10 Best Scalp Acne Shampoos of 2020

scalp acne shampoo

Katie Buckleitner

Here’s the thing about scalp acne: Even though it’s annoying as f*ck (like, really, we’re breaking out on our scalps now? Okay, 2020), it’s surprisingly easy to fix. According to trichologist Dominic Burg, chief scientist at Evolis Professional, the easiest way to treat occasional bumps, zits, and redness on your scalp is by washing your hair with the right shampoo (unless you’re dealing with a more severe case—like consistently painful, hard, under-the-skin-lumps—which might require a trip to your dermatologist). So what does the “right” shampoo look like for you? That’s where I come.

I present to you: The 10 best scalp acne shampoos for every single hair type and concern—including, yes, your hyper-specific, hard-to-please texture. And before you scroll ahead to the goods, keep reading for Burg’s tips for treating your scalp acne as quickly and safely as possible. Cuz that’s what we all want, right? Right.

How do you get rid of scalp pimples?

“The main way to clear scalp acne is just to make sure that you’re cleansing really well,” Burg has told Cosmo. “You’ll want to use a good quality, sulfate-free shampoo that’s formulated with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory ingredients, like rosemary, lavender, or salicylic acid.” And when you’re using that shampoo, you’ll want to gently exfoliate your scalp with your fingertips or a shampoo brush to make sure you’re really getting rid of excess oil and product buildup.

See? Not too hard. Now scroll ahead to the 10 best shampoos for scalp acne, all of which clean and treat that pretty little head of yours without destroying your hair.

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Best Fragrance-Free Shampoo for Scalp Acne

Vanicream Free & Clear Shampoo for Sensitive Skin

K, don’t hate me for this, but if you’re experiencing any form of irritation on your scalp (acne included), you should consider going fragrance-free. Sure, your hair won’t smell like freshly cut roses, but your scalp will feel way soothed. Not only is this shampoo from Vanicream formulated without fragrance, but it’s also free of sulfates, dyes, parabens, and a handful of other scalp irritants. TL;DR: This shampoo is as gentle as it gets, which makes it a genius pick for treating scalp acne.


Best Co-Wash for Scalp Acne

Alikay Naturals Cowash Me Cleansing Conditioner

Just because a shampoo is labeled “sulfate-free” doesn’t always mean it’s gentle. If your texture requires an ultra hydrating, non-lather formula, go for this cleansing conditioner from Alikay Naturals. It’s spiked with scalp-friendly ingredients like tea tree oil (which gently removes buildup), jojoba oil (which hydrates), and coconut-derived surfactants (which cleanse without stripping or irritating), so you know your acne is in good hands.


Best Color-Safe Shampoo for Scalp Acne

Christophe Robin Purifying Shampoo for Oily or Flaky Scalp

Looking for a scalp acne shampoo that’ll clear up your zits and maintain your hair color? You’ll love this color-safe cleanser from Christophe Robin, which calls on oil-regulating bark extract and hydrating cherry extract to treat your scalp without stripping your color. Bonus: It’s also free of sulfates, parabens, formaldehydes, mineral oil, and phthalates. 


Best Soothing Shampoo for Scalp Acne

Sachajuan Scalp Shampoo

This cute scalp acne shampoo has two hero ingredients: lactic acid (which helps regulate oil production) and salicylic acid (which gently—but thoroughly!—breaks down clogged pores and dead skin cells). The result? A clean, buildup-free scalp with less breakouts and redness.


Best Exfoliating Shampoo for Scalp Acne

Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-Exfoliating Shampoo

Clarifying charcoal and antioxidant-rich coconut oil are combined in this sulfate-free shampoo that targets acne, dry scalp, and irritation every time you use it. Massage it into your scalp with your fingertips (or a shampoo brush! I legit love them! Sponsor me!) and let the formula get to work.


Best Drugstore Shampoo for Scalp Acne

Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Shampoo

Don’t feel like spending a shit-ton of $$$ treating your scalp acne? I feel you. That’s where this drugstore shampoo comes into play—the formula’s 3 percent salicylic acid gently removes scalp buildup and the itching, redness, and breakouts that come with it for less than $10.


Best Shampoo for Scalp Acne and Hair Thinning

Evolis Professional Reverse Shampoo

Sometimes scalp acne is accompanied by something even more fun: hair thinning. Treat ’em both simultaneously with this smart shampoo from Evolis, which cleanses, adds volume, and blasts your strands and scalp with strengthening ingredients (think: keratin and wheat protein). And remember: If you aren’t seeing any change (or you notice significant hair loss or scalp acne) within a month, definitely hit up your doctor.


Best Gentle Shampoo for Scalp Acne

Klorane Shampoo with Peony

If you can’t get through the week without washing your hair at least a couple times, you’ll want to make sure you’re using an ultra-gentle, non-stripping formula. This scalp acne-friendly shampoo is gentle enough to use daily, and it’s loaded with soothing ingredients like peony extract to help curb the inflammation too.


Best Scalp Acne Shampoo for Curly Hair

DevaCurl Buildup Buster Micellar Water Cleansing Serum

Looking for a shampoo that treats your scalp acne without drying out your curls? DevaCurl’s got you. Technically, this serum is a treatment, not a shampoo, but if you’re cowashing or using sulfate-free cleansers, you need something stronger to treat breakouts. This formula keeps your scalp nice and clean without sacrificing soft and shiny texture, thanks to ingredients like jojoba and panthenol (and zero sulfates).


Best Shampoo for Acne and Itchy Scalp

Phyto Apaisant Botanical Soothing Treatment Shampoo

Acne and dry, itchy scalps might go hand in hand (yay!), but this shampoo makes your treatment plan that much easier. The formula’s vitamin E, salicylic acid, and purslane extract all come together to hydrate, clean, and soothe your scalp. And did I mention it’s hypoallergenic? ’Cause it is.

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