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  5. Back Acne: 6 Causes, 11 Treatments & 16 Prevention Tips

Have you ever had back acne? Well, it is way more common than you had imagined. According to scientific studies, half of the people across the world with acne have it on their back!

While it may not affect your appearance, it is imperative to get rid of it at an early stage. This will avoid it from spreading to other parts of your body. All you need is a hygienic skincare routine and some effective products.

But, is treating acne on the back the same as treating acne on the face? We tell you all about how to treat it and prevent it from recurring.

What Is Back Acne?

Back acne is similar to the acne you get on your face; except that it is on your back. When oil present in the skin of your back and dead cells block pores on accumulation, it can cause acne in combination with a skin bacteria called Cutibacterium acnes [1].

What Is Back Acne A Sign Of?

Back acne is a sign of excessive oil and sebum clogging the skin’s pores along with dead skin cells. It may also indicate poor personal hygiene. It is usually linked to frequent wearing of tight garments causing friction, sweat and grime. It can also occur if you do not shower regularly.

Who & What Age Group Is More Prone To Back Acne?

Anyone can get back acne. Commonly, it occurs in teenagers and adults. According to studies, over 90% of adolescents and 12-14% of adults can get acne and half of them are likely to get back acne.

Studies indicate that acne is more prevalent among women than men [2]. Among adolescents, men are more prone to acne and as adults, women tend to get more acne on the back.

What Does Back Acne Look Like?

Back acne can appear as white bumps (whiteheads) or pink bumps or abscesses that are slightly painful to touch but don’t contain any pus (papule).

If it is a blackhead, the tip can go black when the sebum on your skin reacts with the air.

Back pimples can also be whitish yellow in colour and reddish at the bottom (pustules). Nodules and cysts on the back can be large, full of pus and extremely painful [3].

What Causes Back Acne?

  • Hormonal changes during puberty and adolescence in men and women. In the case of women, back acne can occur during their periods or during pregnancy.
  • Genetics and factors determine the appearance of acne. If your family members have back acne, you are likely to have it too.
  • Sweat: When you perspire and your skin can’t breathe due to the synthetic fabrics you may be wearing, it can cause acne.
  • Some medications like antidepressants may have side effects like acne. Stress is a very common trigger for an acne breakout.
  • High carbohydrate  and gluten rich foods like potato wafers and white bread can be a factor that contributes to the appearance of back acne according to research. In some cases, dairy products may be a trigger.
  • Contact with products like shampoos and conditioners that run down your back; or hair oil applied to hair (if you have long hair) can also cause back acne.
  • If you work out wearing a sports bra (women) and without a singlet or a shirt (men), direct skin contact with a dirty floor or previously used sweaty gym equipment can lead to acne.

Did You Know?

  • Back acne is quite common; at least 50% of the people who have acne are likely to have it on the back.
  • Back acne is also referred to as bacne in the dermatological circles.

How To Remove Acne On The Back?

1. OTC Creams

If the acne on your back is not so severe, you can use an OTC cream that contains Alpha Lipoic Acid or sulphur, salicylic acid [4], benzoyl peroxide [5] or resorcinol [6]. These prevent fresh acne and remove scars caused by their appearance.

Alpha Lipoic Acid exfoliates dead skin and prevents pores from clogging up. Retinoid creams used with benzoyl peroxide can give you better results as the retinoid will unclog pores and improve the efficacy of the benzoyl peroxide.

2. Pills

If you are an adult woman who has back acne, ask your doctor to prescribe birth control pills. They help in regulating hormones and reduce the appearance of back acne. In case you plan to conceive or are pregnant, you obviously need to avoid them.

3. Laser Treatments

If your back acne is severe, chances are it will cause scarring and lesions. You can opt for dermatologist-recommended and performed procedures like laser treatments to reduce the acne and scarring.

4. Chemical Peels

The same chemical peel treatments suggested for acne on the face can be used to treat acne on the back. Peels that contain hydroxyl acids such as glycolic or salicylic acid can treat acne and scars. One session of a chemical peel treatment can reduce the appearance of acne scars by nearly 90% [7].

5. Pulsed Dye Treatment

A laser treatment known as pulsed-dye treatment can be used to reduce the inflammation on your back acne. This laser evens out the skin’s cells, makes them more flexible and reduces the scarring.

6. Exfoliation

It helps to use a mild exfoliator that contains salicylic acid to get rid of excess oil and dirt from the skin. It removes the dead skin cells that can clog pores as well. An exfoliator containing benzoyl peroxide can help reduce acne by killing the bacteria that causes it.

7. Eat Right

Increase your intake of foods that are high in zinc, like spinach, wheatgerm and pumpkin seeds, whole grains, fruits and low GI foods like nuts and beans. Reduce dairy intake and also eat beans and berries that have anti-inflammatory properties.

8. Home Remedies

A. Raw Honey And Sugar

Make a natural scrub by mixing a tablespoon each of raw honey and sugar. Mix well and using a dry brush, rub your back gently with it. This will remove dead skin cells causing acne. Use this only to prevent acne once it has cleared up. It will not get rid of pre-existing acne.

B. Hydrating Oils And Gels

Avoid using synthetic moisturisers and opt for natural plant oils that are gentler on the skin and non-comedogenic. You can choose between argan oil, neem oil, aloe vera gel or sea buckthorn oil.

C. Tea Tree Oil

The tea tree is native to Australia. The oil made from its leaves has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties that helps reduce and prevent acne. You can use shampoos, body washes, soaps and cleansers that contain tea tree oil to minimise the chances of back acne.

You can also take a few drops of tea tree oil and mix it with your bath water and shower. This can also help reduce acne. After drying your skin, apply aloe vera gel.

Tips to Prevent Back Acne

1. Always shower after working out. The sweat and dirt staying on your skin for long, especially after exercising, can lead to back acne. Also, remember to wash your workout gear before wearing it again. Showering regularly, even twice a day, helps.

2. Wear loose and clean clothes. If you wear tight clothes, in synthetic fabrics that don’t let your skin breathe, it can trigger back acne. That is because sweat, oils and dirt get trapped between the fabric and your skin.

3. If you have long hair, keep it tied in a bun or clamp, so that it does not brush against your back during workouts. The dirt or oil from the hair can increase acne, especially if it rubs against your skin. Wash your hair frequently and avoid making it touch your back.

4. If you are exposing your back to the sun, say on a beach or in a pool, use a sunscreen that is non-greasy, water-based and not oily. That is because oil based or heavy sunscreens can clog pores on the back, causing acne.

5. Eat healthy, and not foods that trigger inflammation. High GI foods like pasta, rice potatoes and white bread can increase your blood sugar levels, leading to acne. Consume more of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein.

6. If you are on medication, and supplements (lithium [8] or male hormones such as androgens [9]), these can make you more vulnerable to acne. Consult your doctor about discontinuing them or finding milder alternatives with fewer side effects.

7. Don’t use moisturisers or body lotions for your back that are oil based. They can cause acne breakouts. Always look for non-comedogenic formulations as they are made in a way that doesn’t clog your pores when applied.

8. Avoid carrying a heavy backpack. Even heavy sports gear like shoulder pads can cause back acne known as acne mechanica. Always carry a backpack that is light and has a snug fit.

9. Though it is on your back, getting someone to pick on a pimple or pop it open can make it worse and lead to scars. It is better to use an effective OTC cream as a spot treatment to get rid of them.

10. The sun’s UV rays can make your acne darker, which can later cause scarring. Wear sunscreen that is non-greasy when you are outdoors and your back is exposed to the sun.

11. If you have back acne, change your bedsheets at least once or twice a week and wash them before the next use. Washing them frequently can remove the bacteria and dead skin cells that remain on the bed sheets which in turn can block your pores further, leading to more acne.

12. If you don’t have anyone to apply the ointment for you, opt for acne-reducing body washes though they take longer to show results.

13. When you wash your hair, bend your hair forward to rinse off the shampoo and conditioners. Some ingredients in these products can clog your pores when the shampoo or conditioner runs down your back.

14. If you must use a shower gel, make sure it is a medicated one and contains salicylic acid, glycolic acid and lactic acid to help with your back acne.

15. If you find that any OTC treatment with benzoyl peroxide is drying out your skin, use it as a spot treatment only where you have the acne. Choose the strength of the product as prescribed by your doctor. Anything too strong can cause further harm to your skin.

16. The menthol in mint leaves and mint juice has anti-inflammatory properties, which can help soothe your back acne.

Wrapping Up

If you struggle with acne, you are likely to have it on your back too. But, there are several ways in which you can reduce their appearance and take preventive measures to ensure they don’t recur. If you follow good personal hygiene and use the right products, you can keep back acne at bay.

Begin By Knowing Your Skin