Smooth hair – an acne-causing epidemic



Do you ask your acne patients about which hair products they use? This common question has recently brought our attention to popular hair products that are causing an acne epidemic. Have we forgotten about “Pomade acne”? Well, it’s making a comeback. Originally described in ethnic women, new frizz-fighting hair products have resurged and so has pomade acne in all skin types and in both men and women.

Smoothing serums, heat styling sprays, leave-in products popularly known as “It’s-a-10,” “Biosilk,” “anti-frizz serums,” “heat-protectants,” “thermal setting sprays,” and “shine sprays,” contain silicone-derived ingredients and oils to control frizz, add shine, and detangle the hair. They work by smoothing the hair cuticle, and for women with difficult-to-manage hair, they have become an essential part of the daily beauty regimen.

Dr. Lily Talakoub

Dr. Lily Talakoub

Men are not in the clear either. Hair waxes and pomades used to style men’s hair contain greasy wax-based ingredients that also clog pores, trap bacteria, and cause inflammatory breakouts.

As a general rule in skin and body care, most products work well for what they are made to do, but when misused, they can cause mishaps. You wouldn’t moisturize your face with your hair serum would you? It seems obvious that this could cause some skin issues; however, most people will not think to correlate their acne breakouts with their hair products until we mention it. These products rub off on the face or on the pillow at night. In addition, the less we wash our hair, the more we are going to bed and getting the daytime products all over our pillowcases. Our faces are rolling around in oily, waxy, hair products all night.

Makeup is known to cause acne, and some of the makeups that are well known culprits contain the same ingredients as in hair products. Foundations, primers, and popular “BB” creams often contain cyclopentasiloxane and dimethicone. They serve a similar purpose: smoothing the skin and smoothing the hair. Both should be avoided in acne-prone patients.

Common culprits in hair products include PVP/DMAPA acrylates, cyclopentasiloxane, panthenol, dimethicone, silicone, Quaternium-70, oils, and petrolatum.

Dr. Naissan O. Wesley

Dr. Naissan O. Wesley

The only way to eliminate acne caused by hair products is to completely eliminate the hair product from the daily routine. However, if your patients can’t live without their hair products, here are some tips to share with them to reduce breakouts:

• Choose a hairstyle that keeps the hair away from the face, or wear hair up to avoid prolonged contact with the face, particularly while sleeping.

• Change pillowcase often (every day if possible), especially for side sleepers. Regardless of the fabric, pillowcases trap oil, dirt, and bacteria.

• Shower at night and sleep with clean hair and clean skin.

• Style hair before applying makeup. Wash hands thoroughly to remove all hair products before touching the skin.

• Cover the face prior to applying any hair sprays.

• Cover the hair at bedtime; however, tight head coverings can stimulate sweat and cause scalp breakouts.

As a general rule, any patient with difficult-to-control acne, recalcitrant acne, or acne in areas on the cheeks or hairline should eliminate these hair products in their daily routine or avoid skin contact with these products.


1. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2010 Apr;3(4):24-38.

2. Arch Dermatol. 1972;106 (6):843-50.

3. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2003; 48:S127-33.

4. Arch Dermatol. 1970;101(5):580-584.

5. “Cosmetics in Dermatology,” Second Edition, by Zoe Diana Draelos (New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1995).

Dr. Wesley and Dr. Talakoub are cocontributors to this column. Dr. Talakoub is in private practice in McLean, Va. Dr. Wesley practices dermatology in Beverly Hills, Calif. This month’s column is by Dr. Talakoub.

Recommended Reading

Guidelines: Combine topical, oral therapy for most effective acne treatment
MDedge Dermatology
VIDEO – Survey: Isolation, rejection is real for acne patients
MDedge Dermatology
Primary care acne treatment reduces dermatology referrals
MDedge Dermatology
Judicious Use of Antibiotics in Dermatology
MDedge Dermatology
Standard incubation can miss P. acnes in infective endocarditis
MDedge Dermatology