Perhaps just as bad as a face full of pimples is a back (or chest, or shoulders) full of the same red, pesky problems. This type of acne is called body acne, and it likes to peak out of low-cut dresses, and shine on full display at the beach. It also likes to leave its sufferers standing in front of the mirror, pondering the causes of body acne, as well as what to do about it.
Of course red spots aren’t the end of the world, but I’m sure you’d like to clear up the issue. After all, you work hard to keep your face zit-free, and would probably like the rest of your bod to feel just as good. Plus, body acne can be painful. (Anyone who has had a pimple on their shoulder can attest to this.)
When deciphering the problem, the thing to keep in mind is that body acne and facial acne have many of the same causes. “General causes of acne may include inflammation, bacteria … hormonal factors, dietary factors such as a high glycemic diet, stress, comedogenic products on the skin, and genetics,” says Dr. Sue Ann Wee of Schweiger Dermatology Group, in an email to Bustle. But there are differences, too — especially in how it’s formed. Below are some possible causes, as well as some tips for clearing up the issue once and for all.
1. Shampoo Residue
Shampoo contains a lot of pore-clogging ingredients like sulfates, heavy moisturizing agents, and silicones, according to Carly Cardellino on Cosmopolitan. When it’s not washed away properly, you can get acne along the hairline, as well as on your back and shoulders. So get in the habit of shampooing before you wash your body. Leaning to the side while rinsing can also help. Anything to keep the suds away from your skin.
2. Tight Clothing
Body acne can be caused by something called acne mechanica. “Acne mechanica refers to physical factors such as pressure, friction, and rubbing on the back that may contribute to acne,” Wee explains. “For example, acne can be seen more frequently on the body under tight fitting garments.” To help the issue, loosen things up. And keep those tight sports bras, jeans, and exercise tops to a minimum.
3. Fabric Softener
Washing your clothes more often is a good way to keep dirt and oils away from your skin. Just be sure to skip the fabric softener. “While it feels like a simple luxury to pour a bit of fabric softener into the wash, it turns out our skin may not find it as luxurious,” said Lindsey Metrus on Byrdie.com. The chemicals in it can irritate your skin, so it’s better to skip this laundry step.
4. Not Exfoliating
Remember what I said about taking care of your face? I’m sure you exfoliate, and smooth on all sorts of lotions and zit creams. But do you do the same for your back? As Mona Gohara, M.D., said on Good Housekeeping, “… forgetting to wash or exfoliate your back is more common than you think.” Don’t let this area go unnoticed — be sure to scrub and exfoliate as you do everywhere else.
Try: First Botany 100% Natural Coconut Milk Body Polish, $14.95, Amazon
5. Gym Sweat
I know, you want to revel in your post-gym glow. But sweatiness doesn’t mix well with your body oils, according to an article by Lauren Le Vine on StyleCaster.com. If you go unshowered after hitting the gym, you can expect a nice speckling of body acne. So be sure to rinse off, ASAP. You can also wipe up with a cleansing cloth. Just don’t let that sweat sit.
6. Dirty Sheets
If you’re sleeping on the same dirty sheets night after night, then you’re essentially rolling around in a bed of dirt and oil. (Ew.) Washing your sheets more often can obviously help, as can sleeping on natural fibers. “These materials themselves breathe better and transfer less oil,” said Dana Oliver on HuffingtonPost.com.
7. Perfume Oils
Pay attention to wear your spritz perfume. Is it on your chest or neck? “That could be the reason you have breakouts in those areas,” said Metrus. It’s all due to the perfume’s pore-clogging oils, which are best left sprayed on less acne-prone areas of the body.
8. Body Lotion
I won’t name names, but I used to use a body lotion that smelled amazing, but pretty much turned me into one giant pimple. (Not exactly the look I was going for.) I quickly stopped using it, and switched to a non comedogenic brand. Problem solved.
Try: SkinResourceMD Total Skin Moisturizer, $12, Amazon
9. Hand Lotion
Wait, what? How can hand lotion cause body acne? Well, it can’t — unless it gets smeared places it doesn’t belong. This usually happens at night, according to Metrus, when you fall asleep on your hands, or curl them up next to your chest. It’s best to go to sleep moisturizer-free. Or, you can use a pair of moisturizing gloves to keep the lotion where it belongs.
10. The Sun
There are some old wives tales floating around about the sun curing acne. If you believe the nonsense, then you have probably laid out by the pool with the highest of hopes, only to be stricken with more acne. (Sad times.) That’s because the sun causes your skin to dry out, according to Cardellino. That triggers more oil production, and thus more zits. So put your tanning days behind you, and always wear SPF.
11. Your Genes
Some people are just predisposed to body acne, according to Gohara. If that seems to be the case, then it’s high time you treat your symptoms. “There are many over-the-counter products that your dermatologist may recommend such as benzyl peroxide topicals and washes, salicylic acid and/or gliycolic acid cleansers, [and] sulfur based topicals/cleansers,” Wee says. If you’re strict about it, you can help clear up the issue.