- Forehead acne occurs when pores become clogged with dirt, excess oil or dead cells, resulting in bacteria growth.
- Factors that can contribute to, or worsen, forehead acne include hormones, diet, hygiene, clothing and beauty products.
- Forehead acne can be effectively treated with over-the-counter or prescription medications, and to a lesser extent, home remedies.
- Combining a targeted skin care routine with some simple lifestyle changes can help prevent the formation of forehead acne.
Forehead acne is a skin condition that most commonly affects adolescents, but can occur at any stage of life. It is usually a result of excess oil production, which tends to cause breakouts by blocking pores.
Many people who suffer from forehead acne experience embarrassment and low self-esteem. However, there are many solutions available to both treat and prevent forehead acne including over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medication.
Causes Behind Forehead Acne and Pimples
Regardless of where your acne appears, it is always the result of blocked pores. This is often due to overactive sebaceous glands. Sebum is a natural oil which protects and lubricates the skin, but when produced in excess (often due to factors like hormones and diet) it can trap bacteria in pores, causing inflammation and redness.
Forehead acne, in particular, can develop or worsen due to a range of factors, including wearing makeup or hats, or excessively touching the skin. The T-zone, which includes the forehead, nose, and chin, is significantly oilier than the rest of their face, making blemishes more likely to appear. These types of blemishes include:
The symptoms of acne can range from mild to severe. Whiteheads and blackheads are mild forms of acne; pustules, nodules and cysts are inflammatory forms that are more severe and can lead to complications such as scarring.
Hormones can increase the amount of sebum the skin produces. As hormones fluctuate most during puberty, adolescents tend to suffer from acne more frequently. In adulthood, women are more widely affected than men.
Many women experience forehead breakouts related to their menstrual cycle, as estrogen levels rise. Similarly, during menopause, soaring testosterone levels can send sebaceous glands into overdrive. Other conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome and increased androgen levels can also cause forehead acne in women.
For men, forehead acne can be a result of high testosterone levels, which overstimulate oil glands and lead to clogged pores.
Diet and digestive issues
While the causes of forehead acne vary, studies have shown a relationship between diet and acne. Foods that are heavily processed can trigger inflammation and disturb gut pathogens. This has a systemic effect that can manifest as acne on the forehead.
The foods most commonly associated with inflammation and acne include:
- Milk and dairy products
- Refined carbohydrates
- Refined sugars
- Fast foods
These foods have a high glycemic load and are known to elevate insulin levels. Insulin stimulates the secretion of androgens and can cause an increase in sebum production.
Hats and clothing
Acne mechanica is a type of acne that is brought on by heat, sweat, pressure or friction to the skin. This type of acne will commonly be seen in those who wear hats, helmets or headbands on a regular basis. Athletes and those active in sports are particularly prone, as are people who wear protective headwear for long periods of time at work.
Irritation from cosmetics and hair products
Some ingredients in makeup can clog pores and lead to forehead breakouts. So too can hair styling products such as gels, waxes or hair sprays, as these can prompt the development of forehead pimples by trapping bacteria in pores. This is referred to as pomade acne.
Best Treatments for Forehead Acne
There are many different treatments for forehead acne. They work by reducing oil production, speeding up skin cell turnover, fighting bacterial infection or reducing inflammation. While (OTC) treatments are effective, prescription medications may be necessary in more severe cases. Natural home remedies can also be effective in reducing redness and inflammation.
When choosing an OTC treatment such as a facial cleanser, cream or gel, look for products formulated with active ingredients specifically designed to treat acne:
- Salicylic acid
- Differin (adapalene)
- Benzoyl peroxide
- Glycolic acid
Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) derived from natural sources such as willow tree bark. As an oil-soluble acid exfoliant, it penetrates deep into pores to loosen clogs and clear out excess oil. Salicylic acid is commonly found in acne cleansers, but a variety of products such as exfoliants, serums or toners are also formulated with this acid.
Adapalene is a topical retinoid, derived from vitamin A. When applied to the affected area, topical retinoids can unclog pores and allow other medications to work more effectively. They also improve skin cell turnover and eliminate the buildup of dead cells.
Topical retinoids have been proven effective for treating both inflammatory and noninflammatory acne. Adapalene is available in a gel formula and without a prescription, unlike some stronger retinoids.
Benzoyl peroxide is an acne-fighting ingredient found in cleansers, gels and spot treatments. It treats acne by killing bacteria, exfoliating dead skin cells and eliminating excess oil. Benzoyl peroxide works especially well for inflammatory types of acne, including papules, nodules, and cysts.
Start with a low-strength product to prevent further irritation, redness, and dry skin. If needed, you can then slowly increase the strength and frequency of use of products.
Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that is used most often in chemical peels, but it can also be found in OTC cleansers, toners, and creams. By acting as an exfoliant, it promotes cell turnover and helps wash away dead skin cells and other debris, reducing the likelihood of clogged pores and acne.
Prescription treatments for forehead acne
If OTC treatments aren’t effective, a dermatologist can prescribe a stronger medication. Prescription medications for acne are usually taken orally, in tablet or capsule form. They are more potent than topical treatments because they can access your cells directly through the bloodstream, and are more easily absorbed by the body.
The three main types of prescription medications used to treat forehead acne are:
- Hormone-based therapies
Antibiotics such as tetracycline and macrolide work to fight acne by reducing bacteria and inflammation. To prevent antibiotic resistance, these medications should be used for the shortest time possible. They are often combined with topical treatments such as retinoids and benzoyl peroxide.
Isotretinoin is the most effective treatment for moderate-to-severe acne. It significantly reduces sebum production by up to 90% within six weeks. It also influences cell-cycle progression (it increases the rate at which new skin cells develop to replace old, damaged ones) and has anti-inflammatory properties.
Hormone-based therapies, including contraceptive pills, help regulate hormonal imbalances that can cause acne. These medications are proven effective for most women who suffer from forehead acne. However, there are potential risks and side effects that should be discussed with your doctor.
While prescription medications are stronger, they are often slow-acting; keep in mind that it can take weeks or months of consistent use before you see improvements.
A word about forehead acne scars
Some professional procedures can effectively reduce the appearance of acne scars on the forehead. In cases of mild scarring, and with the right procedure and intensity, scarring can be erased completely:
Home Remedies for Forehead Acne
Home remedies are unlikely to get rid of acne completely, but they can provide some relief of mild-to-moderate symptoms such as redness, inflammation or itching.
To treat forehead acne at home, apply one of the following ingredients to the affected area with a clean cotton pad.
- Aloe vera
- Apple cider vinegar (mix 1 tsp with 3 tsp water)
- Lemon juice
- Lime juice
- Raw honey
- Tea tree oil (diluted; 1 drop pure tea tree oil to 12 drops carrier oil)
Overnight face mask for forehead acne
For a soothing natural treatment, consider an overnight face mask made with honey and cinnamon.
Honey has strong antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which reduce redness and relieves discomfort. Cinnamon has antifungal, antibacterial and antioxidant properties that work together to fight acne-causing bacteria.
- 3 tbsp raw, organic honey
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- Combine honey and cinnamon in a bowl to form a paste
- Apply the mixture in a thin layer to the affected area of your forehead
- Leave overnight or for a minimum of 1–2 hours
- Rinse off with warm water and follow with your usual skin care routine
- Repeat as often as needed until acne improves
Due to its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, this mask is most likely to work on inflammatory acne, including papules and pustules, and not on noninflammatory acne such as blackheads.
How to Prevent Forehead Acne
Forehead acne can be is preventable when lifestyle and hygiene are contributing factors:
- Wash your face twice a day with a gentle cleanser formulated for acne-prone skin; avoid scrubbing as this can aggravate acne
- Look for noncomedogenic makeup and skincare that won’t clog pores.
- Wash headwear such as hats or helmets regularly
- Wash hair regularly and keep it away from your face; if hair is oily, avoid hairstyles with bangs.
- Minimize contact between hair styling products and the skin on your forehead.
- Avoid touching your face with your hands (and wash your hands thoroughly before applying skin care or makeup) to prevent transferring bacteria to skin
- Eat a diet rich in whole, natural foods including fruits, vegetables, green tea, omega-3 fats and dietary fiber to reduce inflammation
Skin care routine to prevent forehead acne
A good daily skin care routine can help prevent forehead acne by removing excess oil and keeping pores clear.
- Wash your face with a gentle cleanser containing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide
- Use a mild toner or astringent to remove excess oil and hydrate skin
- Apply topical OTC or prescription medications, as directed
- Apply an oil-free, noncomedogenic moisturizer (gels and lotions are lighter than creams)
- Protect skin with sunscreen every day; this is particularly important as some acne treatments can cause photosensitivity or increase your sensitivity to the sun
Other Conditions That May Cause Forehead Breakouts
In addition to acne, other conditions can cause forehead acne:
- Contact dermatitis is a reaction due to irritating substances, such as laundry detergent on materials such as wool or nylon
- Rosacea, an inflammatory skin condition that affects the face, typically presents as acne-like bumps, redness and sensitive skin
- Boils are painful, red lumps resulting from infected hair follicles.
- Cellulitis is a bacterial skin infection that forms around a cut or scrape.
While symptoms may be similar to forehead acne, these conditions require a different treatment approach.
Forehead acne, like all acne, develops when the skin’s pores become blocked with oil, bacteria and dead skin. Forehead acne presents in the form of pimples or blemishes, which can develop or worsen due to a range of factors. These include hormones, diet and exposure to irritants, such as clothing and cosmetics.
There are many effective treatments available for forehead acne. For mild-to-moderate cases, OTC treatments containing active ingredients such as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide can provide relief by clearing pores, killing bacteria and drying out skin.
For more severe cases, prescription medications such as antibiotics, isotretinoin or contraceptive pills are proven highly effective. Home remedies can provide soothing relief by alleviating symptoms such as redness and inflammation.
While some trial and error may be required to find the most effective treatment, there are many simple changes you can make to reduce the likelihood and severity of breakouts. These include implementing a good skin care routine, eating a healthy diet, and paying attention to how your skin reacts to certain clothing and products.
- Choi, C.W., Choi, J.W., Park, K.C., & Youn, S.W. (2011) Facial sebum affects the development of acne, especially the distribution of inflammatory acne. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-3083.2011.04384.x
- Decker, A., & Graber, E. M. (2012). Over-the-counter Acne Treatments: A Review. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3366450/
- Kucharska, A., Szmurło, A., & Sińska, B. (2016). Significance of diet in treated and untreated acne vulgaris. Postepy dermatologii i alergologii, 33(2), 81–86. doi:10.5114/ada.2016.59146
- Burris J, Rietkerk W, Woolf K. Acne: the role of medical nutrition therapy. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013 Mar;113(3):416-30. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2012.11.016
- Bowe, W. P., & Logan, A. C. (2011). Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis – back to the future?. Gut pathogens, 3(1), 1. doi:10.1186/1757-4749-3-1
- (2008). What is the Role of Benzoyl Peroxide Cleansers in Acne Management?: Do they Decrease Propionibacterium acnes Counts? Do they Reduce Acne Lesions?. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 1(4), 48–51. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3016935/
- Leyden, J., Stein-Gold, L., & Weiss, J. (2017). Why Topical Retinoids Are Mainstay of Therapy for Acne. Dermatology and therapy, 7(3), 293–304. doi:10.1007/s13555-017-0185-2
- Sharad J. (2013). Glycolic acid peel therapy – a current review. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology, 6, 281–288. doi:10.2147/CCID.S34029
- Leyden, J. J., & Del Rosso, J. Q. (2011). Oral antibiotic therapy for acne vulgaris: pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic perspectives. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 4(2), 40–47. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3050614/
- Layton A. (2009). The use of isotretinoin in acne. Dermato-endocrinology, 1(3), 162–169. doi:10.4161/derm.1.3.9364
- Trivedi, M. K., Shinkai, K., & Murase, J. E. (2017). A Review of hormone-based therapies to treat adult acne vulgaris in women. International journal of women’s dermatology, 3(1), 44–52. doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2017.02.018
- InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Which birth control pills can help reduce acne? 2013 Jan 16 [Updated 2019 Sep 26]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279209/
- Mandal, M. D., & Mandal, S. (2011). Honey: its medicinal property and antibacterial activity. Asian Pacific journal of tropical biomedicine, 1(2), 154–160. doi:10.1016/S2221-1691(11)60016-6
- Nabavi, S. F., Di Lorenzo, A., Izadi, M., Sobarzo-Sánchez, E., Daglia, M., & Nabavi, S. M. (2015). Antibacterial Effects of Cinnamon: From Farm to Food, Cosmetic and Pharmaceutical Industries. Nutrients, 7(9), 7729–7748. doi:10.3390/nu7095359