Body Acne 101: Prevention and Treatment
Dr. Angel Rivera
Body acne is a common condition that affects many people, especially during puberty. It can appear anywhere on your body and can be unsightly and embarrassing. Keep reading to learn more about the different types of body acne, how you get this kind of acne, and what treatments are available. We will also talk about how to prevent future cases of body acne so you can feel confident in your skin again.
What is body acne?
Body acne is a condition that can affect anyone, from teens to adults. It's often seen as the bane of adolescence, but it can happen as you get older too. Body acne is a form of acne which occurs on the body and typically manifests in areas where there are large concentrations of oil glands and hair follicles–such as on the face and back. Acne forms by clogging up pores in these areas. The clogged pores then become inflamed. This can cause the pore to rupture and release oils into nearby tissues, causing them to swell up.
What causes body acne?
Anywhere you can grow hair, you can also develop a pimple. You have oil glands wherever you have hair follicles on your body, specifically concentrated on the face, back, chest, shoulders, neck, and buttocks.
Normally when the glands and hair follicles are not clogged the body will produce just enough sebum, the natural oil produced by your sebaceous glands near hair follicles, to keep these areas lubricated. When there is a blockage of one or more pores the oil builds up inside them. The pore may then rupture from its normal size and release bacteria which causes inflammation in the surrounding tissue.
Most body acne is caused by a skin condition called folliculitis, which appear as small red bumps that may be filled with pus or other debris from ruptured hair follicles. The most common types are:
- Follicular acne: Acne that occurs in clusters around a hair shaft where there's an opening at either end (i.e., near armpits).
- Cystic acne: This type of acne resembles large nodules without any visible head, and may be painful.
- Nodular acne: Large, inflamed lumps under the surface of the skin with a visible head are reminiscent of nodular acne.
Where can I get body acne?
Now that we know the common causes of body acne let's delve deeper into where it can appear on your body. The most common locations for body acne are:
- Back of shoulders or neck – Follicular acne is common. Occasionally cystic acne will appear in these areas if it's left untreated.
- Armpits – Follicular acne is found under your arms. It sometimes becomes severe enough to form cysts that can rupture through the skin, causing pain and other problems like rashes from clothing. Armpit body acne is usually worse when swimming or sweating profusely or during times of hormonal imbalance such as your monthly cycle.
- Buttocks – Most often cystic acne appears on the butt, which can be painful.
- Chest – Follicular acne and cystic acne are found here, but it's unusual for pimples to rupture through the skin if left untreated.
- Groin and pubic area – There is usually both follicular and cystic acne in this area due to a higher concentration of hair follicles than other regions of the body. Nodular acne may also occur in these areas as well.
Many people who suffer from body acne say that emotional stress or anxiety causes flare-ups. These episodes will often clear up when you reach calmer periods again like after exams or at the end of a stressful event.
What are the best treatments for body acne?
The most common treatment options for body acne include topical medications like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, as well as oral medications like antibiotics and pills for hormonal acne.
The best treatment for body acne depends on the severity, location, and type of inflammation. For milder cases, antibiotic creams are usually prescribed, but over-the-counter treatments with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid may also be used. Oral antibiotics can help if there is an infection present in addition to blocked pores such as folliculitis.
For more severe cases topical medications like clindamycin and tretinoin may be needed, or oral antibiotics such as tetracycline and minocycline. Systemic retinoids may also sometimes be prescribed by a dermatologist to unblock pores that have been affected by hormonal changes due to puberty or menopause, and can dramatically affect the appearance of skin disorders.
Please consult your doctor or pharmacist to find the medicines and treatment plans that work for you.
How to prevent body acne?
Topical creams or foams are often prescribed for milder cases of body acne, while oral antibiotics and other medications may be needed in more severe cases. Prevention includes using a gentle cleanser, avoiding tight clothes that could cause chafing on the back or neck area, wearing loose-fitting clothing to provide air circulation around hair follicles (for swimming), applying petroleum jelly before going into the water, scraping dead skin off with an exfoliant or pumice stone weekly, drinking lots of water daily, and taking vitamin E supplements on occasion if you can't get enough through food sources alone.
It's also important to find out what triggers your breakouts. Emotional stress seems common among sufferers, so avoiding any situation or circumstances that can lead to unwanted stress can also be a healthy way of preventing body acne.
If body acne has been left untreated it will often become more severe over time as bacteria builds up inside pores without any way of getting out. This can lead to infection which could require antibiotics and other medications administered by a doctor like isotretinoin or tetracycline.
Body acne is not always preventable, but taking some or all of these steps can help alleviate symptoms. If these methods do not work, please consult your doctor or pharmacist for further treatment options.
Where can I get treatments for body acne?
Over-the-counter treatments like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide should be available under various brand names at pharmacies. As for medications like clindamycin, these are only available through a prescription from your medical professional.
If you are not able to see your doctor for any reason, please check out the convenient links to our partners below. All of these sites provide a free consultation with a medical professional over your phone or computer and have a variety of different prescriptions available, for example, clindamycin and tretinoin. If a doctor prescribes medication, these sites provide convenient, discreet, shipping directly to your mailbox without leaving your couch. See if you are eligible for a prescription below!
Body acne is a skin disorder characterized by the appearance of pimples on the body. It is caused by excess sebum production and dead skin cells in pores. There are treatments that are used to treat body acne depending on severity, location, and type of inflammation. Prevention includes using a gentle cleanser, avoiding tight clothing, and wearing loose-fitting clothing that allows air circulation around hair follicles. It's especially important to find out what triggers your breakouts.
Harvard Health Publishing – Adult acne: Understanding underlying causes and banishing breakouts
Cedars Sinai – Don’t Mistake these Skin Conditions for Acne