Ask a Dermatologist: Why Am I Getting So Much Body Acne?

Battling body breakouts? We got your back!

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Many people are well-versed in tackling a common face pimple. Whether it's applying pH-balancing toners, face mapping, or even learning the art of careful pimple popping, developing a battle plan can make breakouts much less stressful. Less discussed, however, is body acne, which can set up shop on your back, chest, butt, and pretty much anywhere there's skin. So how do you treat it, especially if it crops up in hard-to-reach places? We tapped dermatologists and skin experts to get some insight.

What Is Body Acne?

When it comes to back and chest acne, most people get either large pustules (whiteheads) or cysts, says Renee Rouleau, celebrity esthetician and skincare expert. "Pustules are no different than your everyday pimple, but cysts are deep under the skin, never come to a head, and can be painful. It's important not to pick at cystic blemishes since the body usually reabsorbs the infection from within."

Body breakouts often crop up in the same areas, like the center of the chest, buttocks, and upper back. "Since these areas have many oil glands, we are more likely to see acne there," says Ife Rodney, MD, board-certified dermatologist of Eternal Dermatology. You may also experience different variations of body acne, including fungal acne, which is a yeast infection that usually occurs after excessive sweating.

Body Acne Causes


Let's get the most obvious culprit out of the way: stress. It goes without saying that everyone faces extreme stress at some point in their lives, so it's only natural that your skin takes a toll. "When we're stressed, we trigger more androgen production, which creates more inflammation and oily skin," says Dr. Rodney. "Excess oil clogs our pores, creating acne. So while the stress itself does not create acne, it makes a bad situation worse."


There are other factors likely at play, especially if your body acne is persistent. That's where acne mapping comes in. "Body acne often suggests a significant hormonal component," says Dr. Rodney. "Hormonal acne tends to show on the chest and back, similar to where hair would grow."


Acne Mechanica (friction acne) will usually show up on the shoulders, neck, and buttocks. "Spending more time in a seated chair can increase friction and occlusion in certain places," explains Sara Perkins, MD, board-certified dermatologist and Hims & Hers Medical Advisory Board member.


In addition to a sedentary lifestyle, being active can also trigger body acne. "[Working out] is a huge cause of body acne, especially if you don't immediately shower after sweaty sessions," says Dhaval G. Bhanusali, MD FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.

How to Treat Body Acne

As with all acne, you'll need to be strategic when tackling body breakouts. "Remember that it will take some time to clear things up. Then you'll want to tackle both the internal and external factors that cause your body acne," says Dr. Rodney.

Switch out your soap.

First things first: Start with changing your soap to an acne-fighting body wash that contains ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, says Dr. Perkins. "Benzoyl peroxide washes are my top choice for body acne, but you need to leave them on for three to five minutes prior to rinsing to get the best effect. Other options include salicylic acid and glycolic acid, both of which are chemical exfoliants that remove dead skin cells and help to prevent clogged pores."

Avoid irritants in products.

Things to avoid include oil-based shower gels or moisturizers, which can promote excess oil production. You should also be wary of haircare products, which could be comedogenic. "Look out for panthenol if you're acne-prone," warns Rouleau. "I learned that my conditioner used a lot of this, and the residue that it left on my back was a huge trigger for me."

Don't use face products on your body.

You may be tempted to use your acne-fighting facial moisturizers and cleansers on your body, but take note: "Because the skin on your face is usually more sensitive than that on your body, acne-fighting products may not be as effective on your body," says Dr. Rodney. "You should probably use products specific to your body that will contain more potent active ingredients." If you don't have any, try an OTC antibacterial or anti-yeast formula, like Head and Shoulders, as a body wash.

Practice good hygiene.

Good hygiene also takes priority. "When someone struggles with acne on their face, I usually tell them to be very diligent about changing their pillowcase to avoid reintroducing oil, dirt, and bacteria onto the skin. The same concept applies to body acne," says Rouleau. Showering immediately after exercise (or any sweating in general) and wearing loose or moisture-wicking fabrics is key.

When to Consult a Doctor

While you're treating yourself topically, pay attention to your body, too. That could mean anything from reducing stress to making dietary changes (dairy is a big one, according to Dr. Perkins).

If your body acne is cystic and hormonal (or it's simply not going away), you may need to consult with your dermatologist to develop a customized treatment plan. They may recommend a prescription alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) or beta-hydroxy acid (BHA), birth control, or a diuretic like spironolactone to keep your hormone levels in check.

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  1. Ghosh S, Chaudhuri S, Jain VK, Aggarwal K. Profiling and hormonal therapy for acne in womenIndian J Dermatol. 2014;59(2):107-115. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.127667

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