Back Acne Causes and Skin Treatments
When we think of acne, we usually think of red, inflamed, cystic acne spots, blackheads and whiteheads on the face. But acne can affect other parts of the body too, including your back and shoulders, as well as your neck, chest, upper arms and buttocks.
Back acne can be just as distressing and upsetting as face acne, and is a common problem. It can occur in both males and females, and in people of all ages. The causes of cystic acne on the back can be varied and in this article, we're going to look at the main main reasons some people develop acne on their back.
Whether your back and body acne is caused by stress, lifestyle habits, the food you're eating or even the backpack you're wearing on your back, here's how you can help to treat and prevent acne lesions on your back.
What is Back Acne?
Sometimes referred to as 'backne', back acne is a common skin condition that can cause distress and upset. As the name suggests, back acne affects the back, usually the upper back and shoulders, and it may extend down the back of the upper arms too.
There are different types of back acne, depending on the cause, but on the whole, it leads to red, angry, sometimes pus filled spots across this area.
Those of us who are prone to acne on our faces, may be more likely to develop acne on our back (or chest acne or another type of body acne).
Therefore treatment and prevention are important. But in order to work out what might make acne worse, it's crucial to understand why and how back acne can happen - and this is different for all of us.
What Causes Back Acne?
All the same factors that can cause acne on the face can also cause acne on the back. Having a family history of acne will mean that you’re also more inclined to develop it. Hormonal imbalances especially if you’re female and have polycystic ovary syndrome (or PCOS), are pregnant or experience flare ups around the time of your period, will lead to acne.
Genes and hormones lead to the excessive production of sebum, a natural oil produced by the sebaceous glands deep within the skin. An excess of sebum leads to acne, along with excessive shedding of dead skin cells that then block the pores. Caring for oily skin can, therefore, help to treat acne.
Finally, an overgrowth of a natural skin bacterium called Propionibacterium acnes is another one of the common acne causes and can be exacerbated by inflammation caused by hormonal factors.
The pores in the skin of the back are larger than those on the face which can mean that blocked pores create much larger spots. Also, the skin on our back has more sebaceous glands than the skin of our legs and lower body, and just like on the face, excess sebum leads to back acne.
There are however, different lifestyle factors that could also worsen acne on our backs, and here's some of the most common...
Can Dirty Sheets Cause Back Acne?
Spending eight hours with our body pressed against unclean sheets could well cause outbreaks on the back. Especially so, if we sleep naked. So make sure you're washing your sheets frequently, using a natural, unscented laundry liquid or powder. Ensuring you're getting enough good quality sleep will also help.
Can Back Acne Be Caused By Stress?
When we're stressed, we release the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol has an effect on the pores, signalling to them to release more oil, which in turn can lead to pore blockages and spots, anywhere on our face and body. A rise in male sex hormones called androgens (testosterone is one type of androgen) are also involved in the stress response that have the same effect on pores and oil production.
When people have acne prone skin on their face, stress may cause them to also develop spots on their back.
Can Bras Cause Back Acne?
Any form of tight fitting clothing can lead to body acne, including a bra. When you can, go braless or wear a looser fitting crop top style bra if possible.
Can Detergent Cause Back Acne?
Yes, harsh, chemical laden detergents, soaps and shower gels can affect our skin, leading to irritation, inflammation and acne breakouts. Consider switching to gentler, more natural brands that are kinder to your skin (that also tend to have the added bonus of also being kinder to the planet).
Can Pregnancy Cause Back Acne?
As we mentioned above, anything that causes fluctuations in our hormones can lead to acne breakouts, including early pregnancy. Our treatment options and tips on caring for pregnancy acne can help, and rest assured that your skin is likely to go back to normal once you've given birth and your hormones have settled down.
Can Sweat Cause Back Acne?
Sweating is a normal biological function that helps us regulate our body temperature when we're hot. But if we don't wash away this sweat, it will sit on our skin and collect in our pores. This can then lead to pore blockages and spots.
Make sure you're showering every day, and if you're exercising, working in the heat or doing something else particularly sweaty, shower as soon as possible afterwards.
Can Back Waxing Cause Acne?
Despite leading to silky smooth skin, waxing is actually quite traumatic for our skin. It may lead to skin irritation and inflammation which in turn may lead to spots and skin swelling and bumps. The same can be said for shaving, which can increase our chances of developing ingrown hairs.
To help prevent this (and the pus filled acne lesions that can follow an in grown hair), exfoliate the skin the day before to get all the hairs to the surface and facing in the right direction. Exfoliating can also help to prevent dry skin, by sloughing away dead skin cells that can also block the pores.
Using fake tan may also lead to body acne or darken acne scars, so use with caution and avoid it if you're having a breakout. When you do use it, use a high quality water based foam self tan product.
Can Long Hair Cause Back Acne?
In the same way that having a fringe or wearing your hair over your face may lead to spots around your forehead and hairline, having long hair may cause back acne if we're regularly shirtless or wearing a low backed top.
This can be especially so if you have greasy hair or you use oily products to style your hair. Try to use natural shampoos and conditioners, and go easy on the hairspray.
Natural Treatments to Prevent Back Acne
Using shower gels and gentle body creams that contain tea tree oil can help treat back acne naturally. Tea tree is a natural antiseptic that can kill the acne causing bacteria that might be colonising the skin on your back.
Choosing body skincare products that are water based, oil free or non comedogenic will also help to naturally keep your pores clear and help to get rid of acne on your back. This includes sun creams – oil based sun creams can increase sweating and block the pores leading to acne spots and breakouts.
One of the best things you can do to help treat your back acne naturally is to eat a healthy diet. Foods high in sugar and fat, processed foods, red meat and milk and dairy products can all make acne prone skin worse.
Try to ditch the sugary, fatty, processed foods and limit your alcohol intake. Eat a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, lean protein from poultry, fish, nuts, seeds and beans and whole grains.
What Can I Do at Home to Get Rid of Back Acne?
A build-up of sweat can lead to flare ups of back acne. It’s therefore important to shower as soon as possible after exercise or any other activity such as sex that causes you to sweat.
Physical stress on the skin can also lead to acne. Things such as tight fitting collared shirts and wearing a rucksack can physically irritate the skin, cause pore blockages or lead to sweating. This leads to a type of acne called acne mechanica.
Man-made fibres such as polyester and Lycra can make back acne worse by causing sweating and not allowing the skin to breathe. Avoid anything too tight on the back where possible and opt for loose fitting, natural, breathable clothing such as cotton or silk.
Also make sure that you wash your clothes regularly to avoid putting your skin in contact with clothes that could be harbouring bacteria. This also includes washing your pillow cases and bed sheets weekly.
If you have long hair that’s either oily or that you add serums and oils to, it could also be leading to acne on your back. Aim to tie your hair up as much as possible to avoid it coming into contact with your back. Also make sure you wash your hair regularly and don’t use an oil rich, leave in conditioner.
Avoiding workout supplements that contain whey (an off shoot of the dairy industry), creatine and anabolic steroids will help too, as they can lead to hormonal imbalances and an increase in acne causing androgens. Vitamin supplements containing vitamins A, C and E plus zinc, cod liver oil and probiotics can all help to nourish the skin and reduce acne breakouts.
Back Acne Treatments
Many of the treatments used to help manage facial acne and whitehead and blackhead treatments can also be used to help treat back acne.
Oral treatments for acne that you take on a daily basis for a set length of time include antibiotics, the combined oral contraceptive pill and Isotretinoin tablets.
Topical creams for acne, gels and ointments used for treating acne include benzoyl peroxide, retinoid creams, azelaic acid and antibiotic ointments.
An effective topical treatment for back acne is salicylic acid. Salicylic acid works as an exfoliant, helping to rid the skin pores of dead skin cells that can build up, leading to back acne. It also helps to manage excess levels of sebum, and doesn’t require harsh scrubbing of the skin.
Salicylic acid is available as a wash, that can be used to effectively exfoliate the skin on the back. This can be used regularly as the skin on the body is more durable than the skin on the face.
One of the problems with treating back acne, is the inability to reach the whole of your back to apply acne creams and ointments. You can get someone to help, but if you live alone then this can prove tricky.
Therefore, oral medications that help treat acne can be more effective at managing back acne than topical creams and gels.
Back Acne Creams
Topical retinoid gels are effective for acne prone skin. Retinol is derived from vitamin A and has an exfoliating effect, helping to remove excess dead skin so that it cannot block the pores.
Azelaic acid cream is also an effective skin exfoliant, helpful for more severe cases of acne. Antibiotic creams can be helpful too, and include Clindamycin, Dalacin and Aczone, all available on prescription from your GP.
Benzoyl peroxide body washes and creams are easily available in pharmacies and could be all you need to help treat your back acne. Products containing sulphur can also help.
Severe acne, or acne spots that have been picked can lead to scarring. Light and laser therapies used to treat facial acne scarring can also be effective at minimising back acne scars.
Treating Your Type of Acne
As with acne on the face, finding the best treatment for back acne is a long process and involves diet and lifestyle changes and a whole body approach to looking at holistic factors. There is no quick fix way of getting rid of back acne quickly, but following our advice and finding the best back acne treatment that suits your skin will help to heal your skin as much as possible.
If your back acne keeps returning and you’ve tried a few ways of getting rid of it, then perhaps you haven’t found the trigger for your back acne. Finding the cause of your skin problem may take time but it’s worth taking this time.
If your back acne is severe, it's definitely worth taking a look at your diet. It could be that eating a certain food or ingredient, such as red meat, dairy products or coffee is causing your back acne, or it could be a gluten allergy. If this is the case, then using a salicylic acid body wash or taking oral antibiotics won’t help. But using a salicylic acid body wash or taking antibiotics plus giving up or reducing your meat and dairy intake might be the solution you need.
However you treat your back acne, we wish you all the best for finding the right solution for you to treat your acne. We know first-hand what it’s like to suffer with acne and hope you find solace soon.
This article is not meant to treat or diagnose. Please visit your doctor for advice about any health concerns you may have.