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How To Get Rid of Body Acne

Have you cleared up the acne on your face only to have zits pop up across your chest and back? Or maybe you've always had body acne.

Either way, body acne can be a complete pain, and can leave both emotional and physical scarring, just like facial acne.

Body acne is caused by the same factors that trigger facial acne, but it can sometimes be harder to treat than facial acne. Body acne is generally confined to the back and upper torso, because like the face, these areas have more sebaceous glands per square inch than other areas of the body, so the follicles are more likely to become plugged with excess sebum and dead skin cells. They're also areas, like the bottom half of the face, that are sensitive to hormones.

Body acne is actually much more common than most people know, but the common treatments for face acne usually won’t work on the body, as the skin is different as well as the acne. That doesn’t mean you can’t get rid of body acne, it just means that you have to use the right treatments—or make the right changes in personal care habits—for your particular type of body acne.

As with any individual acne case, you need to determine the cause in order to treat it.

1. Sports Acne

Sports acne (sometimes called acne mechanica) can appear almost anywhere on the body, but it usually shows up on the chest and the back, sometimes around the forehead if you wear headbands, hats or helmets, and it can even develop on the face and neck if you wear straps or face masks.

For women, this might appear around the chest and back when a sports' bra or sport clothing is too tight. Similarly for men, wearing shirts that are too tight, or that don't wick away sweat, can also lead to truncal acne.

Obviously for this case, the best way to prevent sports acne is to:

- ensure your clothing is loosely fitting

- wear breathable fabrics

- shower soon after rigorous exercise (although studies have shown that sweat doesn't seem to play a role in acne, for some people sweat may irritate the follicle especially if the skin isn't clean)

- wash sport clothes frequently (after every use! Bras can easily harbour bacteria, and even though we are inclined to wear our bras for extended periods of time, we should take special care to hand wash them and lay them flat to dry, especially if we are working out in them).

However, these things aren't always possible. Sometimes we have to wear tight straps for weightlifting, wet suits for diving, tight clothes for cycling, etc. In these cases, just be sure to shower soon after sweating, maybe use a little baby powder to prevent sticking, sweating, friction and irritation between you and your tight-fitting attire.

In this case, good exfoliation and cleansing practices, as well as the tools listed above (whenever possible) are the best way to treat sports acne.

2. Hormonal Acne

High androgen levels can also result in body acne. This type of acne shows up mostly on the lower half of the face, down the neck, on the chest, and on the back. This type of acne tends to be more inflamed, cystic, and doesn't go away with the changes mentioned above.

This is usually seen in people taking steroids, but can also be found in people with a severe hormonal imbalance. Women with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) may see their acne stretch from the bottom half of their face onto their chest and upper back, for example.

Common treatments for this are hormonal therapy, such as androgen blockers, or birth control pills. Hormonal imbalances like these often need rigorous treatment.

However, I can appreciate that, even though these hormonal treatments are the most effective treatments, not everyone can afford or is interested in going that route.

In that case, some other treatment options for your body acne include:

- sea salt baths (soak in a warm salt bath for 15 minutes a couple times a week). This is not a solution to the underlying issue, but it may help.

- don't shower in extremely hot water as this can damage your skin's moisture barrier and ability to heal and fight off microorganisms. Again, while this won't treat the underlying cause, it will take out the insult from the insult to injury equation.

- for back acne, try a differrent shampoo/conditioner (they can rinse down your back and be comedogenic); this is especially true if you are also experiencing acne around your hair line and on your scalp, anywhere your hair touches or rests.

- benzoyl peroxide lotions may also be effective, as they help to kill bacteria.

- try a new body wash, one that exfoliates and cleanses, like this one.

- tea tree oil spray

- exfoliation (with a mitt, or a scrub like this vegan one by Giovanni)

- you can try using soaps that are a little bit more intense than what you would use on your face, something like this Dermaklear Acne Treatment Soap.

You may also want to look at your detergent and/or fabric softener; whether you've been using the product for a long time or not, sometimes a simple formula change can irritate the skin

Back acne can also be mistaken for allergies (ex. dust mites), dermatitis, or folliculitis. See your doctor for persistant truncal acne that is resistant to treatment. If you get little whiteheads on your chest that don't seem to respond to acne treatments, they could also be a fungal infection instead.

When treating body acne, you typically can use several acne treatment products at once without causing excessive irritation (for example, a salicylic acid wash plus a benzoyl peroxide lotion). The skin on the back, chest, shoulders, and upper arms is tougher than facial skin, and can generally tolerate more powerful treatments.

Moderate to severe forms of body acne can be difficult to control, and need to be treated by a physician. Topical and oral medications are often prescribed. Common treatments include:

  • Retin A

  • Oral antibiotics

  • Accutane (isotretinoin)

Getting body acne is not a lifetime sentence. There are treatment options available to you. Don't lose hope!


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