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You can get acne just about anywhere on your body, but forehead acne might be the most annoying—after all, it’s front and center on your face. There’s no escaping it. But what causes forehead acne, and what can you do about it? Let’s dive in.
Causes of acne on forehead
Acne is a skin condition that occurs when hair follicles become blocked or clogged with dead skin cells, oil, or bacteria (NIAMS, 2020). Whether acne appears on your forehead or other areas of your body, it’s usually because of (American Skin Association, 2020):
- Excess oil production from sebaceous glands, which are tiny glands that release sebum or oil to lubricate the skin and hair
- Bacteria growth in the hair follicles
- A build-up of dead skin cells that clog hair follicles
- Inflammation in the skin around the hair follicles
What causes acne?
Acne is one of the most common skin conditions, affecting about 9% of the world’s population (Tan, 2015). Although you can certainly live with acne, research suggests it can contribute to poor body image, self-esteem issues, anxiety, and depression (Heng, 2020).
These factors may contribute to or make you more likely to have acne:
- Family history of acne: Acne runs in families. If your parents or siblings have it, you’re more likely to be acne-prone (Heng, 2022).
- Hormones: Excess production of certain hormones like androgens (“male hormones”), the most critical hormones for regulating oil production, may trigger acne. Hormonal acne can happen during various hormonal changes such as pregnancy, parts of the menstrual cycle, or when you’re stressed. It may also occur due to a hormonal disorder like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) (Elsaie, 2016).
- Medications: Certain medications like steroids, isoniazid, and lithium can trigger acne as a side effect (Kazandjieva, 2017).
- Habits: Certain habits can put you at risk of developing acne. For example, skin or hair products with ingredients that can clog pores (called comedogenic ingredients) can trigger acne on your hairline or forehead.
- Diet: Dairy and high glycemic foods (foods that quickly raise blood sugar levels, like white bread or cake) can worsen acne symptoms (Baldwin, 2020).
Chin acne: what causes it, and how do you get rid of it?
Different types of acne
Here are the types of acne that can appear on the forehead or elsewhere on the body (Pretorious, 2021):
- Whiteheads (aka closed comedones): Here, the clogged pore is closed and looks whitish.
- Blackheads (aka open comedones): This happens when the pore is blocked or clogged but remains open, so air enters and oxidizes the blemish, making it look black.
- Papules: These are tiny, tender pimples that look like red or pink bumps.
- Pustules: These are pimples filled with pus and appear as white or yellow spots.
- Nodules: These appear as solid large painful lumps on the skin.
- Cysts: Also known as cystic acne, cysts are large, painful, pus-filled lumps that can infect surrounding skin areas when they burst.
How to get rid of forehead acne
Finding the right treatment protocol for adult acne can take some trial and error. The best treatment for your forehead acne will depend on (Kraft, 2011):
- What triggered your breakouts
- How severe your acne is
- What type of acne you have
- Your age
- Your treatment preference
- Your response to previous acne treatments
Here are some treatment options a healthcare professional may recommend to you.
Topical skincare products
Topical products are products you apply to your skin like lotions, creams, moisturizers, gels, and soaps that contain any of these active ingredients (or a combination) (Zaenglein, 2016).
- Salicylic acid
- Sulfone agents
- Azelaic acid
- Benzoyl peroxide (BP)
- Other FDA-approved agents for treating acne
A healthcare professional may recommend antibiotics for treating inflammatory acne, which includes papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts.
While experts encourage the use of tetracycline antibiotics as the first-line for treating moderate to severe acne unless contraindicated, it’s best to discuss with your healthcare provider which treatment option could be the best for you (Zaenglein, 2016).
It’s important to note that antibiotics aren’t typically suitable for long-term treatment because bacteria can develop resistance to antibiotics, especially with repeated exposure. Experts recommend using antibiotics for the shortest period possible when treating acne (Zaenglein, 2016).
Prescription acne medication: what are your options?
Acne treatment may include hormonal pills when hormonal changes or disorders contribute to acne breakouts. Options could include birth control pills. Active ingredients for the treatment of hormonal acne can include (Zaenglein, 2016):
Home remedies may help manage mild acne. However, there’s limited evidence on how well they work and what their side effects might be. Some at-home remedies for acne include (Zaenglein, 2016):
- Tea tree oil
- Zinc supplements
- Fish oil
Studies suggest specific foods may be beneficial for improving acne symptoms. These include foods with a low glycemic index, like eggs, whole grains, apples, carrots, broccoli, and omega-3-rich foods like sardines, salmon, and other fatty fish (Baldwin, 2021)
However, there isn’t enough research on foods to improve acne, so experts don’t currently recommend any one diet plan for acne (Zaenglein, 2016).
Body acne: causes, treatments, how to get rid of it
How to prevent acne
Escaping acne can seem challenging, especially on your forehead, where even wearing your favorite hat could be enough to trigger a breakout.
Still, you can reduce contributing factors to forehead acne by following certain habits, including the following:
- Use non-comedogenic skin and hair care products that don’t clog your pores.
- If you eat a lot of sugary or dairy foods, try to cut back on them.
- Follow good face hygiene practices like avoiding touching your face, using face moisturizers for dry skin, washing your hands regularly, etc.
- Avoid using harsh scrubs, cleansers, or soaps on your face when possible, and always moisturize if exfoliating.
- Try to manage your stress levels by including self-care activities like exercising, taking walks, journaling, listening to music, and yoga in your daily routines.
- Change your bedsheets and pillowcases regularly to prevent acne due to bedding.
What is fungal acne? Symptoms, causes, treatments
You can experiment with over-the-counter acne treatments to manage forehead acne. However, seeing a dermatologist is the best way to increase your chances of clearing your forehead acne and learn how to prevent more from cropping up.
- American Skin Association. (2020). Acne. Retrieved from https://www.americanskin.org/resource/acne.php
Baldwin, H. & Tan, J. (2020). Effects of diet on acne and its response to treatment. American Journal Of Clinical Dermatology, 22(1), 55–65. doi:10.1007/s40257-020-00542-y Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40257-020-00542-y
- Elsaie, M. L. (2016). Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an update. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, 9, 241–248. doi:10.2147/CCID.S114830. Retrieved from https://www.dovepress.com/hormonal-treatment-of-acne-vulgaris-an-update-peer-reviewed-fulltext-article-CCID
- Heng, A., Say, Y. H., Sio, Y. Y., et al. (2022). Epidemiological risk factors associated with acne vulgaris presentation, severity, and scarring in a Singapore Chinese population: A cross-sectional study. Dermatology (Basel, Switzerland), 238(2), 226–235. Retrieved from https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/516232#
- Heng, A. H. S. & Chew, F. T. (2020). Systematic review of the epidemiology of acne vulgaris. Scientific Reports, 10, 5754. doi:10.1038/s41598-020-62715-3. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-62715-3
- Kazandjieva, J. & Tsankov, N. (2017). Drug-induced acne. Clinics in Dermatology, 35(2), 156–162. doi:10.1016/j.clindermatol.2016.10.007. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0738081X16302681?via%3Dihub
- Kraft, J. & Freiman, A. (2011). Management of acne. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne, 183(7), E430–E435. doi:10.1503/cmaj.090374. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3080563/
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). (2020). Overview of Acne. Retrieved from https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/acne
- Pretorius, J. (2021) Respective treatment modalities with the use of combined ingredients to address acne-prone skin. Journal of Dermatology Research and Therapy 7, 104. doi:10.23937/2469-5750/1510104. Retrieved from https://www.clinmedjournals.org/articles/ijdrt/journal-of-dermatology-research-and-therapy-ijdrt-7-104.php?jid=ijdrt
- Tan, J. K. & Bhate, K. (2015). A global perspective on the epidemiology of acne. The British Journal of Dermatology, 172, Suppl 1, 3–12. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bjd.13462
- Tan, A. U., Schlosser, B. J., & Paller, A. S. (2017). A review of diagnosis and treatment of acne in adult female patients. International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, 4(2), 56–71. doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2017.10.006. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352647517300862?via%3Dihub
- Zaenglein, A. L., Pathy, A. L., Schlosser, B. J., et al. (2016). Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 74(5), 945–73.e33. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2015.12.037. Retrieved from https://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622%2815%2902614-6/fulltext#secsectitle0060