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Some Leave-in Hair Products May Cause Acne

Certain Leave-in Hair Products and Ingredients in Those Products, Such as Pomades and Some Oils, May Cause Acne

By: Dan Kern, Acne.org Founder & CSO
Last updated: June 06, 2019

The Essential Information

Some leave-in hair products like pomades, hair oils, brilliantine, gels, sprays, and conditioners may contain ingredients that can clog pores and lead to acne breakouts. These breakouts are especially common around the hairline, where the product is most likely to contact the skin.

There are several approaches to preventing breakouts caused from leave-in hair products, including:

  • Avoiding products that contain pore-clogging ingredients
  • Trying out new products using trial-and-error
  • Changing pillowcases regularly and covering the hair before bed with a scarf or bonnet
  • Minimizing hair-to-skin contact
  • Avoiding touching the hair and then touching the skin

The Science

Leave-in hair products include pomades, oils, gels, sprays, mousses, conditioners, brilliantines, and jellies that are applied to and left in the hair. These products may contain ingredients that can be irritating or pore-clogging to already sensitive, acne-prone skin.

When you apply products to your hair, you can inadvertently get some of the product onto your skin, especially at the hairline. You can also transfer them to other parts of the face if you touch your hair and then touch your face. Hair products might also come into contact with your skin from your pillowcase. When you sleep, your hair products can rub off on your pillowcase. Then, when you toss and turn while you sleep, your skin can pick up this hair product.

If leave-in hair products contain ingredients that are comedogenic, meaning that they cause comedones (clogged pores), then they may lead to the formation of acne. Let's have a look at some of the specific ingredients common to hair care products that might aggravate acne.

Leave-in Hair Product Ingredients That Cause Clogged Pores

There are several ingredients that scientists have determined will likely clog pores and result in acne, many of which are found in hair care products. A full list of these comedogenic ingredients can be found below. It is most likely wise for people with acne to avoid the ingredients in list 1, as these are highly likely to cause acne. The ingredients in list 2 may cause acne in some individuals, but there is less research on how comedogenic these ingredients are compared to the ingredients in list 1.

Ingredients That May Clog Pores

Further, hair products that contain higher concentrations of these ingredients are more likely to cause acne than those that contain lower concentrations. To tell how much is in your product requires checking the order of the ingredients listed on the product label since hair care product manufactures are required to provide an ingredient list, and list the ingredients from highest concentration to lowest. So, it is best to make this a habit and consider avoiding the product if any of these comedogenic ingredients are among the first seven (7) ingredients listed, especially if you are acne-prone.

Avoid products that contain a comedogenic ingredient in the first seven ingredients.

Now let's look at some of the common leave-in hair products on the market that may be of particular concern.

Pomades - oil-based pomades are big offenders

Pomades are hair products most commonly used by people of African descent to moisturize and style their hair. Pomades do not dry out after application to the hair and can remain in the hair even after several rounds of shampooing.1 There are two main types of pomades.

  • Oil-based pomades: Oil-based pomades are long lasting, and often can only be removed from the hair with the use of strong shampoos made specifically for oily hair. These types of pomades are more likely to cause acne because they often contain comedogenic ingredients like certain oils and acetylated lanolin.
  • Water-based pomades: Water-based pomades last for a shorter period of time than oil-based pomades because they contain fewer oily substances. Although they are not as capable of shaping and styling the hair and keeping it held in that position as oil-based pomades, they are easier to wash out of the hair and less likely to bring about flareups of acne.2

Oil-based Pomades and Water-based Pomades

Archives of Dermatology

A 1970 study published in Archives of Dermatology examined the ability of five different oil-based pomades to cause acne in 735 men of color. The researchers found that daily use of oil-based pomades resulted in numerous whiteheads around the temples and forehead. Additionally, they found that applying the pomade directly to the skin resulted in the formation of clogged pores and inflammatory acne. Therefore, oil-based pomades should be avoided.3,4

Pure oils used on hair and acne

People use oils as protective agents for hair, since some oils can help repair dry and damaged hair, protect the hair from additional damage, and impart shine to the hair.1,4 However, several of these oils range from slightly to highly comedogenic and can cause acne, including:

  • Linseed oil
  • Cocoa butter
  • Coconut oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Olive oil
  • Sweet almond oil
  • Amla oil
  • Brahmi amla oil

People with acne-prone skin should avoid using these oils altogether. If that is not an option, carefully avoid the skin around the hairline during application.5

Oils to Avoid in Hair Products

Brilliantine

Brilliantine is a perfumed oily liquid that can be added to a man's hair to soften it or give it a shiny appearance. However, like pomades, brilliantine is a greasy product, and research has found that it can cause acne in some people.5

Hair gels, sprays, mousses - avoid the ones with comedogenic ingredients

Hair gels, hair sprays, and mousses are all leave-in hair products that are used for styling and shaping of the hair. Unlike pomades, these products are designed to dry once on the hair and often contain comedogenic ingredients like lanolin derivatives and isopropyl palmitate. So it is advisable for people with acne-prone skin to check the product labels for comedogenic ingredients, and avoid hair gels, sprays, or mousses that contain them.6,7

Leave-in conditioners - avoid the ones with comedogenic ingredients

Leave-in hair conditioners are hair products used on wet or dry hair to moisturize the hair. Contrary to regular, rinse-out conditioners, leave-in conditioners are designed to stay on the hair until the next shampooing. They can contain comedogenic ingredients like certain oils that, if left on the hair, may cause breakouts. Therefore, people with sensitive or acne-prone skin should be cautious when choosing these products.3,8

Vaseline® - should be OK

Vaseline®, or petroleum jelly, is a common ingredient found in several cosmetic and hair products. While several older research studies concluded that petroleum jelly causes clogged pores/acne, more recent research has determined that it is safe for acne-prone skin.5

Tips for Preventing Acne Caused by Hair Products

Both men and women use hair styling products extensively, so elimination of these products from a daily beauty routine is not feasible for most individuals. However, there are some ways in which people with acne-prone skin can decrease their risk of developing acne from hair styling products.

  1. Avoiding comedogenic ingredients: Always check the product labels on hair products and, if a product contains comedogenic ingredients, particularly in the first seven ingredients on the label, then avoid that product or limit its use.
  2. Choosing new products through trial-and-error: If breakouts occur after using a new product, discard that product and attempt to find something that will not cause breakouts.
  3. Changing pillowcases regularly: Leave-in hair products can rub off on a pillowcase during sleep and then transfer to the skin. Changing pillowcases on a regular basis decreases the chance that ingredients left on the pillowcase will come into contact with the face.
  4. Covering the hair before bed: Wrapping the hair with a cover, like a hair scarf or bonnet, before bed will limit hair-to-face contact and decrease the likelihood that leave-in hair products will contact the face and cause acne.
  5. Minimizing hair-to-face contact: Certain hairstyles, like bangs, cause hair and leave-in hair products to contact the face more regularly. Choosing hairstyles that minimize hair-to-face contact decreases the chance that comedogenic ingredients from hair products will contact the face and cause acne.
  6. Avoiding touching hair: Touching the hair can transfer leave-in hair products to the hands. Then, these hands may inadvertently touch the face, transferring the leave-in hair products to the face. Avoiding touching the hair can prevent the transfer of these products to the face.

Six Ways to Reduce the Risk of Acne from Haircare Products.

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References:

  1. Gavazzoni Dias, M. F. Hair cosmetics: an overview. Int J Trichol 7, 2 - 15 (2015).
  2. Pomade, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomade>
  3. Davis, E. C. & Callender, V. D. A review of acne in ethnic skin: pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, and management strategies. Journal Clin Aesthet Dermatol 3, 24 - 38 (2010).
  4. Plewig, G., Fulton, J. E. & Kligman, A. M. Pomade acne. Arch Dermatol 101, 580 - 4 (1970).
  5. Kligman, A. M. & Mills, O. H. Acne cosmetia. Arch Dermatol 106, 843 - 850 (1972).
  6. Hairstyling product, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hairstyling_product>
  7. Corbett, J. F. The chemistry of hair-care products. J Soc Dyers Col 92, 285 - 303 (1976).
  8. Alessandrini, A. & Piraccini, B. M. Essential of hair care cosmetics. Cosmetics 3, 34 (2016).
  9. Kligman, A. M. Petrolatum is not comedogenic in rabbits or humans: A critical reappraisal of the rabbit ear assay and the concept of "acne cosmetic." J Soc Cosmet Chem 47, 41 - 48 (1996).

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