Shampoo Causing Acne
November 2, 2009 9:23 PM   Subscribe

I think I self-diagnosed that my shampoo has been causing minor to moderate acne on my forehead and near my front hair line for sometime. Should I substantially reduce my shampoo usage (and not smell as nice), or are there more natural shampoos I should experiment with? I am a man with short hair.

I am a late 20's man with usually 1" to 2" hair on my head, pretty thick hair overall.

This past spring, from reading several older (and insightful) responses on Ask MeFi, I became enlightened that perhaps shampoo wasn't totally necessary as a daily part of my routine, and started experimenting doing it less and less. At first, I started doing it every other day, and ultimately decreased to about twice a week for most of the time, in total for about six months.

Not only did I notice the intended improved results in hair styling (and more naturally feeling hair), but unexpectedly I noticed a substantial reduction if not almost elimination of what had been persistent minor (and at times moderate) acne on my forehead and front hairline.

A couple months ago, I started dating someone, and inadvertently started shampooing much more often to smell better. After a few weeks, I started breaking out again and this has sort of continued for 6 weeks. Obviously there are other variables at play here like the hormones of a relationship, modified diet and exercising more, but I have a gut feeling I am on to something with the shampoo.

The shampoo I have been using for years is Head & Shoulders 2 in 1 dandruff shampoo + conditioner, varying scents but usually Ocean Lift. In my teenage years, I had moderate dandruff, and so I have always just used dandruff shampoo even though I am not sure if it is still an issue for me (the shampoo has always been effective against dandruff).

So, questions are:

Should I go back to my twice a week shampooing schedule (or stop entirely)? Ladies, do men experience hair smell issues with this? Are there other effective non-shampoo methods of adding a scent to one's hair?

Is there another shampoo I should be trying that might be more natural? I wonder if my acne is more of a reaction to the over-production of my hair's oils from the constant shampoo stripping rather than it is a reaction to a particular chemical in the shampoo.

Should I be trying just shampoo, with no conditioner?

Also, for people who don't shampoo or shampoo infrequently, what is the rule with pool swimming--is that a situation that one would shampoo after no matter what to purge the chlorine?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps you're reacting to a specific ingredient. Allergy to parabens isn't uncommon, yet it's found in a lot of shampoos.
posted by hydrophonic at 9:28 PM on November 2, 2009

You need to switch to a gentle cleansing shampoo, and you really don't really need to condition your hair since it's so short. It might be the conditioner in the shampoo that's making you break out. Anyway, there's TONS of mild/gentle cleansing shampoos at any store, you just have to look for them. If you want to go cheapo, Suave even makes one. I think some of the gentler shampoos use the term "daily clarifying." If there is a Wholefoods near you, I buy their house brand of natural shampoo which works great without stripping my hair of it's natural oils and it costs around 2 or 3 dollars.

On preview, Hydrophonic brings up a good point about parabens, which is another good thing about natural shampoo...they don't contain them.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:35 PM on November 2, 2009

Oh and you really don't need to be washing your hair more than every other day. My boyfriend washes his hair once or twice a week and I've never noticed it smelling funky and I'd certainly say something if it did.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:37 PM on November 2, 2009

Wash your hair twice a week and experiment with shampoos that annoy your skin less. I like Aveda's shampoos. And seconding the suggestion to drop the conditioner completely, as you say your hair's short.

And by the way, I've never, ever met somebody whose hair/head actually smelled bad. Even people with natural dreadlocks. Mind you, these people all, at least, rinsed their heads with water nightly to wash the sweat away.
posted by Netzapper at 9:42 PM on November 2, 2009

What about doing an apple cider vinegar rinse? I only very rarely use shampoo; I use a double-conditioner no-shampoo method every other day to wash/condition (I need all the conditioning I can get because of my hair's texture and length, but that doesn't sound like your case), then I use a rinse of apple cider vinegar (mixed 50/50 with water) about every 10-14 days to gently cleanse out any additional build-up. Apple cider vinegar is great for clarifying your hair without stripping it -- and, as a bonus, can be helpful in controlling dandruff. (Just be careful not to get it in your eyes!)

Also, don't worry about the vinegar smell. You'll smell like a tossed salad in the shower, but as long as you rinse it out thoroughly, there's no lingering vinegar scent after your hair dries.
posted by scody at 9:43 PM on November 2, 2009

If you go the natural route, I would also be careful there. Some natural shampoos have a lot of oils in them. I noticed when I used them that I got a lot more acne on my forehead even though I was rinsing out the shampoo really well. Have you tried baby shampoo? Those are pretty mild.

I would shampoo after swimming. I don't think it's good to leave chlorine on your hair too long. It can lighten your hair and make it brittle over time.
posted by bluefly at 9:44 PM on November 2, 2009

I haven't used shampoo at all for about, hmmm, seven years because of a psoriasis and skin-in-general meltdown. I wash my hair every day, but just with water. I was told your hair will naturally stabilise grease levels, and you know what? It works (for short hair, anyway). My skin got better, but I never went back.

Shampoo is not needed for short hair. Just wash it. If it smells, there's some other problem going on.
posted by smoke at 9:51 PM on November 2, 2009

Also, for people who don't shampoo or shampoo infrequently, what is the rule with pool swimming--is that a situation that one would shampoo after no matter what to purge the chlorine?

I wash my hair pretty much only when I swim or am travelling. It's good to have good shampoo for the pool, I like the Aubrey Organics brands and use shampoo/conditioner. The reasoning behind this is twofold: chlorine is pretty tough on your hair, and the chlorine smell is pretty sticky in hair. I'm not sure what I'd do about the dandruff, but I'd second trying a vinegar rinse to see if that helps with flakey scalp stuff.

I'm pretty partial to natural smells as these things go, but unless you're a real sweater or smoker, normal smelling hair is usually fine even after half a week or more.
posted by jessamyn at 9:58 PM on November 2, 2009

dr. bronners problem solved
posted by low affect at 9:58 PM on November 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

I doubt your hair carries the smell of the shampoo for that long anyway, so I second what the others have said above, but also add that Lush has some really nice hair care products including solid shampoo bars, and they are not as expensive as Aveda but still contain lots of natural ingredients.

Also, the person you're dating is probably hot on your pheremones and good old Head and Shoulders can even be drowning out the smell of the good stuff!

So don't let smelling "good" hold you back, the person you're dating probably consciously or subconsciously likes it when your natural smells come through.
posted by pick_the_flowers at 9:59 PM on November 2, 2009

(that should have been unconsciously, not sub, SORRY!)
posted by pick_the_flowers at 10:05 PM on November 2, 2009

Another non-shampoo-er here. The only times I ever shampoo are:

a) Before some event where I wanna look good, because hair gel/mouse works better on shampooed hair.
b) The morning before a haircut, as a courtesy to my barber

I do wash my hair daily with water only. And no-one has ever complained about it smelling. My girlfriends are always shocked to find out that I don't shampoo -- they stick their hair in my nose, sniff hard and always go "Noooooo...really? You're lying!"
posted by randomstriker at 10:20 PM on November 2, 2009

they stick their hair in my nose

oops, I meant to say that "they stick their nose in my hair".
posted by randomstriker at 10:21 PM on November 2, 2009

Another ingredient to look out for/potentially avoid is sulfates (sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate). They are in ALL major brand shampoos, and some people are sensitive or allergic to them. I like Abba brand shampoos personally, but there are a lot of sulfate-free shampoos available these days.
posted by so_gracefully at 11:51 PM on November 2, 2009

Seconding that you may wish to find shampoos that do not contain parabens or sulfates, and adding that silicone (the ingredient name may vary, but generally ends in -cone) is also in many major brand shampoos and that specifically is what used to give me terrible scalp problems. I've had good luck with Giovanni shampoo (available at most drugstores, Shaws supermarkets, and health food stores) as well as Aveda (salon) and Body Shop. As for frequency, I have thin hair and an oily scalp, so I have to shampoo more frequently than others, but friends with thick hair and less of an oil problem shampoo either twice a week, weekly, or not at all. YMMV.
posted by pammeke at 3:53 AM on November 3, 2009

I was using Pantene 2 in 1 Shampoo and Conditioner for a while, and getting terrible acne on my neck and forehead. I think stopped using the 2 in 1 and switched to a Pantene shampoo i.e. without the conditioner.

Result? The acne is gone.

Try head and shoulders shampoo without conditioner and see if the problem goes away.
posted by knapah at 5:25 AM on November 3, 2009

I sometimes break out from shampoo as well, but notice a substantial improvement if I just wash my hair first, and my face afterwards.
posted by something something at 6:34 AM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Dr. Bronners suggestion. Totally different than any other shampoo / soap I have used. It is the only soap / shampoo product I use now.
posted by cjemmott at 7:40 AM on November 3, 2009

Thirding Dr. Bronner's. Try their Baby Mild Liquid Soap. You can find it at natural food stores.
posted by jocelmeow at 8:16 AM on November 3, 2009

Try The Body Shop shampoos - they have various kinds for different kinds of hair, ginger might be good because it takes into account sensitive skin
posted by assasinatdbeauty at 8:45 AM on November 3, 2009

I have had this exact problem with Head and Shoulders. I have never had any problem with any other shampoo. It is the only dandruff and 2-in-1 I have ever used, so I would suggest trying any other shampoo.

I have also heard that 2-in-1's are not any good anyway. Shampoo is takes grease off your hair, and conditioner adds moisture. How are they supposed to do it at the same time? My theory is: by being gross stuff that causes me acne.
posted by Gor-ella at 8:53 AM on November 3, 2009

Whenever people are having hair/scalp/skin problems I always like to jump in a recommend co-washing. A long time ago I learned that SLS (Sodium Laurel/Laureth Sulfate) really aggravated acne and oiliness on my face and back/chest (and also SLS in toothpaste gave me canker sores. Who knew?), and it's usually the second ingredient in most shampoos, face washes and everything else we like to use to keep ourselves looking and smelling fresh.

But regarding co-washing, as I wrote in my other posts about it - my hair is cleaner, less static prone, less oily and (since you mentioned worrying about it) it SMELLS BETTER too.

Since your hair is short you can just wet your hair, smear cheap conditioner (and cheap ones do work the best. Go ahead and get the best smelling cheapo stuff) all over (no need to vigorously rub) and go on with your shower. Rinse it off at the end of your shower. Nice smelling clean hair with no acne aggravating ingredients.
posted by wiretap at 11:21 AM on November 3, 2009

I have short hair and wash my hair with a bar of soap when I do wash it. I use Cetaphil soap because, in theory, it doesn't clog pores, and I have acne issues to begin with.
posted by phrakture at 11:36 AM on November 3, 2009

Head and Shoulders 2 in 1 contains a conditioner that coats the hair to make it less frizzy. It also can make hair need more frequent washing. I suggest you try a shampoo -- maybe even H and S -- without conditioner.
posted by wryly at 4:40 PM on November 3, 2009

« Older stepmom advice   |   Painted into a corner, I fear Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.