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Back acne causes and treatments

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In this article

What is back acne?
What causes back acne?
How to get rid of back acne?
How to clear back acne naturally
What can I do at home to clear back acne? 
Back acne treatments 
Back acne creams 
Over the counter back acne treatments 
Getting rid of back acne quickly
Why is my back acne coming back?
How to get rid of back acne scars?

What is back acne?

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 the back, neck, shoulders, chest and buttocks.

Back acne can be just as distressing and upsetting as treating face acne, and is a common problem. It can occur in both men and women, and in people of all ages. The causes of cystic acne on the back can be varied. 

Here we take a look at back acne causes and treatments

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, 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. Fixing oily skin can, therefore, help to treat acne. 

Finally, an overgrowth of a natural skin bacterium called Propionibacterium acnes is another one of the 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.

How to get rid of back acne

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.

How to clear back acne naturally

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. 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 dairy products can all make acne prone skin worse.

Try to ditch the sugary, fatty, processed foods and 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 clear 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 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

The following treatments can be effective at treating troublesome back acne.

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.

Over the counter back acne treatments

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.

Getting rid of back acne quickly

As with acne on the face, getting rid of 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.

Why is my back acne coming back?

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.

It could be that eating a certain food, such as red meat or dairy products is causing your back acne. 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.

How to get rid of back acne scars

Severe acne, or acne spots that have been picked can lead to scarring. Light therapies used to treat facial acne scarring can also be effective at minimising back acne scars.

However you treat your back acne, we wish you all the best for finding the right solution for you. We know first-hand what it’s like to suffer with acne and hope you find solace soon.

Hannah de Gruchy BSc(Hons)

About Author

Hannah de Gruchy is a freelancer writer who specialises in health and wellness. She has a keen interest in the biology of skin and loves using her words to help separate the real science of skincare from the pseudoscience of some skincare brands. Hannah has a degree in Human Biology and many years’ experience working in laboratories around London. Using this experience, Hannah enjoys turning complex science into interesting, engaging and easy to digest pieces to read. In her spare time, Hannah runs, practices yoga and loves cooking plant based foods.

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