While acne breakouts on the face tend to steal the spotlight, there's a good chance that if you’ve experienced acne on your face, pimples have also popped up south of your chin. In fact, Everyday Health estimates that up to 60% of people who report having facial acne experience body acne as well. Here’s a breakdown of what causes body blemishes, as well as some tips about how to treat them.
Body acne refers to any type of acne that appears on the back and upper half of the body, including the chest and shoulders. These breakouts are classified similarly to acne on your face, and are often accompanied by oily skin, scarring and blackheads. While body acne can appear anywhere (aside from oil-free zones on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet), it tends to show up most commonly on the back, chest and shoulders – where there is a higher density of hair follicles and oil-and-sweat-producing glands. To make matters worse, the pores and hair follicles on your body are much larger than those found on your face, and the skin on your back is extremely thick. These factors heighten the potential for dirt and oil to become trapped, block pores and cause breakouts.
Eminence Organics Lead Skin Care Trainer Natalie Pergar tells us that the primary causes of body and facial acne are in sync: “Body acne is caused by the same factors as facial acne – bacteria, overactive oil glands and excess dead skin cells.” As with facial acne, oil and dead skin cells block a pore, mix with acne-causing bacteria and trigger an immune response that presents as pimples, blackheads, redness, cysts or a combination. There are a few additional factors that contribute to breakouts on your back, chest and shoulders. These include:
1. Shampoo & Conditioner
Believe it or not, keeping clean can actually contribute to body acne. As you rinse shampoo and conditioner from your scalp, the oils and other ingredients from your hair products can run down your back and clog pores. And, the location of body breakouts doesn’t help; unless you’re an expert contortionist, it’s likely that you’re missing patches of hair product during your daily scrub. A few tips to keep in mind:
- Rinse shampoo and conditioner off to the side
- Wash your body after shampooing to make sure you catch any lingering residue
- Use a clean body brush to access hard-to-reach spots
- Dry the area thoroughly with a clean towel after your shower
2. Sweaty & Tight-fitting Workout Wear
One of the most common contributors to body acne is sweaty, tight-fitting clothing. While they can be great for the gym, clingy fabrics trap sweat and bacteria on the skin, which can lead to clogged pores and body breakouts. Natalie adds: “When acne affects the body, it’s also good to note that the rubbing of clothing and sports equipment can add to irritation due to the extra heat and sweat.” The best way to tackle this trigger: Opt for loose-fitting workout wear when possible and be sure to remove it (and hit the showers) immediately after you hit the gym.
3. Dirty Shower Accessories
Dirty shower accessories can quickly undo the good done by your daily cleanse. Wet loofahs, damp towels and moist bath brushes are a breeding ground for bacteria which can compromise clear skin. In addition to frequently washing your favorite towel, Refinery29 recommends replacing your loofah every three weeks and using a body brush with natural fibers to limit the available hiding places for fungus and bacteria. You should also ensure that your shower tools have time to dry.
Body breakouts may be caused by the same triggers as facial acne, but they can be more challenging to treat. Because hair follicles and pores are spaced further apart, the skin tends to be tougher in these areas, making it difficult for topical products to penetrate the skin and work as quickly as they do for facial acne. On the other hand, the skin on your back is more resilient, and can better handle potent treatments that may be irritating to your face. Here are a few ways you can adjust your body care routine to battle breakouts on your back, shoulders and chest:
1. Avoid Creamy Body Wash
The skin on your back has more sweat and oil gland activity than elsewhere on the body, but it also happens to be the area that is least thoroughly cleansed. Due to the difficulty in reaching inaccessible spots like the skin between your shoulder blades, oil, dead skin, sweat and dirt easily build up and clog pores. For starters, Natalie advises avoiding ultra-creamy body washes and choosing treatments that contain acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid (a BHA that unblocks pores), glycolic acid (an AHA that dissolves dead skin cells to prevent spots) or lactic acid (a gentle AHA that helps smooth skin and prevent pimples). Cleansers designed to treat acne on the face are safe and effective on the chest, back and arms. Try the Acne Advanced Cleansing Foam or the Mangosteen Daily Resurfacing Cleanser. GQ also recommends using a long-handled cleansing sponge or body brush to help reach every nook and cranny.
2. Moisturize - Lightly
While it may seem counterintuitive to add moisture to already oily and acne-prone skin, it’s a skin care step you can’t skip. It’s hard to wrap your head around, but less moisture can cause skin to produce more pore-clogging sebum in an effort to stay lubricated. Keeping your skin’s moisture barrier intact is essential to lock in hydration as well as protect your pores from bacteria and other acne-causing irritants. Yet, not all moisturizers are made equal. Like your body wash, you’ll want to steer clear of rich creams designed for dry skin and, instead, choose a lightweight lotion that will keep your skin hydrated and its oil balance in check.
3. Spot Treat Blemishes
The same spot treatments you apply to your face can be used for your back, chest and shoulders. Experts agree that products that contain acne-fighting salicylic acid are your best bet against body blemishes; this superstar ingredient not only clears clogged pores but also helps prevent breakouts from recurring. With regular use, it has the power to keep skin clear and breakout-free for good. Plus: Unlike benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid is extremely gentle and will not bleach fabric. When choosing the right spot treatment, we recommend reaching for products with a light but creamy consistency that can be easily spread across your back, chest and shoulders. The Clear Skin Probiotic Masque is a good option.
One customer, Megan, says of the mask: “I couldn't believe how much better my skin looked after just using 2 or 3 times. I’m obsessed. I have oily, combo skin and it helps hydrate as well as reduce the redness. My skin also feels so soft after. It certainly feels like a spa treatment. Couldn't be happier with my purchase.”
4. Fade Dark Marks
Because the skin on your back is more resilient and has a slower cell turnover than the skin on your face, it can take longer to heal. This increases the chance that your body acne will leave scars and lengthens the amount of time it will take for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation to fade. Whatever you do, don’t pick, squeeze or scratch your spots – and if you do (sometimes the urge is impossible to resist), apply a brightening serum like the Bright Skin Licorice Root Serum immediately.
5. Schedule A Back Facial
Acne facials aren’t just for the face. In fact, many spas and salons now offer back facials to specifically target the hard-to-reach spots you can’t tackle at home. Not only do these professional treatments clean your skin at a deeper level, they also include professional-strength exfoliation and extractions to encourage skin cell turnover and clear clogged pores. Visit our Spa Locator to book a back facial at an Eminence Organics Spa Partner near you.
Watch this video to find out more from Lead Skin Care Trainer Natalie Pergar about how to reduce the look of body acne:
This article was orignally published in November, 2018