Body acne can be tough to treat, since only the double-jointed among us can easily apply a cream to their left shoulder blade. (And don't even get us started on the difficulties of treating butt acne without the formula rubbing off on clothes as you sit through yet another Zoom meeting.) The acne on your face seems like child's play in comparison—more visible, sure, but at least you can reach it.
Yet body acne can be impossible to avoid, especially in the summer. Heat and sweat converge to clog pores all over your body, though breakouts tend to appear most on your chest, back, and butt—basically, anywhere that a sweat stain might appear on your clothes. (Similar to maskne, but everywhere.) And while some of it can be blamed on sweat alone, there's more to it than that.
What causes body acne?
“The first step to treating body acne is to figure out the reason you are breaking out," says Marina Peredo, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. “These reasons could be hormonal, lifestyle, or just genetics.” Of these contributors, your lifestyle is the only one you can really control, so it's best to start there.
First, scope out your workout habits. “When you don’t shower right after working out or sweating, the sweat can cause bacteria to build up on your skin, leading to breakouts,” Peredo says. “You should make sure to wear cotton athleticwear, which won’t trap in sweat, shower after working out, and apply a topical cream to treat the acne.”
Your hair routine can also contribute—and in more ways than you might think. The most obvious culprit here are your hair products. “If you are using heavier leave-in products like conditioner, pomades, and oils, you may notice that you are breaking out along your hairline, upper back, and neck area,” says Peredo. These tend to be thicker and more occlusive, and thus more likely to plug up a pore. But not washing your hair isn't exactly a solution, either. “Washing your hair less can cause the scalp to produce more oil, which can also clog pores and cause breakouts,” she says.
However, if you already go straight from a post-run stretch to your shower and have eliminated your hair routine as a culprit, then genetics or hormones can be the cause (for the latter, hormonal breakouts on your face are a tip-off). Indeed, “oily skin is genetic and typically involves the entire body,” says New York dermatologist Michelle Henry, M.D. “If someone has very severe facial acne, then they are more likely to have body acne.”
In that case, “you may want to treat acne with an over-the-counter ointment,” says Peredo. “If that doesn’t help, you should see your dermatologist, who will be able to recommend a prescription topical or oral treatment.” She's also a fan of the Hydrafacial, which can be performed on your body—and even your scalp—as well as your face.
The best body acne treatments to get rid of breakouts
Not all body acne will clear up at the same pace—or respond to the same treatment. “The closer to your face, the easier the acne is to treat," says Peredo. “For example, the acne on your chest and upper back will be easier to get rid of than on your lower back and buttocks.” It's a matter of physiology. Because the lower half of the body has relatively slower circulation (plus larger surface areas), acne there is slower to heal.
Then there are a few primary ingredients to choose from. While benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are the most common ingredients for fighting acne on your body and face alike, there are differences between the two. “If you have sensitive skin, salicylic acid is a better choice since it is better tolerated than benzoyl peroxide," Peredo says. “Benzoyl peroxide is best suited for people with normal and less sensitive skin.” However, salicylic acid is still an exfoliant, and may not be doable if your skin is really reactive or sensitive. If that's indeed the case, consider sodium hypochlorite, which is safe enough for all skin types, even those prone to eczema.
With that in mind, we asked derms and editors to share their favorite over-the- counter body acne treatments. Here are the products they say get the job done.
Best for Everyday Use: CLn Body Wash
CLn Body Wash is gentle enough for daily use, while packing antimicrobial properties. This sodium hypochlorite wash combines two key factors in fighting acne: It kills bacteria and soothes inflammation and irritation. Most important, it won't overly strip the skin and trigger further sebum production. —Deanne Robinson, M.D., dermatologist at Modern Dermatology in Westport, Connecticut
Best Gentle Benzoyl Peroxide Wash: Neutrogena Clear Pore Cleanser/Mask
Neutrogena Clear Pore Cleanser/Mask is one of my favorites because it is often easier to treat body acne with washes and other products that are easy to apply. Benzoyl peroxide is effective at killing bacteria that causes acne, and percentages under 5%, like this wash, tend to be less drying. —Michele Farber, M.D., dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City
Best Tough-Acting Benzoyl Peroxide Wash: Clean & Clear Continuous Control Acne Cleanser
I like that it serves a dual purpose of cleaning the skin and removing dirt— in addition to treating existing acne while preventing new acne from forming. It also has calming and hydrating effects with menthol and mineral oil. —Sapna Palep, M.D., dermatologist at Spring Street Dermatology in NYC
Best Gentle Salicylic Acid Wash: Curology Acne Body Wash
As a Curology stan who deals with bumps beneath my sports bra, I was thrilled to find out that the brand just debuted a body wash. It foams into a lather like you'd expect from a good body wash, but offers 2% salicylic acid and hydrating glycerin to clear and nourish skin. —Deanna Pai, beauty contributor
Best Tough-Acting Salicylic Acid Body Wash: Neutrogena Body Clear
This is a great daily body wash that contains salicylic acid and grapefruit extract to gently unclog blackheads and pores on the chest, back, and arms. It’s super easy to use to treat your skin while you're showering. [Editor's note: It also smells ah-ma-zing.] —Elliot Weiss, M.D., dermatologist at Laser Skin & Surgery Center of New York
Best Body Scrub: SkinCeuticals Clarifying Exfoliating Cleanser
This highly effective exfoliating cleanser packs a punch. A combination of gentle mechanical exfoliation from pumice beads and the gentle unclogging power of salicylic, glycolic, and lactic acids results in clearer, smoother skin. — E.W.
Best for Face and Body: PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash
This formulation can be used on your face or body—and it comes in 4% and 10% concentrations of benzoyl peroxide, depending on your skin's response and needs. Most people can tolerate the 10% strength on the body. Benzoyl peroxide fights active breakouts while preventing new ones—it penetrates the pores and kills bacteria causing the acne and soothes inflammation to help keep pores open and clear. —D.R.
Best for Shoulder Acne: Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel
There's nothing like warm-weather sweat, not-washed-enough bra straps, and shoulder-baring outfits to make you suddenly aware of the skin on your back. The gel's combination of green tea, aloe, and glycolic acid flattened out my raised acne, and there were only a few faint red marks where the blemishes had been. Ever since, as soon as I've seen a pimply shoulder situation start to arise, I've slathered it on and gotten the same results. —Rachel Nussbaum, contributor
Best for Chest Acne: CeraVe SA Body Wash
This is loaded with salicylic acid, which dissolves trapped dead skin cells in the pore, helping to keep it open and clean. S.A. is lipophilic, which means it can get through acne-producing oil buildup to do its job. —D.R.
Best for Back Acne: Glytone Acne Treatment Spray
This is great because it contains the effective acne-fighter salicylic acid, which helps unclog pores. The spray formulation also makes easy to apply on the back. —M.F.
Best for Hard-to-Reach Spots: Versed Back-Up Plan Acne-Control Body Mist
As someone who's overdone the bacne treatments and faced the red, irritated consequences, I'm thankful for this effective yet gentle spray, which offers a pore-clearing, bacteria-fighting combo of salicylic acid, tea tree oil, and witch hazel. Plus, the mist eliminates the weird contortion usually needed to target my back. —Deanna Pai, contributor
Best for Post-Workout: Skinfluence 5-2 Pads
These pads contain salicylic acid and will help calm down acne and get rid of bacteria and oil on your skin. They’re easy to use and are perfect for postworkout when you don’t have time to take a shower. —M.P.
Best Retinol Treatment: Differin Acne Treatment Gel
Retinoids are the best topical options for texture and pigment changes with acne, and perform double-duty as antiacne and antiaging. This is a great over- the-counter retinoid for reducing inflammation and clogging in active acne. — M.F.
Best Lotion: CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion
Body washes and topicals aside, be sure you're using a noncomedogenic moisturizer on your body just as you would on an acne-prone face. I love this CeraVe product as it's fragrance-free and gentle, and uses the hydrating power of hyaluronic acid, which is lightweight and won't clog pores. —D.R.
Best for Oil Control: Differin Daily Deep Cleanser
This is an efficacious benzoyl-peroxide-based wash that really minimizes dryness and irritation while providing the benefits of acne-fighting benzoyl peroxide. Just be careful not to bleach your towels with this one. —E.W.
Best for Fading Scars: SkinBetter AlphaRet Exfoliating Peel Pads
Once active breakouts are suppressed, these are great for swiping over your chest, shoulders, and back to exfoliate and rejuvenate your skin. They help to fade scarring and even out skin pigment and texture. —D.R.
Best for Preventing Body Acne: Arm & Hammer Body Deodorant Invisible Spray Powder
This contains baking soda, which has both anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties—key for managing acne. The accompanying (talc-free!) ingredients help absorb moisture and sweat, creating a less ideal environment for bacteria to thrive in. This can be a good option to spray onto problem areas proactively. — D.R.