How to Get Rid of Body Acne

Treating back and body acne is often a bit tougher than facial acne. For one, the logistics of rubbing a treatment cream on your own back is difficult. Secondly, body blemishes are often deep and stubborn. But with the right treatments, some time, and patience, you can get your body acne under control. 

This article explains body acne causes and treatment.

Back view of senior woman applying cream on neck
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Types of Acne

There are two types of acne: inflammatory acne and non-inflammatory acne.

Inflammatory vs. Non-Inflammatory Acne

Inflammatory acne is when bacteria infect a blocked pore, leading to more severe blemishes. Non-inflammatory acne is more common. It is when a pore becomes clogged, resulting in pimples and blackheads.

Non-Inflammatory Acne

Most people who have acne have some form of non-inflammatory acne. Most commonly, these are comedoneswhiteheads and blackheads. You may have comedones anywhere on your body, including your back, chest, shoulders, and buttocks.

Inflammatory Acne

The body is also particularly prone to inflammatory acne because your torso contains more sebaceous glands (glands in the skin that secrete oil) than other parts of the body.

Inflammatory acne breakouts occur when oils, dead skin cells, and bacteria build up in your sebaceous glands. The body interprets this buildup as an infection, sending white blood cells to fight against it.

With inflammatory acne, cysts can form deep in your skin tissue and become red, tender, and inflamed as they try to push through the skin. Cystic acne can be tender and more challenging to eliminate. Sometimes, they can leave scars. They include:

  • Pustules (pimples clogged with pus, oil, and skin cells)
  • Papules (inflamed, red pimple that may develop into a pustule)
  • Nodules (hard blemishes that are deep in the skin and can last for months)

Recap

Non-inflammatory acne is more common and typically includes whiteheads and blackheads. Inflammatory acne occurs when a blocked pore becomes infected. This inflammation can result in painful cystic acne. Both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne can occur on the body.

Causes of Body Acne

A few factors, in particular, could be contributing to your body's acne breakouts, including genetics, hormones, and stress.

Family History

If one of your parents has a history of acne, you may be more prone to breakouts yourself.

To determine the extent that acne runs in the family, researchers examined the genomes (genetic material and all of the sequences) of 5,602 people with severe acne and 21,120 people without it. The researchers could fine-map and identify 15 different genetic variations in 15 genome regions that people with severe acne had in common.

Some of these genes cause variations in the structure of a person's sebaceous glands. These changes might make it more difficult for their glands to maintain themselves and protect against bacteria buildup.

In other words, if you inherit acne, it's not because you inherited an "acne gene," per se; instead, you may have inherited an underlying health condition or a biological trait that makes you prone to pore blockage.

Hormones

Androgens are reproductive hormones, including testosterone, present in all genders. When imbalanced, androgens can cause skin changes that contribute to acne, including:

  • Increased sebum (oil) production
  • Changes in skin cell activity
  • Inflammation

This imbalance frequently happens in every gender during puberty. But, hormone fluctuations can cause acne at any age.

For adults with ovaries, androgen levels remain constant throughout their entire menstrual cycle. Then, just before bleeding begins, estrogen levels fall, allowing more testosterone to bind to sebaceous gland receptors and stimulate sebum production.

Excessive testosterone levels in adults with testicles can have a similar effect. Again, it is often a result of a genetic predisposition.

Other endocrine disorders associated with acne in people with ovaries include polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and adrenal hyperplasia (an inherited disease where the body is missing an enzyme).

Stress

An influx of stress hormones can trigger breakouts, worsen existing breakouts, and slow down the healing process, even in people who are not prone to acne. Several factors play into this.

Inflammation: Stress causes the release of cytokines—small proteins that bind to receptors in the sebaceous gland and activate an inflammatory response.

Immune system: Stress impairs the immune system, making it more difficult for the body to fight off bacteria. It can also take longer for acne breakouts to clear up when you're under stress. That's because stress hinders the body's ability to repair wounds.

Hormones: Acute and prolonged stress causes a surge of androgens, which lead to inflammation and excess sebum production.

Sleep and diet: Stress causes many people to overeat unhealthy foods and lose sleep. While these behaviors may not trigger acne by themselves, they can increase inflammation in the body and make you more prone to breakouts.

Recap

Body acne, like acne on the face, can be caused by genetics, imbalanced hormones, and stress.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Therapies

You can find effective acne treatments at your local drugstore or online. OTC acne medicines are an excellent first defense against body acne.

That said, it's not likely that the OTC acne treatment you choose will work overnight. So, try to stick with a treatment for at least three months before discontinuing its use.

As you search for an OTC acne treatment, keep an eye out for products that contain hydroxy acids, like salicylic acid or glycolic acid. These cleansing agents are particularly effective for exfoliating skin and treating severe acne, but one may be more beneficial for your skin type than the other.

Glycolic Acid
  • Water soluble and better for dry or sun damaged skin

  • Peels away dead skin cells at the surface layer

  • Can lighten acne scars and even skin tone

  • Helps the skin retain moisture

  • Reduces pore size to minimize clogging

Salicylic Acid
  • Oil soluble and better for oily or inflamed skin

  • Penetrates deep into pores

  • Contains anti-inflammatory properties that reduce redness

  • May dry the skin out

  • Reduces pore size and removes dead skin cells

Body Wash or Cleanser

Choose a body wash containing hydroxy acid or benzoyl peroxide. These target the growth of bacteria, dead skin buildup, and excessive oil production. You can find a body wash for acne that contains these agents at most drug stores.

Many acne cleansers are dermatologist-tested, and some contain gentle exfoliants to help remove dead skin buildup without being too rough on the skin.

Before choosing a product, there are pros and cons to consider for both benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. In general, benzoyl peroxide works better for inflamed pimples, while salicylic acid is good for bumps and blackheads.

Medicated Lotions or Sprays

If cleansers aren't doing the trick, you could add a medicated treatment lotion or spray to your treatment routine. Sprays, in particular, are great for those hard-to-reach places on your back.

An option to consider is the Salicylic Acid Body Spray by Acne Free, which is fast-drying and contains aloe vera to protect your skin from excessive dryness.

Just keep in mind that benzoyl peroxide can stain your clothes. So, before getting dressed, make sure any spray or lotion you use that contains benzoyl peroxide has thoroughly dried on your skin.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids

If you have small breakouts or just a few pimples, your skin might respond favorably to good daily skincare and OTC treatments.

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) can help boost the effectiveness of OTC acne products. So, look for an OTC product containing alpha-hydroxy acids, like glycolic acid or lactic acid. AHAs help by:

  • Speeding cell turnover
  • Rapidly exfoliating the skin
  • Reducing the number of pore blockages

You can find a variety of AHA blends for all skin types.

Alpha hydroxy acids may increase your skin's sensitivity to the sun. So take care to use an oil-free sunscreen that won't clog your pores, and wear protective clothing when you use products that contain AHAs.

Using Multiple Products

When treating body acne, you typically can combine acne treatments or use combination products without causing excessive irritation. However, keep in mind that skin types vary, so you should still monitor your skin while using combination treatments.

Since the skin on the neck is pretty sensitive, use treatment products slowly and carefully in this area. If you notice excessive irritation, dryness, or peeling on any area of the body, scale back or discontinue use of the product, and consult your healthcare provider.

Recap

There are many OTC treatments for body acne, including body cleansers, medicated sprays and lotions, and products that contain AHAs. Hydroxy acids, in particular, are effective acne treatments.

woman with acne on arm

kadirkaplan / Getty Images

Prescriptions

Body acne is stubborn, so moderate acne and severe breakouts may not get better with the OTC options listed above. Instead, you may need to bring in some more potent prescription treatments to get those breakouts under control.

Don't wait too long to see a healthcare provider for prescription acne treatment, especially if your acne is severely inflamed. Body acne can cause deep scarring. The greater the inflammation, the higher the chance of developing lasting scars.

A dermatologist may prescribe a topical treatment, oral medications, or both depending on your situation. Some common treatments are:

As with facial acne, it takes time to control body acne. Therefore, you will most likely have to try several treatment products or medications before finding the one that works best for you.

Lifestyle

Once you start on a proven acne-treatment routine, there are a few steps you can take to boost the effectiveness of your treatments.

Showers

Although a lack of cleanliness doesn't cause body acne, it can be irritated by sweat. So make sure you shower right after a workout.

Minimize Friction

Anything that traps heat against the skin, or causes friction, can worsen breakouts. Everyday items that cause friction on your body include sports equipment, backpacks, purse and bra straps, and tight clothing. Try to limit or adjust these triggers as much as you can.

Avoid Pimple Popping

Just as with facial acne, avoid popping your body and back acne pimples. Doing so is a surefire way to cause more inflammation and possibly acne scarring.

Recap

If you are prone to body acne, take extra care to shower immediately after sweating and minimize friction from clothing and backpacks. In addition, avoid popping or squeezing pimples, as this can lead to inflammation and scarring.

Summary

Body acne, like facial acne, can be inflammatory or non-inflammatory. In addition, genetics, hormones, and stress may cause it. OTC cleansers, medicated lotions, AHAs, and combination products may help to clear mild body acne. However, more moderate to severe cases may require prescription-strength treatment.

A Word From Verywell

It can take a lot of time to clear a case of back acne successfully, so try to be patient. In addition, you must be very consistent with your acne treatment medications and daily skincare routine.

Let a healthcare provider know if you don't feel like your medications are working. It can take several tries before finding the treatment that works for you. But with the proper treatment, you should be able to see and feel the difference.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes body acne?

    Acne on the back and other body parts can be caused by clogged pores, hormones, or stress. Genetics also play a role in the shape, size, location, and number of sebaceous glands, making some people more prone to clogged pores and body acne.

  • How do you treat body acne?

    Over-the-counter treatments for body acne include glycolic acid and salicylic acid. Both are exfoliating agents that help unclog pores. If OTC treatments fail to bring relief, a dermatologist can prescribe oral or topical medications, such as Accutane (isotretinoin), Retin A, or oral antibiotics.

  • Should you squeeze back acne?

    No, you should not pop pimples on your back, body, or face. Doing so can lead to more inflammation and possible scarring.

  • What body wash is good for back and body acne?

    A body wash containing hydroxy, salicylic, glycolic acids, or benzoyl peroxide can help treat back and body acne. CeraVe brand’s SA Body Wash contains salicylic acid. Humane Maximum Strength 10% Acne Wash contains 10% benzoyl peroxide.

  • Which is better for body acne—glycolic or salicylic acid?

    It depends. Both agents are hydroxy acids, but they work differently. Salicylic acid is better for oily or inflamed skin, while glycolic acid is better for dry or sun-damaged skin.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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