How to treat and beat body acne for clearer skin

Body acne can be unpleasant and even impact psychological wellbeing. So how can you stop breakouts in their tracks?

While acne is most often associated with teenagers, almost 10 per cent of people are believed to experience it at some point in their lives.

Whiteheads, blackheads, pimples and cysts typically develop on the face, but acne can also appear on the neck, back and chest.

“Acne can affect a person’s psychological wellbeing — some people avoid going to the beach or to a swimming pool if they have acne on their back or chest,” Australasian College of Dermatologists Fellow Dr Jo-Ann See says.

“Body acne also limits the clothes people choose to wear, perhaps for formal or social events.”

What causes body acne?

Acne happens when hair follicles and the underlying oil or sebaceous glands become blocked and inflamed.

Oil glands are largest and most numerous on the face, neck, back and chest.

“The most commonly affected areas of the body, other than the face, are the chest and back areas and, less commonly, it can also occur on the shoulders and arms,” Sydney dermatologist Dr Elizabeth Dawes-Higgs says.

Blockages and acne can be due to hormones — some hormones trigger glands to produce more oil so, for women, acne can worsen just before periods, early in pregnancy or if they have polycystic ovary syndrome.

Bacteria that naturally live on the skin digest the oil, which irritates the skin and can lead to blocked pores, pimples and blackheads.

“Clothes that trap moisture, like activewear, can cause a flare-up and so can occlusive or pore-blocking cosmetic products,” Dr Dawes-Higgs says.

“Sweating — through being in a hot, humid environment or through exercise — can also trigger body acne.”

How to avoid body acne

Dr Dawes-Higgs says the best way to prevent body acne is to avoid the triggers as far as possible.

Side-stepping these common mistakes can help you stay clear of body acne:

1. Wearing dirty exercise gear

“Don’t hang out in your gym gear all day,” Dr Dawes-Higgs advises.

Sweaty workout gear can become a breeding ground for bacteria, so it’s best to wash your exercise gear after every session, she suggests.

2. Not cleaning your skin

If you’ve been sweating, it’s important to wash your skin to avoid sweat blocking your pores and clogging hair follicles.

And if you wear make-up, remember to clean your skin every night before bed.

3. Wearing non-breathable fabrics

“If it’s hot, wear loose clothing that is moisture wicking,” Dr Dawes-Higgs advises.

Fabrics like cotton, wool and bamboo move sweat away from the skin and are quick-drying so don’t hold on to sweat.

4. Always carrying a backpack

Back acne can be triggered or aggravated by carrying a backpack, which irritates skin — if your back is prone to spots, ditch that pack.

5. Choosing the wrong cosmetic products

“Avoid oily, occlusive cosmetic products — instead, choose products that are non-comedogenic,” Dr Dawes-Higgs says.

These products have been formulated specifically to not clog pores.

How to deal with a body acne breakout

Don’t pick at your skin

This can cause extra irritation and may lead to scarring.

Remove excess oil with warm water and a soft face cloth

Avoid abrasive scrubs, toners and cleansers that can irritate inflamed skin.

Try an acne-cleanser in the shower

Over-the-counter cleansers containing salicylic acid, glycolic acid or benzoyl peroxide may help, Dr See suggests.

If acne persists, see a dermatologist

“You may need a prescription product,” Dr See says.

These may include topical antibiotics or retinoids that remove plugs of oil, or oral treatments that may help more widespread and severe acne.

Written by Sarah Marinos.