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Image of a woman from behind representing acne on back

Acne on back – causes, symptoms and how you might treat it

Acne on the back, neck and shoulders is a prevalent issue for people of all ages. Sometimes referred to as ‘bacne’, it’s most common in adolescence, but affects many adults.

In fact, of the 85 per cent of people who have experienced acne at one stage or another, more than half of those develop it on their back.

While it may be common, there isn’t the same amount of information out there on how to tackle it. So, what can be done to treat acne on the back?

What is acne on back?

Acne vulgaris on the back is the same skin condition that people get on their face. It causes red, inflamed bumps on the skin and is caused by an overproduction of sebum, blocked hair follicles and bacteria.

Common symptoms of back acne on the back, neck and shoulders include:

  • Oily skin.
  • Skin that can be hot to touch or tender, particularly during a flare-up.
  • White heads – white-topped pimple.
  • Blackheads – small black bumps.
  • Nodules – painful, hard bumps that form under the skin.

An unhappy after-effect of back acne can be scarring.

Image of a man from behind to represent acne on back

What causes it?

Understanding the cause behind your back acne can help you treat it properly.

Genetics

There isn’t a particular gene that causes acne; however, your genetics do affect how your skin reacts to the bacteria linked to acne, making you more susceptible to having it.

Medication

Certain medications can cause acne on your back, including:

  • Oral corticosteroids – are known to cause acne as they increase yeast proliferation.
  • Hormonal contraceptives – can often cause oiliness and acne due to the change in hormone levels.
  • Anabolic steroids – can make the sebaceous oil glands more susceptible to inflammation, oiliness, and infection, thus triggering acne.
  • Testosterone – is linked to acne due to significant hormone changes.

If you’re worried that your medication is making the acne on your back worse, speak to your doctor.

Other possible reasons for getting back acne

  • Hormonal changes, such as your menstrual cycle, can trigger oil production in a similar way to stress.
  • Environmental factors, including pollution.
  • Food – reducing dairy and sugar intake can sometimes help calm acne.
  • Lifestyle choices, such as, the creams you use and what clothing you wear.
  • While stress can’t cause acne, it can make flare-ups worse.
Image of a woman to represent acne on back

How you might treat acne on back

Breakouts typically take around six to 12 weeks to clear-up with treatment, so don’t give up if you don’t see immediate results. Popular treatments for acne on the back include:

Creams or solutions

There are a variety of topical creams and serums available that help reduce acne on the back. This includes:

  • Retinol – works by exfoliating old skin cells and promoting healthy ones to grow.
  • Salicylic acid – helps decrease oil secretion, cleans skin, and unclog follicles.
  • Benzoyl peroxide – acts as an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory that can also reduce bacteria.

Medications

If topical creams and serums aren’t helping to clear up the acne on your back, your doctor may recommend trying a specific medication, such as:

  • Tetracycline – an antibiotic commonly prescribed for acne that inhibits the growth of bacteria.
  • Erythromycin – works in the same manner as tetracycline but is typically prescribed to pregnant or nursing women.
  • Hormonal treatments – such as co-cyprindiol – that reduce sebum production.
  • Isotretinoin – reserved for severe acne – it reduces sebum production, decreases swelling and prevents bacteria from forming.

Change up your routine

There may be certain lifestyle habits you have that are not the cause of your acne, but can exacerbate it, such as:

  • Using heavily scented or thick creams. Choose lighter sprays or products specifically designed for acne-prone skin. Always wear SPF.
  • Having long hair that lies on your back. Wear your hair up.
  • Wearing tight, synthetic clothing (there is another, less common, type of acne called acne mechanica that usually affects athletes and soldiers because of the type of clothing they wear). Wear loose clothing and choose cotton or moisture-wicking fabrics. Change out of gym clothes as soon as possible after working out.

Microdermabrasion

A non-invasive, non-surgical treatment, microdermabrasion buffs away dead skin cells using abrasive diamonds or crystals, encouraging new cells to replace them. It’s effective for those suffering from mild breakouts and minimises the appearance of whiteheads and blackheads. It can also help with acne scarring.

Light therapy

A safe, painless treatment for mild to moderate acne, phototherapy devices are used to eliminate bacteria on the skin, with blue light being the most effective in treating acne. This is because it is anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, meaning it kills off acne-causing bacteria.

Laser therapy

Best suited for those with mild to moderate acne scarring, laser therapy is a non-invasive, non-surgical treatment used to treat the scars caused by acne. There are two different types available:

  • Non-ablative laser treatment – lasers are used to encourage naturally occurring collagen. This, in turn, repairs damage to the skin caused by both acne and scarring.
  • Ablative laser treatment – lasers remove small patches of skin, smoothing out the treatment area.

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