Most people have relatively well-formed opinions about how how to handle the average face pimple. Whether you’re devoted to retinols, double-cleanse like your life depends on it, or resort to popping, you likely have a game plan or two developed back when puberty first made your hormones go haywire. Less talked about however, is body acne, especially when it sets up shop on your back.
Bacne happens in part because acne can happen anywhere on your body where sweat glands are present. But how do you treat it, especially if it crops up in hard-to-reach places? And how much does your gym schedule actually contribute to your skin woes? We tapped four pros for their tips.
How does bacne form?
“Acne tends to develop in areas where we have a high concentration of oil glands,” Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a Manhattan-based dermatologist, explains. That’s why your face, chest, and back can be prime targets for pus-filled mounds and the red bumps that mark inflamed hair follicles (otherwise called folliculitis). “High levels of oil production get trapped within the pores, promoting an overgrowth of acne-causing bacteria and inflammation,” he explains. While he sees blackheads and whiteheads on patients from time to time, he notes they’re less common on your chest and back than they can be on your face.
How much can I blame my bacne on the gym?
Contrary to what you may have learned in your middle-school locker room, working out has less to do with your bacne than you think.
“Exercise itself is great for you and does not cause acne,” dermatologist Iris Rubin explains. However, she notes, “sweat can mix with bacteria on the skin and dead skin cells, which clogs pores.” It’s that recipe that causes body acne, not the sweat itself.
Every dermatologist told the Cut that it’s crucial to work out in clean clothes, and to at least change your clothes as quickly as possible after your workout, if a full-on shower isn’t possible. Dr. Rubin also recommends using a clean towel to wipe sweat away as you work out, and if you’re working out indoors, wipe down equipment before and after using it, if you can.
Do I need to treat bacne differently than I do with the stuff on my face?
Yes and no! Because acne forms the same way, no matter where it crops up, your favorite skin-care products can pull double-duty on pimples that appear south of your neck. But unless you’re particularly flexible, it can be tough to reach a zit right in the middle of your back.
Luckily, they make sprays for that, dermatologist Dandy Engleman points out. She recommends looking for products that contain one of the two big acne-fighters: benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. The latter, she says, is especially effective because it dissolves your skin’s keratin. “It actually can penetrate into the pore to dissolve dead skin-cell buildup,” she explains. Both ingredients also help your skin shed its top layer, which helps keeps your pores clear and free from future breakouts.
Dr. Lamees Hamdan recommends investing in a wash cloth or scrubber with an arm long enough to reach your back, and replacing it every month if you can. And Dr. Zeichner points out that it’s crucial to let whatever product you’re using have enough time to penetrate your skin.
“You should apply your cleanser, let it sit, lather it up while you sing the alphabet, then rinse off,” he says. He particularly likes products with benzoyl peroxide, which kills acne-causing bacteria and reduces inflammation around the infected pore. And if you’re applying a topical product after you shower, let it dry before getting dressed; salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide can both bleach clothing.
And just like pimples on your face, you should try to avoid picking at bacne if you can. Save the back bends and twists for yoga, and just be sure to hit the showers after your last “namaste.”
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