Acne is a distressing skin condition characterised by whiteheads, blackheads, pus filled spots called pustules and angry, red, inflamed skin.
Most people associate acne with the face, but it can also affect the body, including your back, shoulders and chest. Having body and back acne affects our physical and mental health, causing discomfort and upset for sufferers.
So how does it develop, what causes back acne flare-ups and is treating it the same as treating acne spots on the face?
What Are the Causes of Back Acne?
Backacne is often caused by a hormone imbalance that's usually down to an excess of androgens, male hormones, that trigger the release of excess sebum.
Sebum is the waxy substance naturally produced by the skin to keep it hydrated, but if it’s produced in excess, it can block the pores and lead to back acne.
Hormonal imbalances are usually caused by going through puberty, having your period, being pregnant, suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or going through the menopause.
Often, back acne caused by shorter term life events such as pregnancy or the menopause will clear up once you’ve given birth or have become post menopausal.
However, it isn't just your hormones that can contribute to acne on your back. Acne can appear on the body, and the face, due to our genes, having oily skin or having lifestyle habits that can block the pores and hair follicles. (More on those later.) There is also a type acne bacteria that lives on the skin normally, but in some people, an overgrowth can be another cause of acne.
What Are the Different Types of Back Acne?
Back acne can affect small areas of the back, or it can form large clusters of acne breakouts on the entire back. It can appear and disappear fairly quickly, or it can become a long term struggle.
Sometimes it will appear as small red bumps on the skin, other times it can form angry, red, inflamed skin and pus filled pustules.
But don't despair, there are treatments available, depending on your severity of back acne.
Is it the Same as Face Acne?
The causes of acne on the face are the same causes as acne on the back and chest. This also means that on the whole, the treatments are the same, too. Acne can happen to anyone, but if you're prone to acne on your face, you may also experience back acne.
What Foods Cause Acne and Oily Skin?
There is no one food that leads to the development of acne lesions, anywhere on the face or body. However, some foods, such as dairy and gluten, may trigger inflammation and make acne worse. You can read more on what foods cause acne here.
Why Do I Struggle with Back Acne?
Acne spots on the back are caused by the same reasons as acne on the face. This could be due to excess sebum production, hormonal imbalances, genetics or an overgrowth of a common skin bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes.
Back acne is also made worse by sweating, and under normal circumstances, we spend all day in clothes, so the sweat cannot escape.
How to Get Rid of Back Acne Naturally
At Sönd, we believe in a holistic approach to skincare, one that means looking at the factors that could be leading to our non conformist skin.
As part of a holistic approach to managing stressed out skin, we believe that our best defence is taking a look at our diet and lifestyle.
Managing back acne naturallycould be a case of changing our diet to one which eliminates food triggers, reducing our stress levels with yoga and mindfulness and using a brand ofskincare specifically formulated to support non conformist skin.
You can also use skincare products to wash with, that contain natural antiseptics such astea tree oil, that can help to keep chest and back breakouts under control.
But there are times when diet and lifestyle changes don’t help to clear the skin, and back acne may hang around. This is when you may need to consider other options.
Will Exfoliating Help My Back Acne?
If diet and lifestyle changes don’t help to manage your body acne, then there are other home remedies you can consider.
First up is considering using body skincare products at home that containsalicylic acid. Salicylic acid is a type of fruit acid that removes dead skin cells from the top layer of skin, effectively exfoliating the skin and ridding it of the dirt and debris that can clog pores.
Salicylic acid is also used on the face to help manage facial acne, but it needs to be used sparingly. The skin on the back and body is more durable than the skin on the face, so you can use salicylic acid body washes to get rid of acne on your back on a daily basis.
Clothing Tips on How to Get Rid of Back Acne
Since back acne can be made worse by dirt, debris and sweat that can get trapped in pores, one of the best ways to help manage it is to wear loose fitting clothing made from natural, breathable fabrics such as cotton, linen and hemp.
You can also help your skin on your upper back by not wearing heavy backpacks that will rub the skin, potentially making it more inflamed, leading to acne mechanica - spots and breakouts caused by rubbing the skin.
Exercise and Spots on Your Back
It’s especially important to consider what fabrics you’re wearing to support healthy skin when you’re exercising. Exercise obviously creates more sweat, so exercising in non breathable fabrics is going to potentially cause a back breakout.
Sadly, most exercise gear is made from tight fitting fabrics that don’t allow the skin to breathe. But there are lots of brands that create ‘moisture wicking’ fabrics that are designed to move moisture in the form of sweat away from the skin.
Whatever you wear to exercise in, it's crucial to shower as soon as possible after exercising. This will remove sweat from the skin on your back before it has a chance to dry and block the pores.
Choosing your fabrics carefully and showering after exercise will help, but it won’t treat the root cause. If you're still struggling, you may want to consider acne creams and prescription acne treatments to help break the acne cycle.
What Are the Best Back Acne Treatments from My Doctor?
There are many medical options for treating body acne, that are generally the same products used to help treat acne on the face. Some are available over the counter, while some will need a prescription from your GP or dermatologist.
Topical treatments (that you might need extra help in applying to your back) include benzoyl peroxide lotions, retinoid creams and antibiotic ointments. We have more information on our page dedicated to topical treatments for acne.
Speak to your GP if your acne is severe or you've tried everything and you want to find out how to get medicated treatments.
What Products Treat Cystic Acne on the Back?
Cystic acne is a severe type of acne, where the acne spots have become infected after the glands in the skin that produce sebum, called the sebaceous glands, have become blocked.
It’s typified by large, pus filled spots and yellow heads that look red, angry and inflamed, and can affect the back as well as the face.
Treating cystic acne takes time, but by following the advice here, from holistic approaches to different skincare to medications to help treat acne, you will eventually find some solace in clearer skin. Always speak to your doctor if your skin is affecting your quality of life.
How Do I Treat Back Acne in Pregnancy?
When you’re pregnant, you’re advised not to take certain medications that can help to treat hormonal acne.
Therefore, it’s best to stick to the holistic approaches to treating back acne. There are other safe acne treatments when pregnant that you can try, such as blue light acne treatment. So if your pregnancy acne is bothering you, speak to your GP, midwife or specialist for more advice.
What Causes Back Acne in Teenagers?
Acne is a common part of growing up, and treating teenage back acne is just the same as treating back acne in adults.
Many teenagers ‘grow out’ of their non conformist skin and tend to find that their acne clears up once their hormones settle down and stop producing excess sebum after puberty.
Can I Prevent Back Acne?
Stress reduction, eating a healthy diet, wearing loose fitting clothes and cleansing away sweat can all help to prevent acne. But it's important to understand that sometimes, getting acne can also simply be part of our makeup, and we should never blame ourselves for not doing things right.
Are Breakouts, Pimples and Oily Skin Normal on My Back and Shoulders?
The sebaceous glands on the upper torso tend to be larger and more numerous than on the limbs and lower body. Since the sebaceous glands produce sebum, or oil, it makes sense that where they're larger, the skin will be oilier.
Therefore, oily skin in this area, along with back acne is easier to understand when we understand the biology of our skin. It's completely normal to experience oiliness and spots on the back and shoulders!
Is it Possible to Get Rid of Back Acne Fast?
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to treating acne anywhere on the face and body. But follow our advice, and you'll be giving your skin the best chance.
Why is Back Acne So Hard to Get Rid of?
If you've developed back acne, you'll no doubt be keen to clear it up. It can be hard to stop back acne due to its location - if you've tried spreading cream on your back on your own, you'll know it's hard! But persevere and you'll start to notice the difference.
How to Get Rid of Back Acne Overnight
By now you'll know that sadly, just as with all types of non-conformist skin, there is no magic overnight treatment for back acne.
But don’t lose faith, with the right diet and lifestyle changes, the right skincare and if necessary, the right medicated products or oral medicines, you can treat your back acne and help to prevent it from returning and causing acne scarring.
It might feel like a long and thankless task, but after a few months of sticking to your new regime, you will start to see the benefits.
This article is not meant to treat or diagnose. Please visit your doctor for advice about any health concerns you may have.