Nearly everyone has struggled with facial acne at some point — close to 85% of people in the U.S. have experienced acne. But what about breakouts that affect other parts of the body? Body acne rarely gets the same kind of attention, which leaves many people questioning whether their chest, back and even butt acne, is normal.
If you have body acne, you probably experience the same struggle as the rest of us — bacne always shows up at the worst possible time. Just when you’re ready for tank tops, your shoulders break out. When it’s finally warm enough to wear that backless dress, your back looks like it caught the chicken pox. And the sexy bathing suit that motivated you through months of spinning classes? Yup, butt pimples rule that out too.
Body acne often flares up during the summer months. So, what can you do this summer to ensure that body acne doesn’t hold you back? Rest assured, pimples across other regions of the body are quite common — and treatable!
Why Do We Get Body Acne?
Our back, shoulders, and chest are very acne prone. Like facial acne, body acne develops when your pores get plugged up with dead skin and oil. Bacteria grows in these clogged pores and causes pimples. And just like on our face, there are several different types of pimples we can get on our bodies, but the most common are whiteheads, blackheads, and pustules (red pimples with white pus). Cystic acne can also occur on the back and shoulders, and that’s often what leads to permanent scarring.
If you are getting pimples on your butt, groin, or the back of your thighs, it’s possible you have folliculitis, which is different from acne even though it looks very similar. Folliculitis is an inflammation of the hair follicle that’s caused by infection or irritation. This annoying infection typically looks just like a pimple except with a tiny hair at its center. It can happen anywhere you shave, apply chemical irritants (like hair-removing cream), or experience friction.
In short, we get body acne for the same reason we get facial acne, but, like facial acne, there are certain things we can do to prevent these types of breakouts.
Tips For Preventing Body Acne
So, we know body acne is common and (relatively) harmless, but how do we treat it? Here are some easy suggestions.
Use gentle, acne-fighting skincare products. Abrasive scrubs, antibacterial soaps, astringents, rough loofahs, and back scrubbers can all make acne worse. Try a fragrance-free cleanser made for sensitive skin, or one that’s salicylic-based. Many facial cleansers can be used on body acne, but there are also cleansers and sprays specifically formulated for the body.
Change your sheets, pillow cases and towels at least once a week. It may seem excessive, but our sheets, especially those pillow cases, and towels are covered in dead skin cells and oils by the end of the week. In other words, even if you shower right before bed, you’re basically rolling around in an invisible pore-clogging soup. Change your sheets as often as you can and wash them with a fragrance-free detergent.
Change out of your workout clothes & shower ASAP. Sweating itself doesn’t cause acne, but sweaty workout clothes are full of bacteria that will speed up pimple growth. When you’re getting your sweat on, try wearing loose-fitting clothes or something made from a sweat-wicking fabric and never, ever wear dirty workout clothes. Wash that sports bra! Just as importantly, don’t give bacteria a chance to grow and cause pimples, so get in the shower as soon as you can. If showering isn’t an option, try keeping some fragrance-free face wipes with you to wipe down your body and prevent bacteria from staying on your skin.
Wear an oil-free sunscreen. Wearing SPF in the summer is crucial, especially if you have acne. If you feel like most sunscreens are too greasy for your skin, check out this list we compiled! Generally speaking, look for a formula that’s broad spectrum and SPF 30 or higher. It should be labeled as oil-free, non-comedogenic and/or “won’t clog pores.”
Exfoliate a few times a week. Exfoliating, aka using one of those yummy, all-over body scrubs, gets rid of the dead skin cells that combine with oil to clog up your pores. Find a gentle exfoliator designed for sensitive skin and get to work on your skin (gently!). But don’t get too excited — using it every day will cause irritation and make body acne worse, so plan a gentle scrubbing session one or two times a week.
Drugstore Treatments For Stubborn Body Acne
The treatment options for body acne are the same as facial acne. Most people will get results from over-the-counter products. But if your body acne is severe, painful, or cystic, you should make an appointment with your dermatologist.
A great way to target body acne is by using a benzoyl peroxide foaming body and/or face wash. Benzoyl peroxide works by killing pimple-causing bacteria, removing excess oil, and removing dead skin cells. Try starting with a 5% benzoyl peroxide solution and increase the strength if you don’t experience side effects like stinging or dryness. The American Academy of Dermatologists recommends letting the benzoyl peroxide sit on your skin for a few minutes before washing it off. Skin on the body is thicker than the face, so give the drug a little time to seep in. Be warned that benzoyl peroxide is a bleaching agent, so it may turn your towels white.
You can also try a salicylic acid cleanser or cream. Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that dries out oil glands and clears out debris from inside your pores. It also comes in several different strengths, ranging from 0.5–5%. Glycolic acid, a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) is often found in serums, and is another acne-fighting option. Glycolic acid removes dead skin cells, reduces inflammation, helps rejuvenate skin and can reduce the look of acne scars.
Butt pimples, or other pimples caused by folliculitis, will not respond to traditional acne treatment. Instead, a warm moist compress can help drain the infected hair follicles. You should also try applying an antibiotic ointment like Neosporin (although this can be dangerous for regular pimples, so make sure it’s a clogged follicle, not a pimple!) If that doesn’t help, you might need to talk to your dermatologist about oral antibiotics.
Struggling with pimples on your back and shoulders? Here are some helpful tips.
If you have oily hair, try shampooing daily. There’s something to be said about not washing your hair too frequently, but in the summer we sweat and get dirtier faster, so try washing a bit more regularly. Better yet, try keeping your hair up and off your back. To absorb excess oils, use dry shampoo or mix in some baby powder.
Wash your bras as regularly as possible. Our bras sit directly against our skin all day, every day, but they are often overlooked when we do laundry. Bras don’t get dirty like underwear so we tend not to wash them after each use, which can be wise since they wear out quickly. But if your bacne isn’t clearing up, a dirty, sweaty bra could be the culprit.
Avoid backpacks. Friction can irritate hair follicles and contribute to acne. Try a messenger bag or briefcase for work and school, and try the trend-again fanny pack for biking, hiking, or other day trips.
Stopping Chest Acne Before It Starts
Trying your best to get rid of those chest breakouts before swimsuit season? Here’s some advice.
Don’t pick at those pimples! Picking chest acne is very tempting because it’s right there, practically staring at you in the mirror. But the skin on our body doesn’t heal the same way our face does and picking body acne can easily cause permanent scars. In fact, picking can actually be the culprit behind even more breakouts, so just don’t do it!
Take it easy on the makeup. It’s understandable that you want to cover-up your chest acne, but layering on makeup can trap sweat and bacteria in your pores. Instead, try a light, oil-free, tinted moisturizer or beauty balm with SPF 30+.
Make chest skincare a part of your nightly face routine. Use a washcloth to wash your chest and shoulders when you wash your face. Try keeping a pack of face wipes on your nightstand for nights when you forget (or are just too lazy). And don’t forget the moisturizer!