Forehead Acne Explained

Medically Reviewed By Bukky Aremu, APRN
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Forehead acne is a common acne type involving blemishes near the hairline and across the forehead. Most acne results from oil, skin cells, or bacteria causing clogged pores. Acne that primarily occurs on the forehead may result from factors such as hats or certain hair products. While avoiding these factors may help clear forehead acne, some people may also need topical treatments.

Acne tends to occur most often in younger people, although older adults can also experience it.

This article will cover the causes, appearance, treatments, and outlook for people with forehead acne. It will also discuss tips for preventing acne.

What are the causes of forehead acne?

A woman touching her forehead
Oleksii Syrotkin/Stocksy United

Researchers believe acne has four main causes:

  • excess oil production
  • skin inflammation
  • heavy production of keratin, a type of protein in your hair, skin, and nails
  • high levels of Propionibacterium acnes, a type of bacteria

The most obvious cause of many types of acne is clogged pores. Acne can develop when pores become clogged with excess oil, skin cells, bacteria, or dirt.

Forehead acne may result from something in direct contact with the forehead, such as a hat or a certain type of hair product. There are many oil glands near the forehead line, which are prone to clogging. Playing with your hair, wearing glasses, or touching your forehead could also introduce different bacteria to the area. 

Outside of clear causes like your forehead’s contact with a hat, it is unknown why some people develop more severe acne than others. Experts think genetics, hormones, and lifestyle can all affect who will get acne.

What does forehead acne look like?

A person's forehead with acne blemishes
Forehead acne can consist of whiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules, or cysts. Credit: fotoco-istock/Getty Images

“Acne” is a general term for skin blemishes, but a few different types of acne can appear on the forehead.

Blackheads and whiteheads

Blackheads and whiteheads are pimples that form when the pores clog up with debris like dirt, dead skin cells, or bacteria. 

If the pore closes up around the debris, it is a whitehead. Blackheads occur when the pore stays open, exposing the debris to oxygen and turning it black.

Papules

Papules are pimples in the early stage of formation. They form when clogged pores cause inflammation in the skin. Papules are usually small, hard, red or discolored bumps. They can make the skin feel like sandpaper when many of them are present. 

Pustules

As the name implies, acne pustules are blemishes filled with pus. The pus is usually visible and appears yellow or white near the skin’s surface. Avoid popping pustules because doing so can make acne worse. 

Acne cysts

Sometimes called acne nodules, these types of blemishes form deep within the skin. They usually do not have a clear head but appear as swollen, red or discolored bumps on the skin. They can be very painful and may require a dermatologist’s help treating them. 

What are the treatments for forehead acne? 

If your acne only occurs on your forehead, avoid wearing a hat, frequently wash anything you wear on your head, or switch hair products. Some mild cases of forehead acne may clear up on their own.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA) recommends the following tips to treat acne: 

  • For blackheads and whiteheads, a retinoid cream can help unclog pores. A retinoid type called adapalene is available without a prescription, but a dermatologist can also prescribe you a retinoid cream. 
  • If you have many blackheads and whiteheads, a dermatologist can perform extraction to remove the contents of the acne. 
  • Wash your face with a benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid treatment. Do not wash your face more than once or twice a day. 
  • Do not pop your pimples.
  • Give your acne treatments 6–8 weeks to work. 

If your acne does not clear up in 6–8 weeks or if you have acne cysts or nodules, talk with a dermatologist. There are prescription acne medications your dermatologist may recommend. Also contact a dermatologist if your acne leaves scars on your skin. 

Currently, the evidence for natural acne remedies is limited. Researchers are looking into new or alternative therapies to treat acne, including natural products and synthetic drugs.

What is the outlook for people with forehead acne? 

With treatment, the outlook for people with forehead acne is usually good. The AADA notes that many acne treatments will take 6–8 weeks to work.

Follow the instructions for your treatment plan before speaking with the dermatologist again. If the acne persists or worsens, your dermatologist may recommend other medications or procedures to treat your acne.

Although it is a common skin condition, acne can be difficult for some people — especially teenagers — to experience. It may cause mental health concerns, such as self-esteem issues, depression, and anxiety

The AADA says there are effective acne treatments and clear skin is possible for many people, so contact a dermatologist for any ongoing or severe cases of acne.

Can you prevent forehead acne?

Not all forms of acne are preventable. However, the AADA recommends some general skin care and acne prevention tips that may help

  • Avoid using tanning beds or laying out in the sun. Ultraviolet exposure can worsen blemishes. 
  • Wash your face with lukewarm water, never hot. 
  • After washing your face, gently pat it dry with a clean towel. Wash your towels regularly.
  • Wash your hair every day if it is oily. This may be especially helpful with forehead acne. 
  • Do not pop pimples. 
  • Apply face wash with your fingers only — using washcloths or facial cleaning tools can be too harsh on the skin. 
  • Never scrub your face or use abrasive cleaners. The goal is to treat your skin gently. Overzealous scrubbing can worsen skin inflammation. 

Summary

Forehead acne is a common type of acne that can result from an overproduction of oil or a buildup of bacteria and dead skin cells. Acne may be especially prone to developing on the forehead because of the numerous oil glands in the area.

Additionally, things like regularly wearing a hat, playing with your hair, or using hair products may also contribute to forehead acne.

There are different types of acne, and it is a good idea to contact a dermatologist for treatment. In general, dermatologists may recommend washing your face at least once a day with a benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid treatment and using a retinoid if you have blackheads or whiteheads. 

Talk with a dermatologist for persistent, painful, or scarring acne. 

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Medical Reviewer: Bukky Aremu, APRN
Last Review Date: 2022 Jul 21
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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