- Acne mechanica is a form of acne caused by trapped heat and perspiration against the skin.
- It can be caused by friction against the skin, as well.
- Sometimes called sports-related acne, it occurs when clothing, sports equipment, backpacks or other objects irritate the skin for a prolonged period of time.
- Acne mechanica can be treated by removing the irritants and keeping the skin clean.
- Topical acne treatments are also effective.
Acne mechanica is characterized by a very localized outbreak in an area where heat and perspiration are trapped against the skin. Friction against the skin can also cause an outbreak.
This form of acne is treatable, and even preventable, by removing the cause of the outbreak, keeping the area clean and using topical acne treatments.
What Is Acne Mechanica?
Acne mechanica is a form of acne caused by heat, perspiration and friction. Sometimes called sports-related acne, it occurs when clothing or equipment trap heat and sweat or cause friction on the skin.
Where does acne mechanica occur?
Acne mechanica can occur anywhere there is heat trapped against the skin or where there is friction. Whether it be a specific area on the face, such as the chin or forehead, the arms or the neck, it all depends on where the skin is receiving repeated irritation.
Acne mechanica vs. other types of acne
While acne mechanica presents like other forms of acne, it differs in its cause. It isn’t brought on by changing hormones, medications or excessive oil, like acne vulgaris, the most common form of acne.
The key difference between acne mechanica and other forms of acne is how and where it appears on the skin. With acne mechanica, blemishes are very localized, appearing only where the skin is irritated.
With acne mechanica, the friction and heat caused by restrictive clothing, equipment or accessories causes the pores to clog. Blemishes will only form in that specific area and nowhere else.
Once the irritant is removed, the blemishes typically go away.
Acne mechanica can also be confused with heat rash, since both conditions cause a cluster of localized red pimples.
Heat rash most often occurs in hot weather when perspiration is trapped next to the skin. It usually appears on the back, neck or chest.
Heat rashes, unlike acne mechanica, can cause itching or a prickly sensation. It usually occurs in skin folds, as well.
Causes of Acne Mechanica
Acne mechanica is most often associated with athletes, particularly those who wear a lot of protective gear for a prolonged period of time, such as football or hockey players. But any activity that causes friction against the skin can cause acne mechanica.
Friction can cause dead skin cells to break off from the skin. If the skin cells are trapped, they can clog pores, triggering acne.
Heat and perspiration can also cause acne mechanica by trapping bacteria against the skin, which can clog pores, as well.
Treatments for Acne Mechanica
Treatment options for acne mechanica are removal of the irritant or topical treatments.
Removing the cause
First, try to remove or modify the cause of your acne mechanica.
- Wear looser, breathable fabric, such as cotton or bamboo, when working out.
- Refrain from wearing hats or sweatbands.
- Lighten the load in purses and backpacks, or switch to a handheld bag.
Common in many face washes and cleansing treatments, salicylic acid stimulates the shedding process the outer layer of skin goes through naturally. By doing so, it rids the skin of dirt, oil and bacteria that can clog pores and cause acne.
Salicylic acid can cause minor skin irritation or stinging when applied.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids
Alpha hydroxy acids are synthetic versions of acids derived from fruit. They help eliminate acne by removing dead skin and reducing inflammation.
Alpha hydroxy acids can cause skin irritation, particularly in high concentrations. Consult your dermatologist before using them.
Benzoyl peroxide has been used for acne treatment since the 1930s. It works by shedding the outer layer of the skin, much like salicylic acid. Benzoyl peroxide has antibacterial properties, as well, and helps clear away extra oil.
But benzoyl peroxide can irritate the skin, causing dryness and scaling. And it’s not recommended for use during pregnancy.
Retinol works by prompting the outermost surface of the skin to die, which triggers new skin cells to grow. The old skin and acne are essentially pushed away to make way for new, clearer skin.
The side effects of retinol include burning, peeling, dry skin and stinging where it’s applied.
How to Prevent Acne Mechanica
You can prevent acne mechanica before it starts by changing your clothing, keeping the area clean or using preventative topical treatments.
Wearing breathable fabrics
Wear fabrics that allow your skin to breathe and let sweat evaporate from your skin. Fabrics to consider include cotton, bamboo and linen. There are synthetic fabrics specifically engineered to wick away sweat, as well.
Keeping the area clean
Removing the offending clothing or equipment isn’t always an option, nor is choosing an alternative fabric. Instead, showering or cleaning the area frequently will help prevent acne mechanica from forming.
Many of the treatments for acne, particularly salicylic and alpha hydroxy acids, are used in acne-preventing washes. By removing oil, dead skin, dirt and bacteria, they can prevent acne mechanica before it begins.
Acne mechanica is a treatable and preventable form of acne caused by specific irritants to the skin. When heat or perspiration are trapped against the skin, or when clothing or equipment cause friction on the skin, pimples may start to form.
To treat acne mechanica, remove the irritant completely and use an over-the-counter acne treatment. If it’s a particularly stubborn case, see your dermatologist about an antibiotic.
To prevent it, wear breathable fabrics and wash the area frequently. You may even want to try a wash that contains salicylic or alpha hydroxy acid.
See your dermatologist to determine the best way to prevent and treat it.
- Kraft, J., & Freiman, A. (2011). Management of acne. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne, 183(7), E430–E435. doi:10.1503/cmaj.090374
- Decker, A., & Graber, E. M. (2012). Over-the-counter Acne Treatments: A Review. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 5(5), 32–40. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3366450/