Acne can be embarrassing and painful, and in some cases, it can lead to permanent scarring. If you have pimples or irritation on your back and shoulders, you may have back acne.
First, know that you are not alone — back acne is a common complaint. Body or back acne is similar to facial acne with regard to symptoms and treatments, and people who have facial acne may be more likely to develop body acne.
Chad D. Housewright, MD, a dermatologist on the medical staff at Scott & White – Temple, helps people experiencing a number of skin conditions, including back acne.
“As a dermatologist, we assist in the diagnosis, prevention, treatment and management of acne,” Dr. Housewright said. “We help reduce the number of acne lesions and severity. We also discuss ways to prevent and manage future acne flares.”
Getting to the cause of your acne
When it comes to back acne, you need to learn about the root cause of those pesky pimples. Dr. Housewright explained that technically speaking, acne is a chronic inflammatory disease of the hair follicle and sweat gland (the pilosebaceous unit). These follicles get plugged by sticky skin cells and this forms small bumps called comedones. These comedones often rupture and this is what causes the larger, red, inflamed pimples you might be used to seeing.
Let’s face it. Most of us aren’t strangers to pimples, but what do we do if we have a bad breakout on our chest, back and shoulders? This can be just as bothersome as a face pimple and may also need to be treated carefully to avoid scarring.
“Back acne can lead to large, red pimples on the back and shoulders in men and women,” Dr. Housewright said. “This can affect people of any age, but it is most common in adolescents and younger adults.”
You may have trouble with back acne if:
- You are going through puberty or hormonal changes.
- You’re a woman and possibly experiencing a flare in acne a week or so before menstruation.
- You use greasy or occlusion skin care products.
- You don’t change out of a sweaty t-shirt, sports equipment or other frictional force.
How to battle acne and prevent scarring
“When a person is bothered by the appearance of back acne, they should consider seeking care,” Dr. Housewright said. “If someone has large pimples or any sign of scarring, they should definitely be treated to prevent permanent scarring.”
To get rid of back acne and prevent scarring:
- Use non-comedogenic skin care products — “comedo” refers to a pimple, so products that claim to help avoid pimples.
- Avoid oily, greasy products that create a barrier on your skin (occlusive products).
- Wash daily with mild non-irritating soaps.
- Wash gently and avoid harsh scrubbing.
- Consider over the counter products or body washes that contain salicylic acid to help unclog pores, or benzoyl peroxide to help destroy bacteria associated with acne.
- Shower after sweating to remove bacteria.
- Wear clean, loose fitting clothing when possible.
- Switch undergarments or bras daily.
As you try to battle your back acne, it can be a little challenging, especially since these areas are often clothed. This means your skin and pores have constant contact with the oil it produces, increasing your risk for acne.
This contact can be hard to avoid, but if you keep your skin clean and wash daily, it will help keep your pores clean, unclogged and free from bacteria.
“Many patients seek care because of the appearance of acne,” Dr. Housewright said. “This can alter the way they dress, clothes they wear or social activities that they participate in.”
If you’ve become embarrassed about your back acne or if it’s altering your lifestyle, you may want to talk to your doctor or see a dermatologist. They can help you figure out the cause of your acne and come up with a game plan to provide relief and prevent scarring.
“The most concerning issue is scar formation,” Dr. Housewright said. “Some younger patients are not bothered by this. However, as they age, the scarring may be an issue that they care about. Prevention is much better than treatment.”
Find a dermatologist to help you on your quest for clear, healthy skin.