Struggling with spots on your chest or battling with bacne? Believe us, babe, you’re not alone. Super common (and inconvenient) body acne affects millions of people worldwide. And we’re not just talking about hormonal teens, either – many adults experience body breakouts as well. And it's rarely a sign of poor personal hygiene.
Most often cropping up on the chest or back (but also on the buttocks, legs and everywhere in between), body acne is undoubtedly a bummer. But take it from us – and a leading dermatologist, you don’t have to take it lying down.
From the causes of body breakouts to the expert-approved advice and routine tips that can help, consider this your go-to guide to below-the-neck-blemishes. Read on.
What causes body acne?
Let’s get one thing straight: body acne doesn’t mean you’re dirty or that you need to shower more often. (So long as you’re showering daily and after working out, which we’ll take as a given.) Instead, it occurs when excess oil, dead skin cells, dirt and bacteria come together to clog a hair follicle or pore.
Often resulting in redness, inflammation and raised bumps, these blockages can – if you’re extra lucky – also sometimes lead to an angry yellow-white pustule. Or a cluster of pustules. Usually right in the middle of your cleavage when you’re planning on wearing a plunging dress (tell us we’re wrong?).
According to British Cosmetic Dermatologist Dr Simon Zokaie, body acne has the same causes as facial acne. Hormones and genetics play a part, as well as your body’s ability to effectively shed dead skin cells.
I’m not oily, so why am I suddenly breaking out?
While oily skin types are generally more prone to body acne, those with drier skin aren’t immune. “One doesn’t need to have oily skin to develop acne,” says Dr Zokaie. “Acne is caused by over-stimulation of the sebaceous gland which can become blocked by excessive dead skin and become inflamed.”
Stress, medications, hygiene habits, sweat and a poor diet and lifestyle can contribute to flare-ups, as well as irritation from bodycare products and washing detergents.
Rubbing from damp, tight clothing and sports equipment can also result in a type of friction-related acne known as acne mechanica. So, make sure you invest in breathable or moisture-wicking sportswear and strip off and bathe after getting hot and sweaty.
Does acne in different body areas signify different issues?
Body acne can occur anywhere on the body, but it’s most common on the chest and back. Why? Simply because these areas have a larger concentration of sebaceous glands.
Pimples popping up on your shoulders? These could be caused by friction from your handbag or bra strap, while groups of tiny bumps on your arms might not actually be acne – but a harmless condition known as keratosis pilaris.
Butt blemishes might walk and talk like regular acne, but there’s a chance you’re actually dealing with folliculitis – damage and inflammation to the hair follicles. This can occur as a result of friction from tight clothing. It’s also super common among hot tub users and can occur in the groin region after hair removal, alongside those pesky ingrown hairs.
Whatever you’re dealing with, good hygiene, breathable fabrics and regular exfoliation go a long way to help. As well as gentle, daily care with a hydrating or anti-acne body wash and non-comedogenic body moisturiser.
Which kind of body wash and treatments can help banish body breakouts?
If you’re dealing with bacne or body blemishes, make sure your hygiene is spot on. This means showering once or twice daily – especially in hot, humid weather and after your workouts.
As for what products are best? “A gentle body wash with prebiotics or body washes with salicylic acid or lactic acids are preferable to help balance the skin barrier with a touch of anti-inflammatory effect from the salicylic acid,” says Dr Zokaie.
Incredibly popular in acne products, this oil-soluble beta hydroxy acid can penetrate pores to exfoliate from within, while also helping to balance sebum.
Dr Zokaie also recommends targeted benzoyl peroxide products that kill acne-causing bacteria and exfoliate the skin. Retinoid creams may also be beneficial. These can both be purchased over-the-counter or on prescription, depending on the severity of your acne.
What products should you avoid?
Think you should skip the body moisturiser if you have oily skin? You shouldn’t. Hydration is essential for all skin types and can help prevent pimple problems caused by dehydration.
However, you should pay close attention to the ingredients in the products you use. “Any moisturising creams which are non-comedogenic are fine,” says Dr Zokaie.
However thick petroleum types of ointments such as Vaseline are off the table if you’re struggling with acne.
How can you prevent body acne?
So, what should you be doing on a daily or weekly basis to banish your body bumps?
These 7 simple steps are a great place to start:
- Maintain good hygiene. This means showering 1–2 times a day, especially after working out. Remove sweaty clothes as soon as you’ve finished exercising. And make sure you change your towels and bedding regularly.
- Use a mild shower gel with prebiotics or consider a product with salicylic acid for targeted anti-acne action.
- Stick with non-comedogenic body lotions, fake tans and sunscreens to prevent clogged pores.
Exfoliate once weekly with a sugar scrub to boost skin cell turnover and prevent dead skin cells from blocking pores. Self-tanner? Always prep your skin before tanning and remove all traces of product with an exfoliating mitt.
- Rinse your body thoroughly after washing your hair. Sometimes it’s not the ingredients in your bodycare but your haircare products that are triggering your breakouts.
- Ask your pharmacist or GP about Benzoyl peroxide products which can be applied directly to blemishes to acne-causing bacteria while exfoliating the skin.
- Don’t pick! This only causes inflammation and increases your risk of scarring and reinfection. So, keep those filthy hands to yourself.
Dr Zokaie also recommends a healthy diet, not over-exfoliating, allowing skin to air (think: breathable fabrics) and washing with warm, not hot, water.
When should you see a GP or dermatologist for body acne?
With these simple lifestyle tweaks, pesky body breakouts should soon be few and far between. And, if not? Expert help is at hand.
According to Dr Zokaie, you should make an appointment with your GP or dermatologist if your breakouts continue for more than 8-12 weeks, if your acne is worsening, or if it’s inflammatory. A medical practitioner will be able to assess your situation and prescribe a course of topical products and/or oral medications.
This can help prevent acne scarring and pigmentation, so don’t delay if your body acne is painful or impacting your confidence.
Written By: Pip Jarvis
Edited by: Vidhya