Bacne (ya know, acne on your back and shoulders) might not seem as annoying as acne on your chest or face because it’s not as visible, but unless you're incredibly flexible, bacne can be even more frustrating to treat. And the tricky location isn't the only thing that makes the treatment of back acne unique: According to board-certified dermatologist Morgan Rabach, MD, cofounder of LM Medical in NYC, the tips for how to get rid of bacne are a little different, too.
First of all, the skin on your back is much thicker than the skin on your face, which means you can use more active ingredients (think: acids, retinoids, exfoliators, etc.) to clear up the spots. And second, because the skin on your back doesn’t see as much sunlight as other parts of your body, you can use ingredients that make your skin sensitive to the sun without stressing as much about potential sunburns and irritation. At least treating back breakouts isn’t as bad as you thought, right? But before we jump into the best products for bacne (don't worry! We'll get there!), let's back it up a bit and figure out why you're getting breakouts on your back in the first place.
Why am I getting acne on my back?
Genetics, some medications, hormones, overall increased oil production that clogs the pores—the causes of back acne are the same as the causes of acne that you find on your face. But one additional factor that plays a huge role in the kind you find on your back, as Dr. Rabach points out, is sweat. "I also see a lot of people with sweat-induced acne from exercising and staying in sweaty clothes," Dr. Rabach explains. If that sounds like you, try changing out of any damp clothes as soon as you finish working out, and see if that helps reduce your zit frequency. If not, keep reading!
1 A Salicylic Acid Body Wash Neutrogena Body Clear Body Wash
First on the list of Dr. Rabach's favorite over-the-counter products for getting rid of back acne? Certain cleansers or body washes that contain salicylic acid. A fave acne ingredient, salicylic acid (aka BHA) helps reduce oil production (remember, an increase in oil clogs the pores, which leads to breakouts, yadda yadda). This classic cleansing formula uses 2 percent salicylic acid and is one you'll want to stock up on because *spoiler* you'll want to be showering more frequently, too. Keep reading.
2 A Benzoyl Peroxide Wash PanOxyl 10% Acne Foaming Wash
Another daily body wash worth trying, this formula features the other favorite acne ingredient: benzoyl peroxide. It's antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, which means it's great for killing acne-causing bacteria and calming angry red pimples. If that sounds like your current situation, try this foaming wash with 10 percent benzoyl peroxide, or start with a lower concentration of 2.5 or 5 percent to avoid irritation while still getting the job done.
3 A Chemical Exfoliator AmLactin Daily Moisturizing Body Lotion
To slough off dead skin that could be contributing to your problem, Dr. Rabach recommends exfoliating at least once a week. Because the skin on your back is much thicker than that on your face, Dr. Rabach says a scrub would be okay to use on this area, but if you'd prefer something gentler, this exfoliating moisturizer uses an AHA called lactic acid to get rid of dead skin without any harsh scrubbies.
4 An Oil-Free Sunscreen Specific Beauty Active Brightening Day Moisture Broad Spectrum SPF 30
Although, as Dr. Rabach pointed out, your back doesn't see the light of day as frequently as your face, you'll still want to slather on the sunblock anytime you're in the sun to prevent it from damaging your skin, making your back breakouts worse, and causing lingering acne scars. This broad-spectrum sunscreen is oil-free so you don't have to worry about causing more bacne while protecting your skin from the sun.
5 Cleansing Wipes Cleanse by Lauren Napier La Rose Facial Cleansing Wipes 50 Pack
Gym time: great for relieving stress and clearing your mind, not so great for maintaining clear skin. Trapped sweat is another common culprit of a bacne breakout, but as long as you shower after each sweat session, you don’t have to choose between working out and a zit-free back. Can’t rinse off ASAP? Dr. Rabach suggests a quick after-the-gym wipe to remove sweat and oil before they clog your pores.
6 Reusable Cleansing Pads Dermstore Collection Days of the Week Reusable Cleansing Pads
As another option for wipes, try these washable, reusable pads made of bamboo. Stick 'em in your gym bag, wet one down and use it to wipe away the sweat that gets trapped under your sports bra straps or tight-fitting workout tops until you can get home to shower. And don't forget to wipe down in the front, too, if you're also prone to getting chest acne from all that sweat.
7 Breathable Clothing Eleven by Venus Williams MVP Top In Black
Dr. Rabach says wearing breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics is another must to avoid causing bacne when working out or doing any particularly sweaty activity. This mesh top allows plenty of room for your back to breathe and the ties allow you to make all the adjustments you need for minimal friction. If you can’t shower or wipe down your body immediately after your workout, change out of your sweaty gym outfit and into a clean, dry shirt until you can.
8 Gentle Laundry Detergent Seventh Generation Concentrated Laundry Detergent, Free & Clear Unscented
…and as soon as you're done using that breathable workout top and wiping down with that reusable pad, throw everything in the wash ASAP. Dr. Rabach stresses the importance of washing your workout clothes after every single use (save the re-wearing for your jeans, K?!). But here's one not-so-fun fact: The laundry detergent you use could be one surprising cause of your acne. If you've recently switched detergents and noticed more back breakouts, try picking up a tub of this dye- and fragrance-free formula made for sensitive skin.
9 Zit Stickers ZitSticka Killa Kit 8 pack
Whatever you do, don't pick!! If you need to stop those wandering hands from poking and popping, slap one of these pimple patches over the top to protect the area and give it time to heal. These stickers, in particular, come with cleansing swaps soaked in tea tree oil and salicylic acid so you can wipe down the area before covering it with a patch. The only downside to using one of these is how tricky it might be to apply it to some areas of your back, but if you're able to reach your dirty fingers around and pick, you and I both know you're able to apply one of these instead.
10 A Physical and Chemical Exfoliator SkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser
For the face, derms generally prefer gentler chemical exfoliants (like salicylic acid or glycolic acid) to help dissolve dirt and oil in clogged pores and remove dead skin cells rather than a harsher physical one, which sloughs away the dead skin mechanically. But for the back, Dr. Rabach recommends exfoliating with a combination of both physical and chemical exfoliants, like this AHA/BHA scrub by SkinMedica. Just don’t overdo it! Being too aggressive can cause irritation and a weakened skin barrier.
11 A Salicylic Acid Spray Paula’s Choice Clear Acne Body Spray
When your breakout is hard to see, and thus hard to treat, grab a medicated spray like this one by Paula’s Choice as a back acne treatment. The spray nozzle makes it easy to sufficiently cover the area so you don’t have to do that awkward, over-the-shoulder, elbow-twisting reach behind your back. And the formula, which contains acne-fighting salicylic acid to help reduce oil production and licorice root to calm irritation, soothes as it clears the skin.
12 Hair Clips for Showering Beiny 6-Piece Plastic Nonslip Hair Clips
Products like masks and conditioners, while great for your hair, are often filled with pore-clogging ingredients that can wreak havoc on your skin. So while you allow the product time to soak into your hair, clip it up and off of your back. Then, thoroughly rinse your hair at the end of your shower and clip it up again to rinse off your back one more time before stepping out. After drying yourself off, slip on a towel or shirt to keep the area protected before letting down your damp hair.
13 A Benzoyl Peroxide Spot Treatment Glytone Acne 3P Treatment Gel
Because benzoyl peroxide is so great at killing acne-causing bacteria, you’ll find it in lots of washes and topical creams, like this one with a 5 percent concentration—but there’s one small catch. Benzoyl peroxide is notorious for bleaching clothing, towels, and sheets, so Dr. Rabach generally recommends sticking with some of the other exfoliating ingredients mentioned. That said, if you’re willing to give it a shot, a spot treatment like this could be really helpful—just stick with white fabrics when using it.
14 A Retinoid Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment
If your back acne looks more like a few big zits rather than a breakout over the entire area, Dr. Rabach suggests spot-treating with the over-the-counter retinoid Differin. Not only does the gel clear acne and stop breakouts from forming, but it also helps prevent the dreaded acne scarring that follows.
15 Oral Medication
If your bacne isn’t going away after trying any or all of the above, ask your dermatologist about a heavier-hitting solution. Dr. Rabach says back acne is most effectively treated with an oral medication like antibiotics, Accutane, spironolactone, or birth control. “Oral medications work best for back acne because it tends to be in the deeper layers of skin than facial acne and because it is difficult to really stick to a routine of cream application on the back,” Dr. Rabach says. Consult your doctor to see if any of these options are right for you.