- Clogged pores due to excess oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria can cause acne.
- Face acne heals faster than back acne.
- Bad workout habits, hair products, sunburn, and friction on the skin can result in back acne.
Like face acne, back acne can be frustrating to manage. It can cause small pimples or large and painful zits that are filled with pus. Back acne is often caused by external factors, like working out and wearing sweaty clothes.
Causes of back acne
Board-certified dermatologist Eric Meinhardt, MD, explains, “acne is caused by increased oil production, bacteria, pore blockage, and irregular skin cell turnover.” The skin’s sebaceous glands produce oil, which, along with dead skin cells, can accumulate in the pores, clogging them and encouraging bacteria growth, which can lead to irritation, breakouts, or infection.
Hormones can also cause acne, so you break out more around your period. Acne breakouts may also have a hereditary component, says Dr. Meinhardt.
While the cause of acne is the same in both the face and the back, the face has more blood supply that helps treat acne faster and lessens scarring. Meanwhile, the skin on the back is thicker than the skin on the face, making it more resilient to products that are harsh for the face.
How to treat and prevent back acne
Treating back acne is challenging, but the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says there are home remedies for it:
Benzoyl peroxide, retinoids, and salicylic acid
Benzoyl peroxide is an over-the-counter acne medication that kills bacteria that cause acne. The AAD recommends washing your face and back daily with a product that contains benzoyl peroxide. Let the product sit on your skin for two to five minutes before rinsing it off. The AAD also suggests using a concentration of 5.3% and going higher only if that concentration doesn’t work, to avoid side effects.
Retinoids, particularly adapalene, speeds up cell turnover in the skin, helping unclog pores, healing acne faster, and preventing further breakouts. According to the AAD, retinoids work effectively, especially when used alongside benzoyl peroxide.
Salicylic acid, on the other hand, breaks down dead skin cells, going deep into the pores to clear them.
Good workout hygiene
Working out and sweating can cause body acne. The AAD recommends using looser fitting clothes made of fabric that prevents sweat from accumulating, changing out of sweaty workout clothes immediately after a workout, and washing them after every use.
Treating your skin with gentleness
If you have acne, opt for a gentle body wash or cleanser and avoid picking on your acne.
Sun exposure can make acne worse and cause darker acne spots. Use sunscreen products that are non-comedogenic and oil-free to avoid clogging your pores.
Wearing a backpack or shoulder bag can rub your skin and worsen acne, so try holding your purse in your hand or resting the strap on your arm.
Being cautious when washing your hair
Oil residues from hair treatments can clog your pores and cause back acne, so make sure not to let the conditioner run down your back when rinsing. It’s also recommended to wash or treat your hair first before washing your back.
When to see a dermatologist
Mild to moderate back acne can be treated at home with over-the-counter options. However, for deep, painful cysts, it’s best to see a dermatologist who can prescribe more potent medications. You should also see a doctor when you’re unsure what your breakout really is.