It’s safe to say, no one likes acne, but it’s kind of a rite of passage. As we go through our teenage and young adult years (and even late into adulthood), a zit (or three or four) is to be expected dotting their way across our faces. But for some people, they also have to deal with acne breakouts below their chin—on their back and chest.
“While we tend to focus on the face, acne can present challenges on your back and chest as well,” said Trevor Thompson, MD, a dermatologist with Banner Health Center in Peoria, AZ. “More often, we encounter truncal, or body acne, in our younger years and it is slightly more common in males than females.”
While it can be extremely bothersome and embarrassing, the good news is that much like face acne, there are ways to get your body acne under control. We spoke with Dr. Thompson to better understand the causes for body acne and ways to combat it.
What causes acne on your chest and back?
Body acne develops the same way as face acne, but there are some factors that lead to the development of acne on your chest and back.
“Genetics, hormones and diet are likely some of the bigger triggers for acne,” Dr. Thompson said. “Other contributors to truncal acne can include use of androgens, such as testosterone or dihydrotestosterone (DHT), among male or transgender patients or androgenic anabolic steroids in body builders.”
Is it acne or could it be something else?
There are various other conditions that can cause red bumps on your chest and back, but one common one that is often confused by many is a skin condition called folliculitis. Although it may look and feel the same as acne, folliculitis is not the same.
“Folliculitis usually has inflammation around hair follicles, but it can have a more infectious cause with a pus-filled pimple instead of the blocked sebum of acne,” Dr. Thompson said. “Folliculitis can occur around any site with hair follicles, and acne is more common on the face, back and chest.”
If you’re unsure whether your red bumps are body acne or folliculitis, it can be helpful to see a dermatologist to make sure. They can give you tips to help clear it.
How do you treat back and chest acne?
If you’re experiencing severe body acne with deep, painful cysts, it’s best to partner with a dermatologist so you can develop a unique plan for ongoing care. That being said, for mild to moderate body acne, some of the basic treatments used to treat acne on the face can be used for the back and chest. Here’s how to get rid of body acne for good:
1. Use an acne cleanser
While any gentle soap or body wash can help remove dirt and excess oils, there are specific products geared toward fighting body breakouts. Dr. Thompson suggests starting with skin care products that include benzoyl peroxide.
“Normally, I favor milder (<5%) benzoyl peroxide washes as stronger (10%) washes can cause more dryness and irritate the skin on your face. Fortunately, the trunk tends to be less sensitive with treatment,” Dr. Thompson said.
2. Try a topical retinoid
Whether a prescription agent or over-the-counter adapalene gel, this is another great option for treating body acne. Products like Differin (adapalene 0.1%) gel and Retin-A play a crucial role in the treatment of acne by regulating skin cell turnover, so dead skin cells don't clog pores, and reducing inflammation deep in the skin to not only clear but prevent future pimples.
3. Remember sun protection
People may report different experiences regarding the impact of sun on their acne. While sun exposure can increase vitamin D and be associated with exercise and fun, moderation is key. While certain light spectrums including blue light may help acne, too much ultraviolet sun exposure can increase skin aging and further darken acne spots. To combat the damage with ultraviolet light, it is important to understand the benefits of hats, shade, awareness of the time of day and duration of sun exposure. For sunscreens, try to use a non-comedogenic (won't clog pores), oil-free, mineral sunscreen.
4. Develop good workout habits
It’s great to put in the time for workouts, but don’t hang out too long in your sweaty clothes. Make sure you shower and change clothes right after working out—or after excessive sweating.
5. Resist the urge to pop, pick or scrub acne
A zit may be harder to reach on your back but resist the urge to pick and pop your body acne to avoid acne scars. As well, avoid course or rough body scrubs that are traumatic to the skin. These will only make acne worse.
6. Modify your diet
When it comes to acne, your diet could also be to blame. Findings from some studies found that following a low-glycemic diet may help reduce acne. Instead of reaching for a burger, fries and Coca-Cola, focus on eating a diet rich in fresh produce and whole foods. Steer clear of dairy products and sugary high carbohydrate foods that raise your blood sugar quickly. For more tips, check out this article from the American Academy of Dermatology Association.
7. Other prescription treatments
For more challenging cases, your doctor may prescribe topical and oral antibiotics. Isotretinoin is another prescription agent that can be used. These medications work by killing excess skin bacteria and reduce redness and inflammation.
If your body acne treatments aren’t doing the trick and you find yourself wearing a turtleneck in June, don’t sweat it—literally. Let your dermatologist know. It can take several tries to zap those zits, but with the right treatment, every type of acne can be treated. To find a Banner Health physician near you, visit bannerhealth.com.