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What is pomade acne? How to treat breakouts around your hairline

Your hair products and styling routine could be to blame for pimples. Here’s what to do about it.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Feb 28, 2024 • 11 min read
Medically reviewed by Melissa Hunter, NP-C
Woman with purple sweater and eyes closed
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Feb 28, 2024 • 11 min read
Medically reviewed by Melissa Hunter, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

In this article

What is pomade?
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Summary

  • Pomade is a hair styling product that leaves your hair slick and shiny.

  • Pomade and other hairstyling products can trigger acne breakouts, especially when they contain comedogenic ingredients.

  • Pore-clogging ingredients are generally harmless for your hair but can trigger forehead acne and breakouts along the hairline.

  • When your acne skincare regimen doesn’t help your acne along the hairline, consider changing your hairstyling products.

  • Other hair care products that can trigger an acne breakout include shampoo, conditioner, and hair masks.

You may be dedicated to a healthy skincare routine and use all the right acne treatments, but still notice some breakouts, especially around your hairline. Why, you ask? Many things can cause acne—and one possible culprit being your hair care products.

The good news is that by learning more about pomade acne and the steps you can take to minimize pimples caused by hair products (or bid them goodbye altogether), you can help keep your skin—and your hair—looking amazing.

What is pomade?

Similar to hair gel products, pomade is a waxy or water-based substance that is used to style hair. Typically, pomade leaves your hair looking shiny and slick. It lasts longer than most haircare products and can require shampooing several times to completely wash out.

What is pomade acne and what causes it?

The short story is that pomade acne is caused by hairstyling products. Pomades and other gels can contain comedogenic ingredients, meaning they can clog your pores. These pore-clogging ingredients may be harmless to your hair, but when they contact your facial skin, you could experience an acne breakout called acne vulgaris. There isn’t just one product that causes pomade acne. This makes it challenging to identify the cause of your breakouts. Even more challenging is the fact that “pomade acne” can trigger different types of pimples, including whiteheads and blackheads.

Acne is generally caused by a buildup of oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria in the hair follicles.¹ Pomade acne occurs when the product contains ingredients that clog your pores and cause a build-up of natural sebum and dead skin cells. Using pomades might not be the only thing causing your breakouts, but it can be one reason you experience persistent acne.

What are the symptoms of pomade acne?

Before you start tossing your hairstyling products, let’s look at some of the symptoms of pomade acne.

  • Persistent acne: When blemishes seem to stick around no matter what you do, even when acne treatment is part of your skincare routine, it could be from a comedogenic ingredient in your hair care routine.

  • Acne along your hairline: Pomade acne generally appears along your hairline and is likely related to your go-to hair products. During application, some can get on your skin by your hairline, so if they contain pore-clogging ingredients, you might notice new pimples.

Edge control gels

Some popular hair products are “edge control” styling gels that, while great for slicking down hair, often contain heavy comedogenic ingredients that cause clogged pores and contribute to pomade acne. If you use edge control gel, look for those that don’t contain comedogenic ingredients like:

  • Coconut oil²

  • Mustard oil

  • Liquid paraffin

  • Sesame Oil³

  • Avocado Oil

  • Mink Oil

  • Soybean Oil

  • Cocoa butter⁴

Instead, opt for hair products with non-comedogenic oils to help keep your pores clear. Look for products that say “Won’t clog pores,” “oil free,” or “non-comedogenic.” Check out Our guide on how to check your products for pore-clogging ingredients. If you want a headstart with some recommendations, here are some edge-control gels that are free of comedogenic ingredients:

Bonus tip: Try not to sleep wearing edge-control gels—the oils in them can migrate onto your face and into your pores while you sleep. Wearing a headscarf or silk cap or bonnet over your hair at night could make the situation worse. The friction of the headwear can press the hairstyling products into your skin. If possible, wash out your edge control product before heading to bed.

Remember, because oil and water don’t mix, plain water won’t be enough to remove the residue of the heavy ingredients in edge-styling products. We recommend lathering up with a sulfate-free shampoo and then rinsing it all out.

What other hair products could cause acne?

It’s not just pomades and gels that cause different forms of acne breakouts. There are plenty of other haircare products that could be a contributing factor.

  • Conditioners: Some conditioners include hydrating oils to help make your hair smooth and shiny. Unfortunately, some of those oils are comedogenic. If your favorite conditioner includes coconut oil or any of the other oils listed above, it could make your acne worse.

  • Hair masks: Pampering your hair with a mask can be fun, but a breakout afterward isn’t. Make sure you check your favorite hair masks for—you guessed it!—comedogenic ingredients if you notice persistent acne.

  • Shampoo: As surprising as it may seem, yes, even shampoos can contain pore-clogging ingredients. If you have been scrubbing your scalp vigorously, it’s likely the shampoo has come in contact with your face.

While hair products can contribute to pomade acne, other products—including makeup—can contain those annoying pore-clogging ingredients. So remember to always carefully read a product’s ingredient list.

What are some hair products that won’t clog pores?

We all love hair care products that keep our hair looking and feeling clean, soft, hydrated, and styled. However, there are certain common ingredients in hair products that can contribute to breakouts. So we did some digging and rounded up a few of our favorite shampoos, conditioners, and styling products.

Feel free to scrub away buildup with one of our favorite non-comedogenic, sulfate-free shampoos:

Encourage soft and hydrated hair with one of these non-comedogenic conditioners:

If you’re looking for ways to style your hair, consider some of our favorite non-comedogenic styling products:

Worried about giving up your favorite hair care products?

If you are finding it hard to give up your “tried and true” hair care products, even if they have pore-clogging potential, there are more options to help reduce different forms of acne breakouts:

  1. Swap styles: Choose a look that keeps your hair away from your face (like wearing it up).

  2. Take cover: Shield your face before applying hairspray and other spray-on hair styling products.

  3. Wash up: Style your hair before you apply your makeup, then wash your face and hands thoroughly to remove any hair product before continuing to apply makeup.

  4. Cleanse thoroughly before bed: Bring your cleanser all the way to your hairline to wash any residual hair care product that may be left on your skin.

  5. Create a barrier: Apply a very thin layer of pure petrolatum (like Vaseline) around your hairline to help keep pore-clogging ingredients from your hair products working their way onto your face. You might think it’s comedogenic—but it isn’t!

  6. Keep clean: Frequently wash your pillowcases, night scarves, bonnets, durags, hijabs, or niqabs—anything that touches your hair—to remove any product residue.

What are the different types of acne?

Identifying the type of acne⁵ can help effectively treat your breakout. All skin types are different. You may discover that you are more prone to one kind of acne than others.

  1. Blackheads. These clogged pores are filled with trapped oil and dead skin cells that are open to the skin and air.⁶ The bumps turn dark when the skin pigment (melanin) reacts with oxygen in the air—hence the name, blackheads.⁷

  2. Whiteheads. Whiteheads are closed comedones that are not open to the skin’s surface. These small closed bumps are filled with oil and dead skin cells. Just as the name suggests, the bump will come to a white head.⁸

  3. Papules. Tender, inflamed, red bumps—these types of pimples don’t typically come to a head and are less than 5 millimeters in size.

  4. Pustules. These pimples are filled with a visible central core of pus, are typically raised, and not more than 5 millimeters wide.

  5. Cysts. This type of inflammatory acne is characterized by painful, pus-filled pimples that are under the skin and take a long time to go away. They are also called “cystic acne” and are known to cause scarring.

  6. Nodules. This type of inflammatory acne is often called “blind pimples.” They are deep, painful, feel like a hard knot under the skin, and can last for weeks.

  7. Fungal acne. Fungal acne are white uniform, itchy bumps that can spread across a central area, like your forehead, chest, or back, but they are not truly acne. The condition develops when there is excess yeast growth in the hair follicles.

Need some help controlling acne outbreaks?

Pomade acne can be frustrating, especially when the solution is to sacrifice your favorite hair styling products. If you are struggling with acne or just unsure how to effectively treat your skin, a dermatology provider can help.

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Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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FAQs

What is pomade acne and what causes it?

Pomade acne is acne caused by hair products. Pomades and other gels can contain comedogenic ingredients, meaning they can clog your pores. These pore-clogging ingredients may be harmless for your hair, but they can cause acne breakouts. The term “pomade acne” can refer to different types of pimples, including whiteheads and blackheads.

What are the symptoms of pomade acne?

Persistent acne: If your blemishes seem to stick around no matter what, even when you use acne treatment as part of your skincare routine, it could be due to a comedogenic ingredient you still use in your hair care.

Hairline acne: When you use your favorite hair products, it’s likely some will get on your skin by your hairline. If your products contain pore-clogging ingredients, you might notice some pimples pop up.

How long does it take for pomade acne to go away?

If pomade is causing your acne, you must first stop using the hair care products to begin the healing process. It can then take up to 4-6 weeks for the acne breakout to disappear along the hairline once you stop using the product.⁹

How can you tell if pomade acne is healing?

Once you stop breaking out, the pimples that are present should begin to fade. However, if you start breaking out along the hairline after stopping your hair care products, another factor may have triggered your acne.

Are forehead pimples from pomade or other hairstyling products?

Forehead pimples can be from pomade, but they may also appear for other reasons. You can determine if your forehead pimples are caused by pomade or other hairstyling products by eliminating these products from your beauty routine. Forehead pimples might also be caused by other factors, so if they don’t disappear it doesn’t mean that pomade wasn’t contributing, but if they do disappear it does mean that pomade or other hair styling products were the reason for those pimples.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Draelos, Z.D. The effect of a daily facial cleanser for normal to oily skin on the skin barrier of subjects with acne. Cutis. (July 2006).

  2. Francis, A. and Shojan, A. Comedogenicity of Oils. International Journal of Contemporary Medical Research. (August 2019).

  3. Fulton, J.E., Jr. Comedogenicity and irritancy of commonly used ingredients in skin care products. J Soc. Cosmet. Chem. (November/December 1989).

  4. Baek, J.H., et. al. Early detection of microcomedones induced by cocoa butter using reflectance confocal microscopy. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. (July 2022).

  5. Sutaria, A.H., et al. Acne Vulgaris. StatPearls. (2023, August 17).

  6. Sutaria, A.H., et. al. Acne Vulgaris. StatPearls. Ibid.

  7. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. Acne: Overview. InformedHealth. (2019, September 26).

  8. Sutaria, A.H., et. al. Acne Vulgaris. StatPearls. Ibid.

  9. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Are Your Hair Care Products Causing Breakouts? (n.d.).

Melissa Hunter is a board certified family nurse practitioner at Curology. She received her MSN from George Washington University in Washington, DC.

*Restrictions apply. See website for full details and important safety information.

**Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Melissa Hunter

Melissa Hunter, NP-C

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