hair by leaning backwards into the shower stream, rather than leaning your hair forward. You can also wait until after you have rinsed your shampoo and conditioner to use your face wash, that way you can rinse away anything that might be irritating your skin.
Pomade is the other main hair care product associated with acne. Pomade is a hair styling product that can give hair a sleek, shiny look, and it is often used to keep hair hydrated, especially natural Black hair. Some pomades are oil-based, which means they can contribute to the excess oil already produced by the forehead and lead to more clogged pores and more acne. If you notice increased acne, especially along your hairline where pomade is most likely to make contact with your skin, you may want to consider switching to a water-based pomade. This kind of pomade is much less likely to clog pores, but it can still moisturize hair and hold it in place.
Do I Have the Wrong Hairstyle for My Acne?
Believe it or not, certain hairstyles can have an effect on forehead acne. Wearing your hair in tight braids or a tight ponytail every day can stretch the skin on your forehead too tightly, effectively closing pores. Because the forehead produces so much extra oil, closing off pores all but guarantees increased acne. If you know your forehead is prone to acne, ask your hair braider if they can try a looser braid pattern, or try letting your hair out of the tight pony every couple of days.
Another bad hairstyle for acne on the forehead is bangs. Many people get bangs specifically to hide acne, but this often just makes the acne worse. Hair naturally produces oils to keep it protected and hydrated, similar to our skin, but bangs can cause our hair oils to add to our face oils, contributing to excess oil and clogged pores. This is especially true if you don’t wash your hair every day. Many hairdressers recommend washing hair once every two or three days, to avoid stripping your hair of the oils it needs, but this can add to the oils that get transferred from your bangs to your skin. To prevent your bangs from adding to your acne, you can wash your hair more often, or you might try pinning your bangs back a few times a week.
How Do I Decrease Forehead Acne Caused by My Hijab?
If you wear a hijab and have acne along your hairline, you might want to consider switching laundry detergents.
Some laundry detergents contain chemicals that are too harsh for some people’s skin. Chemicals are not a bad thing—after all, everything is made of chemicals, if you break things down—but some chemicals that are good for cleaning are not good for interacting with the skin. Some people aren’t bothered by the chemicals in various detergents, but others may develop a slight irritation to certain brands. If you have acne along your hairline where your hijab typically rests, it may be because of your laundry detergent. This is possible even if your other clothes don’t seem to cause any irritation. The skin on the face is much more sensitive than the skin on the body.
If you suspect your laundry detergent could be causing a problem, we recommend switching to a fragrance-free option, as fragrance chemicals are often irritating. If the irritation continues, try looking for a hypoallergenic laundry detergent or making your own using a reliable online recipe.
Your hijab could also contribute to your forehead acne if you wear a sports hijab. These hijabs are meant to be worn while playing sports, so they typically fit more tightly than other hijabs. This tightness could lead to clogged pores, especially when combined with sweat. The best way to reduce this acne is to wash your face and hijab as soon as possible after practice or a game to prevent the buildup of bacteria or clogged pores.
What Treatments Work Best for Forehead Acne?
The best acne treatment for forehead acne is almost always a gentle drying agent that can reduce excess oil without causing irritation. If you have an oily skin type, you may also want an acne product designed to kill p. acnes bacteria. Below, we’ve provided some of our recommendations for treating forehead acne, but if you have a dry skin type, these may not be the best fit for you. Instead, we recommend a good water-based moisturizer.
The first product we recommend is a sulfur-based product, like our Clarifying Mask. Sulfur absorbs excess oil, and at responsible concentrations, it will not dry out the skin. Our Clarifying Mask combines a low concentration of sulfur (3%), active charcoal, and resorcinol to kill bacteria, making it a gentle but effective treatment for forehead acne.
We also recommend a salicylic acid product for treating forehead acne because of the way it can break up the clogs in pores to treat and prevent blackheads and whiteheads. Exposed Skin Care’s 3-step process involves several products containing salicylic acid, including our Facial Cleanser, Clearing Toner, and Clear Pore Serum. When used with our Clarifying Mask once or twice a week, this is the ideal routine to get rid of forehead acne. You can purchase them all together in our Ultimate Kit, which contains anything you could ever need to treat your acne and prevent breakouts.