While you probably have a well-honed plan of action for a breakout on your face, whether that’s using expensive salicylic acids or applying a DIY dab of toothpaste, treating the back area can feel like a whole different kettle of fish. But if you have acne on your back – or ‘bacne’, as some people call it – and lots of people do have it (you’re not alone!), you don’t have to hide away until it clears up naturally.
Here’s how you can treat bacne now, so you can confidently slip into your summer wardrobe.
First up, what causes back acne? "Body breakouts are mainly caused by the effect of hormones on the sebaceous glands – small oil-producing glands attached to hair follicles," says Dr. Susan Mayou, consultant dermatologist at the Cadogan Clinic. "Most people don’t realise that the highest concentration of sebaceous glands in the body is actually on the facial T-zone and the back." Mayou says acne on the body is formed in exactly the same way as facial acne, but the skin is much tougher on your back, so the pores are less flexible and might be more resilient to home treatments.
"Back acne is a real thing, and even something like not showering post-workout can cause breakouts, due to excess sweat and bacteria," says Pam Marshall, clinical aesthetician and founder of Mortar & Milk. Marshall, who is known as ‘the acne whisperer’ in certain skincare circles, says practising good hygiene is the number one thing she tells her clients to do, to keep their backs pimple-free. "The skin on the back is thicker, so it’s important that people are proactive by showering right after a sweaty gym class," she stresses. Likewise, cleaning your workout mat and chucking your gym kit straight into the wash after use can help to keep your back clear too.
How can I get rid of back acne?
It can be tempting to slather your back in drugstore spot treatments, but skin experts say this might actually aggravate the problem further. "I personally don’t always recommend that clients use the same products as I recommend for their face," says Marshall.
The first step is to eliminate lifestyle decisions that can contribute to the issue. "This could be anything from not showering after a workout, to not changing your bed sheets often enough," Marshall explains. If that doesn’t make a big enough difference, the skincare expert says she will use Clinisept (an antimicrobial spray) to combat any excess bacteria. "When the back is cystic, I might use an AHA cleanser and then Clinisept, although I never introduce an AHA cleanser for the face, as it’s too aggressive." Where appropriate, she also advises her clients to adapt their diet too. "Whey protein, for example, will trigger androgen stimulation, so I often remove protein shakes from meal plans."
Exfoliating in the shower once per week can help reduce body breakouts, as it can remove dirt, bacteria and dead skin cells. However, Mayou says you should avoid heavy moisturising creams, fake tans or perfumes, as these can further clog the pores. "Everyone has different hormone fluctuations, different diets and different lifestyle patterns, and that’s key here," says Marshall, who believes identifying the triggers for your acne is an important step. "If individuals are not responding to home treatments for body breakouts, prescription medication may be necessary," adds Mayou. "The first option would be topical medication, or retinoids in the form of creams, gels and lotions to help unclog the pores in the skin."
Overall, it’s advisable to see a dermatologist if your back acne persists, as they can discuss your individual skin concerns and ensure the best treatment for the issue.