Yes, Washing Your Face With Head & Shoulders Can Clear Up Acne—But There’s a Catch

Photo: Getty Images/Laurence Monneret
Different types of acne require different courses of treatment. Deep, cystic pimples require retinoids and anti-inflammatories, while surface-level blackheads respond best to salicylic acid. And if you're dealing with fungal acne, the fix might just be hiding in your trusty old bottle of dandruff shampoo.

Though we tend to be skeptical about TikTok beauty hacks in general, dermatologists say that washing your face with Head & Shoulders—a practice that's been trending on the app lately thanks to a viral video from comedian Elyse Myers—is actually pretty legit. Keep reading to find out why your new favorite cleanser may already be hiding in your shower.

@elysemyersyou ever look at a word so long it starts to look like a made up word? my brain started convincing me ‘zinc’ wasn’t the right spelling by the end of editing this. ?♬ original sound - Elyse Myers

Experts In This Article
  • Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology and associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital
  • Tiffany Libby, MD, board-certified dermatologist in Rhode Island

What to know before washing your face with dandruff shampoo

Before you start slathering your skin with shampoo, it's important to note that this method only works on fungal acne—it likely won't do much for other types of breakouts (hormonal, comedonal, etc).  The reason? Fungal acne isn't technically "acne" at all.

"Fungal acne is also known as pityrosporum folliculitis," explains Joshua Zeichner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City "Especially in warmer climates, high levels of sweat and oil allow normal yeast on the skin to grow to higher than normal leavers. The yeast can then promote inflammation within your hair follicles, leading to red bumps and pus pimples."

With that in mind, it's important to know what to look for in a fungal breakout. According to Tiffany Jow Libby, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and Mohs surgeon at Brown Dermatology,  fungal acne generally presents as red bumps (similar to traditional acne) and whiteheads or blackheads roughly a millimeter in size.

While it can be hard to differentiate between fungal acne and your run-of-the-mill zit, fungal acne tends to be itchy, and often appears on the chest, back, and neck (though it can also occur on the face, which can make it more difficult to identify). One easy way to spot it? You've tried all the usual treatments, and they simply aren't working.  "If you have pus pimples not responding to traditional acne treatments, it could be this condition," says Dr. Zeichner. 

How dandruff shampoo works to fight fungal acne

Dandruff and fungal acne have one major thing in common: Both are caused by an overgrowth of the same skin yeast called Malassezia. When you've got too much of it on your scalp, it can lead to inflammation, itching, and flaking (aka dandruff); when there's a surplus anywhere else on your body (typically your back, neck, and chest), it can cause fungal acne.

Considering the two conditions have the same main culprit—a dermatologist previously referred to seborrheic dermatitis, the most common type of fungal acne, as "facial dandruff"—it makes sense that they also respond to the same treatment. Head & Shoulders (like most other dandruff shampoos) contains an anti-fungal ingredient called zinc pyritheone, which lowers the level of fungus on your skin. When you shampoo your scalp with it, it fights flakes; when you wash your face and body with it, it keeps fungal breakouts at bay.

“There’s little downside to using Head and Shoulders shampoo as a skin wash for fungal acne," says Dr. Zeichner. "It can even be used on people with sensitive skin."

The right way to wash your face with dandruff shampoo

Once you've confirmed that what you're dealing with is, in fact, fungal acne, you're all good to go ahead and repurpose your dandruff shampoo as a cleanser. To do it properly, Dr. Zeichner recommends applying it to the face and allowing the product to sit for around 20 seconds before washing off. This, he explains, allows enough contact time on the skin for it to do its job.

Meanwhile, Dr. Libby suggests applying the shampoo to affected areas for five to 10 minutes every other day. She warns it may take several weeks of consistent use to clear the skin, but says it’s an absolutely “viable solution.” If you're prone to recurrent breakouts, continue using your dandruff shampoo in this fashion once or twice a week (even after your skin is cleared) to keep the condition at bay. 

So if you’re dealing with fungal acne, consider grabbing a bottle of your new favorite facial cleanser: Head & Shoulders Dandruff Shampoo.

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