How To Get Rid of Tension Bumps on Scalp: Will They Go Away?

An attractive African woman with an itchy scalp wearing a rose-colored dress with synthetic hair.

Many ladies who wear their hair in tight protective styles develop tension bumps on their scalps. It’s more common than you may think, but that doesn’t make these bumps any easier to deal with.

If you want to eliminate those tension bumps, there are several things you can try. In this article, we’ll share several remedies you can try at home, doctor-approved solutions, and more. Soon, you’ll have a bump-free scalp.

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What Are Tension Bumps, and What Causes Them?

Tension bumps appear on the scalp in response to trauma of some kind. The scientific term for tension bumps found on the scalp is “scalp folliculitis.”

It’s a condition usually caused by a fungal or bacterial infection that invades the follicles after trauma to the scalp. You’re at high risk of developing tension bumps if you wear your hair in tight styles, from sleek ponytails to braided styles.

Several things could be to blame for scalp folliculitis, and they include: 

  • Wearing your hair in any tight hairstyle: ponytails, braids, or any other style that puts tension on any of your hair (e.g., a tight bun). 
  • Manipulating your follicles by scratching or pulling on your hair. 
  • Wearing hats often. The pressure from repetitive wear can irritate your scalp follicles and lead to damage which can progress to scalp folliculitis.
  • Buildup from hair products. 
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Tension bumps are commonly seen with braided styles, including micro braids, lemonade braids, and box braids. You’re likely to get these bumps if you get your hair done at an African braiding salon.

African braiders often focus more on the final look of the style than the health of the client’s hair and scalp. That’s why tension bumps, and even actual scalp sores, are regularly seen with braided styles done by Africans.

For most people, tension bumps are short-lived, but some will deal with them on an ongoing basis. The problem that creeps up with tension bumps is that when they’re caused by bacteria or fungi, they tend to spread.

And when that happens, the condition can worsen without prompt treatment. But most of the time, the condition gets better at home with the proper treatment.

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Symptoms of Scalp Folliculitis

Before you get to treating your scalp folliculitis, you should take steps to help determine whether you do indeed have it. Though only a doctor can make a sure diagnosis, this section will help you out.

Typical tension bump symptoms include: 

  • Small red bumps along your hairline or stress points on your scalp. Most people get tension bumps along their hairline, though, as this is usually the area that suffers the most tension. As the infection sets in and evolves, the bumps could take on a yellowish tint. In advanced scalp folliculitis, you may notice some yellow fluid draining from the bumps. 
  • Itchiness in the area of the bumps. The itching may be so severe that you scratch constantly. Scratching can spread the infection to new hair follicles and prolong the condition. 
  • A feeling of stinging or burning that may worsen when you touch the bumps. 

How To Get Rid of Tension Bumps on Scalp

Black lady with a great smile suffering from scalp irritation and braid bumps after wearing a tight protective hairstyle.

By this point, you should have a good idea of what you’re dealing with on your scalp. And if you do indeed have tension bumps, there are several things that you can do to get rid of them.

In this section, we’ll share with you 6 pro tips to get rid of tension bumps quickly. 

1. Relieve the Tension

The first step in remedying tension bumps is to relieve the tension on your scalp. If you’re wearing your hair in tight braids, loosen them up or take them down.

For sleek styles that pull on your edges, remove the elastics and wet your hair down to break up the gel cast (if it exists). Releasing the tension from your follicles will help to reduce inflammation and allow your follicles a chance to recover.

If you have somewhere to go, you will need to restyle your hair after taking it down. Use the following tips to keep scalp tension to a minimum: 

  • If you usually wear your hair with a part to one side, switch it to the other side. Doing so will minimize tension on the affected area. 
  • Choose a style that keeps your hair free and lets it hang. If you can go without a hair tie or holding products, do so. And if you can’t go without product, use as little as you can. Styles like Bantu knot-outs, wash n’ gos, and twist-outs are considered low-tension styles. Flexi rod sets are also a good option, especially for those transitioning from relaxed to natural hair
    • Note: When styling your hair, be as gentle as possible. If you’ll be using rollers, don’t roll them tight to your scalp. This creates tension that can make the tension bumps worse. 
  • Consider a comfortably fitting wig. Don’t use the combs or any heavy-duty holding sprays or gels to secure it. Your scalp follicles will thank you. 

For at least a few weeks, you should stay away from any styles that pull on your hair.

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How To Loosen Your Braids

Many wouldn’t dream of taking down their braids, given the fact that they can be extremely expensive. But some will consider loosening them up a bit.

Before we get into how to loosen your braids, we’d like to drive the point home that it’s not always possible to loosen them.

Moreover, even if you are successful in loosening your braids a bit, it may not be enough to alleviate the pressure on your follicles.

Here are some ways you can attempt to loosen your braids: 

  1. Use a leave-in spray. If you have a slippery leave-in conditioner on hand, spray it on your roots to make them slick. Then massage your roots with the pads of your fingers to relieve some tension. If massaging your scalp is too painful, try loosening the braids a different way. 
  2. Apply oil to your hair and slip the tail of a rat tail comb underneath the tight parts of the braids. Take your time with this step and if it becomes too painful, stop immediately. The oil will help soften the braids so that they can be manipulated without a lot of effort. 
  3. Hop in the shower and saturate your hair with water. Make the water as hot as you can take it – it will create steam, which will help to increase your hair’s elasticity. While the water runs onto your hair and scalp, begin gently massaging your scalp wherever there are bumps.

Before you try to loosen your braids, it’s important to know that the process of loosening your braids can ruin them. Any time you wet down your braids, you can end up with frizz, and the introduction of water can shorten the longevity of your style.

If you add to that the fact that the loosening process is not guaranteed to work, you may find that taking them down completely is a better option overall.

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2. Promote Pus Drainage

Pus drainage is part of the body’s defense against bacterial or fungal invasion. That’s why you may notice yellow pus coming out of the bumps. If this is happening in your particular case, you should encourage this drainage to speed up the healing process.

Here’s how you can do it: 

  1. Wet a small to medium-sized towel with warm water. Ensure that the towel is very clean – you don’t want to introduce more germs to the bumps. 
  2. Hold the towel over the bumpy area for a few minutes and gently wipe away any pus that drains out. 
  3. Repeat this process up to three times a day. 

This method will only be helpful if the bumps have a white tip or have been draining before.

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3. Use an Anti-fungal Shampoo

Since tension bumps may be caused by a fungal infection of the hair follicles, anti-fungal shampoo can help clear it up in a hurry.

Anti-fungal shampoos may be medicated with one or more anti-fungal ingredients, including coconut oil, emu oil, and more. They may also contain medications such as Ketoconazole, which work to reduce fungal growth and eliminate the symptoms that it brings on.

You must use anti-fungal shampoo regularly to reap its benefits. The frequency will depend on the specific shampoo you buy.

Some manufacturers recommend using it several times a week, while others instruct users to use it less often. Reference the product packaging for usage instructions.

4. Try Cortisone Cream

Cortisone cream is a steroid cream that can give you some relief from inflammation, itching, and burning. It works by reducing your body’s natural defenses. You can purchase it at most drugstores or online without a prescription.

For mild tension bumps, apply the cream to your clean skin once or twice a day.

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5. Keep the Area Clean

Because tension bumps thrive on bacteria, it’s crucial to keep the bumpy area clean. You may be tempted to leave it alone since the site may be painful to the touch, but cleanliness is vital in this case.

But equally important is what you use to cleanse the area. Use an antibacterial soap to keep bacteria under control and don’t overuse the product; washing the site once or twice a day will be sufficient. Over-cleansing can make the area more oily and unsightly.

6. Try an Antibacterial Ointment

Antibacterial ointments like Neosporin or Polysporin can help reduce the number of bacteria on your scalp. But not only that; they also protect your skin from outside bacteria by creating a barrier against external elements. Apply your antibacterial ointment to the bumps a couple of times per day.

What Happens if You Do Nothing?

If you do nothing about the tension bumps, there are a couple of things that can happen to your hair and scalp. Tension bumps are considered an infection, and if they’re not treated, they can balloon into a systemic infection (though this is rare).

Systemic infections come along with more severe symptoms, including: 

  • A progression of the rash. In the beginning, the rash may only be in a specific area, but once the infection progresses, it may spread over a wider surface area. 
  • A fever. As a response to the infection, your body will raise its temperature. A fever is a sure sign that the infection is getting worse. 
  • An odor emanating from the bumps. A foul smell is another sign of a worsening scalp bump infection. The scent may be like nothing you’ve ever smelled before, but some liken it to ammonia. If the bumps smell, no matter how often you cleanse them, that’s a sign of a more serious infection. 

Most people who get scalp tension bumps won’t deal with symptoms like these. However, if your immune system cannot fight off the infection well, and you don’t do anything about it, you could experience more severe symptoms.

When that happens, you need to call a doctor immediately for professional guidance.

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How Long Until the Bumps Go Away?

One of your first thoughts after noticing the bumps may have been, “when will these go away?” It’s a good question that, unfortunately, doesn’t have a straight answer.

The healing time for tension bumps varies based on your unique chemical makeup, which remedies you try, and more. So, there’s no definite estimate for how long it will take for your specific bumps to go away.

However, the general healing time for scalp bumps is up to a month. Over that time, whatever is causing the bumps will have resolved.

Sometimes the bumps will go away and return. If that happens, you’ll have to take a hard look at your hair care routine and anything that could be affecting your scalp. Contact dermatitis, poison oak, and cysts can all cause bumps to appear on the scalp.

These bumps can and often do leave scars that can be difficult to deal with. These scars can take months to fade.

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When To See a Professional for Tension Bump Treatment

It can be difficult to tell when you need professional help with tension bumps, mainly because they can resolve on their own. So, we’d like to help you determine when you may need some outside help.

The wait-and-see method works in some cases but waiting until the bumps spread is not recommended. Instead, we encourage you to try one or more of the remedies outlined in this article and see whether they work for you.

If these don’t work over the course of a couple of weeks, it may be time to reach out to a professional.

You can see a doctor in person or set up a virtual visit and use your camera to show the doctor your bumps. They will then craft a tailored treatment plan to help you get rid of the bumps quickly and without any significant setbacks.

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Prevent Tension Bumps in the Future

After getting rid of the tension bumps, we’ll bet you never want them to return. But if you don’t take any preventive measures, they can surely come back.

In this section, we’d like to give you some actionable tips you can use to prevent tension bumps in the future. 

  1. Never wear your hair in tight styles. Keeping your hair follicles free of tension is the single best way to prevent tension bumps. So, if you’re serious about keeping tension bumps from coming back, you will ensure that you don’t irritate those follicles. Before you get your hair done professionally, be sure to let the stylist know that you don’t want your hair to be braided or styled tightly. Also, be very careful when you’re doing your hair on your own. Take down tight styles if they cause your head to ache or if you find it difficult to frown. 
  2. Be mindful of how heavy your styles are. Even if the roots of your hair aren’t pulled tight, if your braids are long and heavy, they can weigh down and irritate your roots. This is the perfect recipe for tension bumps. 
  3. Always take breaks between protective styles. Wearing your hair in protective style after protective style can quickly jumpstart tension bumps. After taking down a protective style, you should let your hair follicles rest for at least a week (preferably two) before restyling. 
  4. Avoid scratching your scalp. Scratching your scalp can result in cuts to the skin. These cuts are openings for bacteria and fungi to get in and cause scalp folliculitis. If your scalp itches at any time, gently pat the itchy area instead of scratching. 
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Scalp folliculitis can be a real drag to deal with, considering it’s an eyesore that can worsen over time. But if you take the steps outlined in this article, your chances of resolving it without medical intervention increase considerably.

We hope that we’ve made it easier to treat your tension bumps, and we encourage you to follow the preventive tips in the previous section to keep the dreaded bumps away. Good luck!

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