- Acne on the chest is caused by genetics, diet, stress, lifestyle habits and hormones.
- Chest acne is more likely to occur in women.
- It can be treated with medicated body washes, exfoliation and good hygiene.
Acne is a common skin condition that occurs when pores become clogged with dead skin cells, oil and bacteria, leading to inflammation and pimples. Acne appears most often on the face and torso, including the chest. Mild to moderate cases of chest acne are treated with over-the-counter (OTC) products and lifestyle changes, while severe cases require prescription medication.
Chest Acne Symptoms
The symptoms of chest acne are the same as acne anywhere else on the body.
In its milder forms, acne may or may not be inflamed and appears as whiteheads and blackheads. More severe forms of acne are usually inflamed and painful. They present as nodules, papules, pustules and cysts.
Another skin condition, folliculitis, can be mistaken for acne on the chest. Folliculitis is an inflammation of the hair follicles and appears as small red bumps. If your chest acne does not respond to standard acne treatments, it might actually be folliculitis.
Chest acne scars
Severe acne can leave scars anywhere on the body, including on the chest. You can reduce the risk of skin damage by refraining from picking at your skin and popping pimples; these actions can force bacteria deeper into the skin and increase inflammation, which leads to scarring.
Treatments for acne scars include chemical peels, microdermabrasion and laser therapy. These procedures address scarring by exfoliating the skin’s surface to remove scars or by breaking up scar tissue to promote the growth of new, healthy skin. Hydroquinone, a bleaching agent, can treat postinflammatory hyperpigmentation caused by acne.
What Causes Chest Acne?
Acne develops on the chest for the same reasons that it does on the face, neck or back. While some flare-ups are caused by lifestyle habits and pore-clogging skin care products, others are due to hormonal fluctuations. Diet, stress and genetics can also increase your likelihood of experiencing chest acne.
Fluctuating hormone levels can cause chest acne in teenagers of both sexes. During puberty, the body produces high amounts of androgens, male hormones that increase sebum production in the skin. In adult women, similar spikes in androgen levels just before menstruation can cause acne as well.
Harsh laundry detergents
The fragrances and sulfates used in some laundry detergents can clog and irritate hair follicles in people with sensitive skin, leading to acne. If you suspect you have a skin sensitivity, wash your clothes using a sulfate- and fragrance-free hypoallergenic product.
Certain body lotions
Body lotions containing pore-blocking ingredients can cause acne on the chest. Choose fragrance- and oil-free products labeled as noncomedogenic, meaning they won’t clog pores.
Wearing tight, nonbreathable clothing during exercise can cause chest acne by trapping sweat, oil and bacteria against the skin. It can also develop due to poor hygiene, by not showering immediately after exercise, as sweat and debris can clog pores.
Chest Acne in Women vs. Men
For adult women, breakouts often appear in the days leading up to menstruation. During this time, the body has higher levels of androgen, a hormone that increases sebum production which increases the likelihood of clogged pores and acne.
More severe hormonal acne along with weight gain, thinning hair and missed menstrual periods can be a sign of a hormonal disorder called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Acne on the chest (as well as the rest of the body) can also be an early sign of pregnancy, but on its own should not be taken as proof of pregnancy.
Chest acne in adult men is usually caused by lifestyle habits and is not usually hormonal. However, it can be caused by rare skin diseases such as acne conglobata and acne fulminans. These disorders may be inherited or caused by anabolic steroid use.
Lifestyle Changes to Get Rid of Chest Acne
For chest acne caused by trapped sweat and restrictive clothing, you can clear up symptoms and avoid future breakouts by implementing a few changes to your exercise and showering routine. These steps are most effective for mild to moderate acne; more severe acne requires the addition of professional treatment.
Wear loose clothing
Choose loose clothing during exercise to allow your skin to breath. When wearing tight clothing, ensure it is made of a breathable, moisture-wicking material, and change immediately after exercise.
Shower regularly to prevent the buildup of dead skin cells and dirt that can block pores on your chest. Use an oil-free body wash and rinse with lukewarm or cold water rather than hot to prevent drying out your skin. Overdrying your skin can cause it to produce more sebum, continuing the cycle of breakouts.
Use an acne-fighting body wash
Treat your acne while you shower by using a body wash containing anti-blemish ingredients such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. These products get rid of chest acne by delivering active ingredients to treat symptoms and by exfoliating skin.
If you are experiencing mild acne in the form of whiteheads and blackheads, you can exfoliate your chest using a washcloth, scrub brush or loofah. However, if you have inflamed, painful acne, avoid doing so until the inflammation has subsided.
Change your diet
Many people find that sugar, greasy foods and dairy products are correlated with their breakouts. Reduce the consumption of these foods, consume more fresh vegetables and drink plenty of water to see improvements in your skin.
Treatment Options for Chest Acne
There are many options to choose from among products that target acne. For mild and moderate acne, medicated body washes and cleansers can be used daily to treat existing blemishes and prevent new ones from forming. Apply spot treatments to active lesions to get rid of them quickly.
For more severe forms of acne, these treatment options can be supplemented by prescription medication.
Body washes and cleansers
Most acne-fighting body washes contain active ingredients that help dry up excess sebum in the skin and reduce bacterial inflammation.
The most common active ingredient found in acne body washes is salicylic acid. This beta-hydroxy acid reduces inflammation and sebum production while penetrating clogged pores.
Another ingredient to look for is benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide kills acne-causing bacteria, so it is most effective on inflamed acne and when used alongside sebum-reducing products.
Because benzoyl peroxide bleaches fabric, by using it in a rinse-off cleanser you can avoid staining your clothing or bedding.
A natural alternative to these ingredients is tea tree oil. This plant extract is an anti-inflammatory, and an antimicrobial that fights inflammation. As an astringent, it works to tighten skin and reduce oil. Tea tree oil, along with other botanical extracts such as licorice and witch hazel, is found in body washes formulated to treat acne.
In addition to medicated cleansers, exfoliating cleansers can also effectively treat chest acne. Chemical exfoliants contain alpha-hydroxy acids such as glycolic acid to slough off dead skin cells and reduce the likelihood of pores becoming clogged. You can also opt for body scrubs which perform the same function of mechanically exfoliating the skin; these contain mildly abrasive ingredients such as sugar or sea salt.
Exfoliating cleansers and scrubs can be used in the shower a few times a week to keep skin smooth, hydrated and blemish-free.
Over-the-counter spot treatments
Spot treatments contain the same active ingredients as body washes—usually salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide or tea tree oil—but in higher concentrations. Salicylic acid is available in concentrations of up to 5%; benzoyl peroxide can be up to 10%.
Topical zinc can reduce inflammation in acne lesions, but is less effective for noninflammatory forms of acne such as blackheads.
Other options include hydrocolloid bandages, sometimes called pimple stickers, which absorb fluid from blemishes while protecting them from outside bacteria. These are available in larger patches for body acne and can be cut to size according to need.
As an all-natural spot treatment, you can dilute pure tea tree oil extract, and apply with a cotton swab directly to blemishes.
Chronic acne that does not respond to OTC products can be treated with prescription medication.
The most common types of prescription medication for acne are retinoids. Retinoids treat acne by breaking up existing blemishes, preventing the formation of microcomedones (the initial stage of acne formation) and reducing inflammation.
Some retinoids are topical, such as adapalene and retinoic acid, while stronger forms such as isotretinoin are taken orally.
Another prescription for chest acne is azelaic acid, an antimicrobial and keratolytic, meaning it helps soften and shed the outer layer of skin cells, acting as an exfoliant.
For women with hormonal acne on the chest, oral contraceptives can be prescribed to balance out androgen levels and prevent breakouts.
When to See a Dermatologist
If you experience painful, severe forms of acne such as nodules or cysts on the chest, see a dermatologist. They can prescribe medication to treat the blemishes, reduce inflammation and reduce the risk of scarring.
Chest acne affects both men and women and is caused by hormonal fluctuations, genetics, diet, lifestyle habits and skin sensitivity to certain products.
Pimples on the chest can be treated with specially formulated body washes and spot treatments with active ingredients such as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. Natural alternatives include tea tree oil and witch hazel. For more severe forms of acne, professional-strength options include retinoids and azelaic acid.
You can reduce the likelihood of chest acne developing by not wearing tight-fitting clothing that traps sweat against your skin, and showering regularly, especially after exercise. Avoid products that can irritate skin and clog pores, and choose fragrance- and oil-free products labeled as noncomedogenic.
- Dinarello C. A. (2010). Anti-inflammatory Agents: Present and Future. Cell, 140(6), 935–950. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2010.02.043
- Worret WI, Fluhr JW. [Acne therapy with topical benzoyl peroxide, antibiotics and azelaic acid]. J Dtsch Dermatol Ges. 2006 Apr;4(4):293-300. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16638058
- Hammer KA. Treatment of acne with tea tree oil (melaleuca) products: a review of efficacy, tolerability and potential modes of action. Int J Antimicrob Agents. 2015 Feb;45(2):106-10. doi:10.1016/j.ijantimicag.2014.10.011
- Dawid-Pać R. (2013). Medicinal plants used in treatment of inflammatory skin diseases. Postepy dermatologii i alergologii, 30(3), 170–177. doi:10.5114/pdia.2013.35620
- 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/
- Leyden, J., Stein-Gold, L., & Weiss, J. (2017). Why Topical Retinoids Are Mainstay of Therapy for Acne. Dermatology and therapy, 7(3), 293–304. doi:10.1007/s13555-017-0185-2
- Han, S., Karłowicz-Bodalska, K., Potaczek, P., Wójcik, A., Ozimek, L., Szura, D., & Musiał, W. (2014). Identification of unknown impurity of azelaic acid in liposomal formulation assessed by HPLC-ELSD, GC-FID, and GC-MS. AAPS PharmSciTech, 15(1), 111–120. doi:10.1208/s12249-013-0038-y
- Salvaggio, H. L., & Zaenglein, A. L. (2010). Examining the use of oral contraceptives in the management of acne. International journal of women’s health, 2, 69–76. doi:10.2147/ijwh.s5915