- Back acne is a common skin condition among teenagers and adults
- Causes include hormonal changes and clogged pores due to sweat remaining on skin for too long
- It can be challenging to treat since the back is sometimes difficult to reach
- Treatments include over-the-counter products, prescription medications and natural remedies
- Lifestyle changes can sometimes prevent back acne caused by sweat
Back acne, or “bacne” is a common skin condition that affects men and women, teenagers and adults. This type of acne can be difficult to manage, as the back can be hard to reach and difficult to see.
Depending on the cause, back acne can be treated with topical over-the-counter (OTC) products designed for easy use on the back, prescription medications and lifestyle changes.
What Causes Back Acne?
Acne is caused by dead skin cells, dirt, bacteria and oil that become trapped in the skin’s pores. It can occur anywhere on the body but appears most often on the face and torso, including the back. Back acne occurs from adolescence to adulthood.
Back acne can result when sweat is allowed to sit on the skin for too long. This can develop if you don’t bathe or shower promptly after physical exertion, causing perspiration to be trapped under tight clothing or equipment, such as a backpack.
In women, hormones can be an underlying cause of breakouts anywhere on the body, including the back.
Back acne scars
Acne can leave scars on the back just as it can on any part of the body. This is most likely to occur if lesions become severe and inflamed. However, even small, mild pimples on the back can leave scars if popped or picked at.
There are three types of acne scars: pitted, raised and hyperpigmented. The type of scar left behind by an acne lesion depends in part on skin type. For example, postinflammatory hyperpigmentation occurs most often in darker skin tones.
Back Acne in Women vs. Men
For women and teenage girls, back acne that appears a few days before menstruation can result from increasing levels of androgen, the hormone that stimulates the production of sebum (oil) by the sebaceous glands. Fluctuations in this hormone is often the cause of acne breakouts in teenagers of either sex.
How to Get Rid of Back Acne
Back acne can be effectively treated with topical medications that are available OTC and by prescription. For back acne that doesn’t respond to topical treatments, an oral prescription medication may be necessary.
Home remedies may be effective for mild cases or as a supplement to topical or oral treatments. When back acne is the result of prolonged periods of sweat, dirt and oil on skin, lifestyle changes can help clear pores and prevent future breakouts.
Topical treatment for back acne
Back acne can usually be managed by the topical application of medicated products; they are readily available in a variety of formulations.
For individual blemishes, highly concentrated serums, creams and gels can be applied as spot treatments to reduce the appearance of pimples and address inflammation. Sometimes it is necessary to ask for help in applying these products to hard-to-reach areas of the back.
Body washes and sprays are designed to reduce inflammation, remove excess sebum or exfoliate skin. They are especially beneficial for treating and preventing back acne as they are much easier to apply and can be directed over the entire back.
Medicated body washes are used in the shower. Body washes should be lathered on and then allowed to rest on the skin for a few minutes before being rinsed off. This provides time for active ingredients to penetrate the skin, which is thicker than on the face.
Adapelane is a slow-acting retinoid-like compound that treats blemishes but causes less redness and peeling associated than retinoids. It is available OTC as a gel or cream at a concentration of 0.1% and by prescription in a 0.3% gel.
Benzoyl peroxide clears pores of dead skin cells and excess oil and kills bacteria. Unlike antibiotic medications that also work by killing bacteria, benzoyl peroxide does not cause bacterial resistance. This occurs where bacteria builds up a tolerance to medication, rendering it ineffective. Benzoyl peroxide can therefore safely be used for long periods of time.
Benzoyl peroxide is available OTC in concentrations of 2–10%. It is also an active ingredient in certain prescription medications such as clindamycin, a topical antibiotic.
These nonmedicated bandages contain gel-forming agents, usually gelatin or pectin, that draw fluid from blemishes while simultaneously creating a barrier to outside bacteria. They work best on inflamed whiteheads and cysts that are forming a head.
Topical retinoids treat back acne by reducing inflammation and preventing the formation of microcomedones – small pimples and blackheads.
Tretinoin, the most commonly prescribed retinoid, is available in prescription strengths of 0.025–to 0.1% and as a cream, gel or lotion.
Tazarotene, another prescribed medication, is available as a foam, cream and gel at 0.1% strength.
This beta-hydroxy acid reduces inflammation, exfoliates skin and removes excess oil. Salicylic acid is the active ingredient in cleansers, spot treatments and other OTC products for treating acne.
Topical zinc is an essential trace element with anti-inflammatory properties, making it an important ingredient in body washes that are formulated to help prevent and treat acne.
Oral medications for treating back acne
When back acne is resistant to topical treatment, it is time to turn to stronger oral medications. The drug you use will depend on the cause of your acne and the severity.
Oral antibiotics help destroy bacteria throughout the body. Antibiotics commonly used to treat acne include minocycline and doxycycline, and macrolides such as azithromycin. As with isotretinoin, these drugs should not be used long term to avoid antibiotic resistance.
Combination birth control pills
Oral contraceptives that contain estrogen and progestin are known as combined oral contraceptives. They are effective for treating hormonal acne in women by decreasing levels of androgens in the body.
This powerful retinoid, once sold under the brand name Accutane, is highly effective. It works by reducing sebum production.
Isotretinoin should not be used long term and should not be taken by women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant as it can cause serious birth defects.
Women who are sexually active are advised to use two forms of birth control while taking isotretinoin and to remain on birth control for at least 1 month after stopping this medication. There have been no adverse effects reported for men who father a child while on isotretinoin.
Oral forms of zinc have the same anti-inflammatory properties as topical zinc. It has been found to be an effective alternative to antibiotics for people who cannot take antibiotics, including pregnant women, and is associated with fewer side effects.
Home remedies can be used on their own to clear up mild back acne or to supplement an OTC or prescription medication. Before taking this route, check with your doctor first to avoid any adverse interactions.
Tea tree oil
One scientifically accepted home remedy for acne is tea tree oil. This oil has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties to reduce redness and inflammation. It also works as an astringent, helping to cleanse skin and dry up excess oil.
To use tea tree oil, apply a few drops to a damp cotton pad and swipe gently over breakouts and any acne-prone areas of skin.
Do-it-yourself body scrubs
A body scrub can help treat and prevent blackheads and other forms of noninflammatory acne. This simple DIY recipe combines sugar, an effective exfoliator, with honey, which has antibacterial properties.
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup raw, unpasteurized honey
- Combine ingredients in a small container
- In the shower, rub the mixture onto skin using a back scrub brush
- Rinse thoroughly
Do not use a scrub of any kind on inflamed lesions, as this will cause further irritation.
Back acne that results from sweat and dirt buildup on skin for prolonged periods can be prevented by making some lifestyle changes.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing made of breathable fabrics such as cotton, or athletic wear made of materials that wick moisture away from skin during strenuous activities
- Shower as soon as possible after sweating to clear pores of debris
- Use a medicated cleansing wipe on acne-prone areas when bathing immediately isn’t possible
- Change into fresh clothing after showering or wiping down
- Wash workout clothing after every use
- Opt for noncomedogenic, oil-free sunscreens and skin care products
- Wash sheets and pillowcases once a week to prevent buildup of dead skin cells and bacteria
- Resist the urge to pop pimples or pick at blemishes
- Include topical retinoids as part of an anti-acne regimen for inflamed acne
Back acne can be caused by hormonal fluctuations, lifestyle habits or both. For teenagers and adult women, it is often due to hormonal fluctuations.
You can treat back acne on your own with medicated body washes, exfoliants and natural remedies. Look for products containing active ingredients such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide or tea tree oil to reduce inflammation and excess oil on your skin.
Simple lifestyle changes can reduce symptoms or prevent back acne from forming in the first place.
If you find you cannot manage your back acne on your own, a doctor or dermatologist can prescribe a medication such as a retinoid or oral contraceptive.
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