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Image of a woman’s neck with stickers representing body acne

Bacne - how to deal with body acne

Written by
Chloë James

Acne can be stubborn and uncomfortable – even when it’s not on your face. When a flare-up appears anywhere below the neck, you’re officially dealing with body acne (or ‘bacne’). It’s just as common and can have just as much of an impact on your self-confidence but likes to set itself apart by being even tougher to treat.

That’s partly because tackling bacne provides a bigger logistical challenge than a few pimples on your jawline. A 10-step skincare routine seems excessive even when it’s on your face, never-mind your entire back. Exfoliating such a surface area takes time – not to mention a lot of product. Then there’s the fact that your body spends most of the day trapped beneath layers of material, which prevents bacne from having the space it needs to heal.

For that reason, you usually need a separate skin strategy. One that both confronts and prevents body acne, giving you the confidence to wear the clothes you love.

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How is body acne different from regular acne?

The first step to treating body acne is understanding what differentiates it from the acne on your face. In some ways, the two are very similar – both are most commonly caused by pores clogged with bacteria, dead skin cells, or excess oil. That’s why you normally find body acne on the back or chest; these areas have the most sebaceous glands, increasing the chances of congestion.

It’s also the reason why hot weather and regular exercise often come with an uptick in body acne. The more you sweat – and the longer that sweat sits on your skin – the higher the risk of it obstructing your pores.

Although it’s more common in the areas prone to oiliness, you can get spots anywhere that has hair follicles (which, unfortunately, is pretty much the entire body). Sometimes these take the form of blackheads, but you’re more likely to find these on your face. Body blemishes more commonly take the form of cysts or whiteheads and take longer to heal than regular acne. They can look, act, and be triggered differently, depending on the body part.

Back

As it’s home to most your body’s sebaceous glands, the upper half of the body – especially your back – tends to be quite sweaty. And when sweaty skin is trapped under tight or heavy clothing, it can’t aerate, which creates the perfect storm for bacteria. Your back is also regularly irritated by bags, chairs, and heavy hair care products in the shower – none of which helps the blocked pores situation.

If you’re going to find blackheads anywhere on your body, it’ll probably be the back or shoulders. Acne in this area can also take the form of whiteheads, cysts, or pimples.

Chest

This is another oily part of the body, so also prone to breakouts. Men have more hair in this area, making them more susceptible to spots when the follicles get inflamed. Technically, this is known as folliculitis rather than acne, but it produces clusters of small red bumps or whiteheads that look very similar.

Arms

Arms are often covered with occlusive clothing, bringing the same irritation and congestion issues experienced by your back and chest. Although cysts and pimples are both possible, blemishes on your arm are generally smaller, harder, and more correctly defined as keratosis pilaris, not acne. It looks similar – and is also caused by a build-up of dead skin cells – but is classed as a separate condition that’s genetic and worsened by the sun.

Legs and buttocks

Frustrating though it may be, spots on your chest and upper back are easier to eradicate than your lower back, buttocks, or legs. This is because the lower half of your body has slower circulation, slowing down the healing process. Acne in both areas is extremely rare, and what you think is acne is probably actually folliculitis, caused by hair follicles blocked or irritated by things like hair removal or tight clothes. Whatever the reason, spots on the buttocks are particularly tough to treat considering the amount of time we spend sitting down.

How can I treat body acne?

Even the most effective facial skincare routine probably won’t translate well to bacne. Our bodies are constantly on the go, so don’t have the luxury of sitting and absorbing products the same way as the skin on our face. Most breakouts will fade on their own over time, but there are ways you can tailor your routine to prevent more from popping up in the future.

Prevention

Shower enough (but not too much)

Cleansing is as important for preventing pimples on the body as it is the face. Regularly washing your body prevents a build-up of dead skin cells, sweat, and dirt, which is the usual culprit for acne. This is particularly important after exercise or hot weather. But you also don’t want to shower too often – too much exposure to hot water will strip the natural oils for your skin, potentially triggering a whole new wave of issues. Avoid showering more than once a day. If you can’t, at least dial down the temperature.

Keep clothes clean and light

Anything that traps sweat is bacne’s best friend. Sweat with nowhere to go will clog pores – especially if you’re re-wearing the same unwashed clothes that have had a chance to accumulate bacteria. The same logic also applies to other things coming into regular contact with your skin, such as your bed sheets or towels. If you’re already in the midst of a breakout – or if the weather is hot and you’re prone to bacne – light, breathable clothing made of materials such as cotton gives skin room to breathe.

Body skincare

Unless you can turn your arms 360 degrees, applying a serum or toner to your entire back just isn’t realistic. Body washes are easier to apply, and there are some great options containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid to control oil production in those hard-to-reach areas. Physically exfoliating a few times a week with a scrub or mitt can also help unclog pores.

Cut down on sugar

Nobody wants to hear this, but a diet high in sugar or high-glycaemic foods has been linked to an increase in inflammation. Your body’s response to this is to produce more sebum than usual – which, of course, can lead to more blocked pores, and acne breakouts across not just your face but the entire body.

Getting rid of body acne

Prevention is useful no matter the state of your body’s skin. If you’re already in the throes of a breakout – and if it’s getting in the way of your confidence – there are also plenty of options for eradicating bacne.

Steroid shots - Cortisone steroid shots use a synthetic hormone similar to the stress hormone cortisol to not only provide short-term relief for redness, swelling, and pain, but accelerate the healing process. Although one session of injections is often enough, persistent breakouts can undergo an additional round after six weeks if necessary. These are best used on cystic acne.

Microdermabrasion - Already a go-to method for facial acne, microdermabrasion is just as effective at smoothing out blemishes on the body. An abrasive instrument made of diamonds or crystals is used to slough away the dead cells on the surface of the skin, allowing newer, healthier skin to grow in its place. As it involves physical exfoliation, this isn’t the best option for anyone with cystic acne, but it can help treat mild breakouts, folliculitis, or keratosis pilaris.

Laser therapy - There’s a long list of skin concerns that can be treated by laser therapy – including body acne. Directed specifically at your spots, the lasers are used to heat up and kill acne-inducing bacteria. The process can also lead to less oil production, which will help keep pores clear in the future. This is suitable for any kind of blemishes commonly found on your body, from cystic acne to folliculitis.

Saying bye to body acne

Whether it’s visible to the rest of the world or not, bacne can have a real knock on your confidence. The spots on your back, chest, or legs are hard to treat at times – but not impossible. With the right lifestyle changes or treatments to speed up the healing process, you can build a routine for your body that’s just as successful as the one for your face.

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