Body acne is the worst. It tends to pop up at the worst possible times, like before a vacation, and is particularly annoying. And out of all the areas of the body, back acne (or bacne, as we often call it) can be the most enraging because you don’t always know you have it. Out of sight, out of mind? Not when it comes to zits.
The good news is that even at its worst, bacne is embarrassing but not debilitating. It’s totally treatable and even preventable, as long as you understand where it’s coming from.
Just like acne on your face, body acne happens because pores get clogged. Sebaceous (oil) glands exist on all areas of the body and can get blocked no matter where they are. Usually these blockages are caused by dead skin cells that accumulate inside the pore. “Oil glands continue to produce oil, but when it backs up, your body sees this as foreign material and creates inflammation,” says dermatologist Robert Finney, MD.
The main difference between acne on your face and on your body, though, is that inflammation can also occur around hair follicles. It’s called folliculitis and can happen anywhere there is hair (like your back, chest, or butt). It may look the same as acne on the surface, but what’s happening below could have more to do with bacteria than dead skin cells. “When we’re talking about folliculitis as opposed to acne, we start to think about bacteria that can get in there,” says Finney.
Another bacne culprit could be something called Acne mechanica, which is caused by friction. It’s particularly common on the back because of things like backpacks, chairs, and gym equipment, which rub against our backs and clog pores with sweat and debris. “Acne mechanica can be hastened by running, sweating, tight-fitting clothing, and nonabsorbent materials,” says Finney. All of these things can hinder our body’s natural exfoliation process and make dead skin cells stick around in our pores longer, which leads to irritation and zits.
You don’t need a medical degree to tackle bacne, because the treatment for folliculitis and acne mechanica are pretty much the same. As with most things, “prevention is far more effective than treatment,” Finney says, so keep using skincare products like body washes and exfoliators, even after your bacne has cleared up. Here are the 15 best back acne treatments to get rid of bacne and prevent it in the future.
1 Neutrogena Body Clear Acne Body Wash 3-Pack
Just like using a special face wash, the first step of defense is using a body wash containing salicylic acid, which helps to “loosen the connection between dead skin cells,” says Finney. The beta hydroxy acid goes deep into your pores and helps clear blockages from inside. For added benefit, Finney recommends using one that also has a physical exfoliant like microbeads.
2 X Out Deluxe Wash-In Treatment With Bonus Spot Corrector Acne Treatment
If you’re not sure if your breakouts are folliculitis or acne mechanica, Finney recommends using a wash with benzoyl peroxide. “Benzoyl peroxide’s primary goal is as an oxidizing agent, which kills bacteria,” he says. It also has an exfoliant property, to help break up clogs, but is a more potent anti- inflammatory agent than salicylic acid.
3 Hero Mighty Patch Large
Hydrocolloid acne patches work by sucking the gunk out from inside your pores and protecting it from further bacterial infection. They’re best used when you already see a pimple to help get rid of them faster. Most patches are small, and would be annoying to try to stick over large patches on your back. Not these— they’re large enough to cover multiple zits at once and are tailor-made for body acne.
4 PanOxyl Foaming Acne Wash 2-Pack
For stubborn acne, this wash (which can be used on your face and your body) has a high dose of benzoyl peroxide, that ingredient that gets deep into pores and kills bacteria. Keep this in your gym bag and use it right after a workout before bacteria has time to hang out.
5 Murad Clarifying Body Duo
Using the right body wash can make all the difference in back acne, but sometimes you need a one-two punch. This wash contains salicylic acid as well as green tea and licorice root extracts to help soothe inflamed skin. It’s best friend, the body spray, also contains salicylic acid and delivers an extra dose when you need it (like, not in the shower).
6 Differin Daily Deep Cleanser - Sensitive Skin Formula
The downfall of benzoyl peroxide is that it can be irritating to some people, but “if you can tolerate it, start there,” says Finney. “Especially if your pimples are red or coming to a head, there is more inflammation there and benzoyl peroxide is more potent.” Start slow and use it a couple of times a week to see how your skin reacts. If you can tolerate it, increase the frequency.
7 Skinfix Resurface+ Glycolic Renewing Scrub
Alpha hydroxy acids, like the glycolic and lactic acids in this cleanser, help to remove dead skin that accumulates on the surface of your skin. They don’t go deep into pores like salicylic, but once your acne clears up, they can be a powerful tool in maintaining clear and smooth skin all over your body. Use a scrub like this a few times a week.
8 Vive Loofah Sponge Back Scrubber
The biggest problem with treating back acne by yourself is actually reaching it. Finney recommends using a washcloth to get those hard-to-reach areas and using a thicker cleanser that will stay on the cloth. You can also use a long-handled loofah, but not every day. They can increase irritation, particularly if you are using it with benzoyl peroxide. Don’t use a brush more than once a week, he says.
9 Mario Badescu Drying Lotion
Like on your face, spot treatments can be effective at targeting specific and larger pimples when they pop up. “I like sulfur because it does have some antimicrobial properties, but is also going to gently exfoliate,” says Finney. The antimicrobial aspect of sulfur is especially good for body acne which is prone to infection.
10 Cortizone 10 Maximum Strength
Cortisone creams can be too harsh to use on your face, but are better for the thicker skin on your body. “It can help calm down inflammation quicker,” says Finney, provided that you don’t overdo it. Use it as a spot treatment only on the angriest zits and only when you need a quick fix. It won’t help prevent acne in the long run and can be drying if used too much.
11 CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion
Ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, while powerful acne fighters, can be drying to your skin. Moisturize your skin often to cut down on irritation and keep skin hydrated and healthy. “Look for words like oil-free and non-comedogenic on your lotion,” says Finney. “It’s not going to clog pores and lead to worse breakouts.”
12 Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream
It’s possible to have dry and acne-prone skin at the same time, particularly if you’re using harsher ingredients. “Some people get more irritation,” says Finney, “so instead of a lotion, they should use a cream just because it’s a little bit thicker.” That thickness means it has more moisturizing ingredients.
13 Belei Blemish Control Oil-Free Facial Cleansing Wipes
Since sweat is one of the main causes of clogged pores on your back, it’s important to shower as soon as possible after you work out. If you can’t shower at the gym or get sweaty just from walking to work, use a wipe containing salicylic acid to clean off until you can get to a shower. These wipes say they’re for your face, but they work on your body, too.
14 Bevel Exfoliating Bar Soap
Using an exfoliating soap even when you’re not having a bacne flare-up can be a huge help in keeping them from coming back at all. A scrub soap like this uses microbeads to manually exfoliate away dead skin cells and debris that can build up over time. It’s a good option for the days between your benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid cleanser.
15 Paula's Choice CLEAR Back and Body Acne Spray
Dexterity issues be damned, a spray containing salicylic acid can help you treat hard-to-reach areas like your mid-back or between your shoulder blades. This version is a leave-on treatment, which means you spray it on after your shower and let it go to work without washing it off.