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How to Get Rid of Back Acne Breakouts

You need a skincare plan that focuses on both internal and external detoxing. 

How to Get Rid of Back Acne Breakouts

When you’re struggling with backne (back acne), swimsuit shopping just doesn’t have the same spark. We get your frustration. Dealing with breakouts on your back can be embarrassing and uncomfortable. Whether you have mild blemishes or full-out breakouts, treating this condition has its own rulebook. Unlike your facial skin care, the skin on your back might demand more maintenance due to larger pores. If you crave a smoother backside, here’s how to get rid of back acne breakouts.

What causes back acne?

Back acne happens when the hair follicles under our skin get clogged. The pimple that forms is an inflammatory reaction from the infection in the follicle.

Normally, the sebaceous (oil) glands inside the follicle are supposed to empty onto the skin surface through the pore. But when you develop back acne, it means this process isn’t working as smoothly as it should. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), “When someone has acne, the hair, sebum, and keratinocytes [dead skin cells] stick together inside the pore.” This sandwich of scum prevents the dead skin cells from shedding properly, while trapping sebum in the pore. “The mixture of oil and cells allows bacteria that normally live on the skin to grow in the plugged follicles and cause inflammation—swelling, redness, heat, and pain,” explains the NIH. 

For most people, acne tends to go away by their thirties. Unfortunately, some people may face this problem for longer. Here are some reasons why (according to the NIH):

  • Hormonal changes
  • Genetics
  • Medications - a side effect from medicines like certain antidepressants
  • Sweat
  • Stress
  • Food sensitivity
  • Poor hygiene

How to get rid of back acne

To get rid of back acne, you need a skincare plan that focuses on both internal and external detoxing. These types of routines involve stricter hygiene habits and anti-bacterial treatments.

Get stricter with hygiene

If you shower daily and still have back acne, the problem isn’t the frequency of your cleansing. Since everyone’s body is unique, the matter comes down to your personal body chemistry and the need for even stricter hygiene habits. So to clarify, it doesn’t mean you’re not “clean” — it just means you’ve got reactive skin that demands extra pampering.

Use an anti-bacterial body cleanser

Your body cleansing routine should be focused on killing acne-causing bacteria. Think of bacteria as the fire-starter for pimples. It accumulates in the pores, feeding on dead skin cells, which clogs the pore and ignites inflammation. 

If you control the bacteria in the first place, you can prevent future breakouts on your back. Many antibacterial body wash formulas focus on active ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to banish blemishes. However, keep in mind that these active can be irritating for people with sensitive skin.

For some people, this treatment can actually worsen the problem. In this case, consider a cleanser with natural antibacterial agents like tea tree oil or eucalyptus.

Don’t soak up your sweat

Moisture (like sweat) breeds bacteria. That’s why after a workout or any physical activity, you should avoid soaking in your sweat. 

Wet, sweaty clothing can trap dirt and germs, which clog pores and often causes back acne breakouts. Experts recommend wiping off your sweat using a clean towel and putting on clean clothes afterwards. “I also remind athletes that getting in the shower and rinsing off soon after a workout can help minimize the effects of irritation from the sweat and occlusion of wet clothing,” says Dr. Hilary C. Reich, a dermatologist based in Minneapolis.

If you can’t shower right away, make sure to dress in clean, loose-fitting clothes that won’t rub against your skin. According to board-certified dermatologist Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, “Clothing and accessories that are too tight, such as headbands, bra straps or spandex garments, can cause a type of acne that occurs at the spot of repeated friction.”

Get stricter with hygiene

Your body cleansing routine should be focused on killing acne-causing bacteria. Think of bacteria as the fire-starter for pimples. It accumulates in the pores, feeding on dead skin cells, which clogs the pore and ignites inflammation.

Avoid junk food

When you indulge in sweets and heavy carbs, your body releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to give you energy. 

Wash your clothes often

Consider doubling your laundry days. “It is important to wash your towels frequently or switch to an antimicrobial fabric so that bacteria doesn’t sit and then keep getting transferred back to the skin,” says board-certified Dermatologist Dr. Kavita Mariwalla. “Ditto for your clothes, especially anything you’ve sweat in.”

Change your diet

If your back acne is hormone-related, you may be able to curb breakouts by changing your diet.

The link between diet and acne has to do with your glycemic (sugar) levels. When you indulge in sweets and heavy carbs, your body releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to give you energy. These chemicals trigger your skin's oil glands to release excess sebum, leading to back acne breakouts.

According to a 2016 study, the following foods are most likely to increase your glycemic levels.

  • White bread and bagels
  • Most processed cereals and instant oatmeal, including bran flakes
  • Most snack foods
  • Potatoes
  • White rice
  • Honey

Although you don’t need to eliminate these foods completely, you should try eating them less often.

Use a spot treatment

Formulated to dissolve dead skin and bacteria, spot treatments are your go-to solution for back acne. The only downside to this method is that you’ll have to be patient while the pimples heal. But it’s worth the wait — the consequences of picking or purging the pimple is much worse.  

When you try popping the spot, you could push the impurities (dead skin cells, oil and bacteria) further into the pore, which increases the infection. To dry out the pimples safely, Beverly Hills-based Dermatologist Dr. Christie Kidd recommends using a spot treatment with active ingredients. "The actives I use are salicylic, lactic, and glycolic acid, which can be found in my cleansing pads and skin serum," she says. Or products like the Antidote Acne Drying Lotion, the spot treatment in the EMK Clear Set, contains antibacterial actives to target and treat the pimple directly.

This innovative treatment is made with salicylic acid to cure the infection, while sulfur and zinc buff away dead skin. There’s also camphor, an exotic tree extract that accelerates healing and calms the skin.

Cleanse gently

Although the skin on your back is stronger than your face, it still needs a gentle touch. As Dr. Kidd explains, "So many people make their irritated skin much worse by scrubbing it raw with a washcloth.” Instead, she advises to cleanse the area like you’d wash a newborn baby — super gently.

If you shower with a loofah, be careful not to over-exfoliate. When you’re overly aggressive with your skin, you can injure its defensive barrier. If you repeat this pattern, your skin cells will act like they’re under “attack”, and in response, your pores will release extra sebum to soothe the damage. See the cycle?

To gently exfoliate your back, use cleansers with mild acids and calming agents to promote cellular turnover without creating more inflammation. Over time, you’ll train your skin to self-heal and normalize its own sebum levels.

Dealing with back acne breakouts is a 24/7 routine. From your eating and hygiene habits to your skin care regimen, clearing up the problem requires your full attention. And no matter how urgent the temptation, avoid popping pimples on your back — they’ll heal with time. Be patient. And within two to three months, if you follow all these protocols but still don’t see improvement, schedule an appointment with your dermatologist.


About The Author: Rachel Esco is an educator and consultant in advanced cosmetics who empowers consumers to make informed choices about skin care. With a profound interest in beauty and biochemistry, her articles explore the latest breakthroughs in epigenetics and anti-aging technologies. Rachel is also a passionate advocate for the Beauty Conscious Movement, promoting the use of environmentally safe materials to create a zero waste culture.

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