So this is *actually* why we get acne on our backs
Now that the sizzling days of summer are finally among us, it’s very likely that those icky breakouts will start to return once the heat and humidity dials up. And yes, this definitely includes the stubborn forehead pimples that like to show up after a long beach day. However, body acne (especially back acne) is also likely to become more frequent during the summer months, as board-certified dermatologist Dr. Juliya Fisher, MD, FAAD explains that summer sweat and debris can cause pores to become clogged, which in turn, causes these annoying breakouts.
“Back acne (aka bacne) is a direct result of oils, sweat, and debris clogging the pores,” Dr. Fisher tells HelloGiggles. “It can also be seen in association with facial acne, and is commonly caused by an increase in sebum, or oil production.”
Aside from scorching summer temps, bacne can also be influenced by other surprising factors. These include hormones, the skin-care products you use, and even the foods you eat. In order to help you treat bacne breakouts effectively, we tapped Dr. Fisher (and other board-certified derms) to break down what could be causing your bacne, and share some products to add to your arsenal this summer, should you be looking to upgrade your acne-busting stash.
Read their need-to-know tips and expert advice, ahead.
You may have seen the term non-comedogenic printed on your favorite foundation, and never quite understood what that meant. However, Dr. Fisher says that non-comedogenic products are absolutely essential for oily and acne-prone skin types to use, as comedogenic cosmetics products tend to contain ingredients that clog pores and lead to unwanted breakouts.
“Comedogenic products may contain ingredients like coconut oil, cocoa butter, marula oil, and isopropyl myristate,” she explains.“This in turn, creates a plug that contributes to the buildup of excess oils, debris, and dead skin.”
And yes, it’s easy to assume that these comedogenic products are simply limited to makeup products like concealer and setting powder.But Dr. Fisher also adds that many of the skin and hair-care products we use contain also comedogenic ingredients.
“Body lotions, creams, and even sunscreens can contain pore-clogging ingredients,” she explains. “Similarly, many people don’t realize that hair products can contribute to bacne, as they contain pore-clogging ingredients such as coconut oil and marula oil.”
To keep bacne breakouts to a minimum, the American Academy of Dermatology advises selecting makeup, sunscreen, skin and hair-care products that are labeled non-comedogenic. These products are typically oil-free, according to the AAD, and won’t allow any legroom for back breakouts to appear.
Of course, there’s no denying that summertime allows more opportunities for you to work outdoors, and get out of the gym. However, that same morning run can also bring breakouts to the fold, as Dr. Fisher explains that once moisture and occlusion are combined with friction, blocked pores and irritation can surely follow.
“When you don’t shower after exercising, toxins released from the pores sit on the skin, and cause irritation, or plugging of the pores,” she says. “Add some friction from skin rubbing against material, gear, or another body part, and this results in inflammatory acne.”
When your bacne is a result of sweating from physical activity, Dr. Fisher advises changing out of gym clothes promptly, and washing the oils and sweat off the skin, so it doesn’t linger. Wearing work-out clothing that is designed to help wick away moisture, can also be helpful as well, she adds.
Aside from taking a toll on our physical and mental health, stress levels also play a significant role in the health of our skin. For example, the AAD suggests that our body produces more androgen hormones during times of strife. This, in turn, can lead to the production of breakouts on your face, chest, and back, according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Susan Massick, MD.
“Stress can play a role in your skin, nail, and hair health,” she explains. “People can experience hair loss, rashes, itching, but in the case of acne, stress can cause increased androgen production in both men and women, which can lead to acne flares.”
To minimize stress, Massick recommends practicing stress relieving techniques (exercise, deep breathing, etc.) will help with overall health and wellness with the added benefit of helping relieve stress-induced acne.
Hormones and genetics
Yep, hormones can also be another secret culprit behind your bacne breakouts, as board-certified dermatologist Dr. Marie Hayag, MD, explains that higher hormone levels can become synonymous with back breakouts.
“Hormones such as higher levels in testosterone or falling levels of estrogen can contribute to bacne,” she says. “Much like teenage acne, adult acne often has a hormonal basis, which is why it is especially common in women during menstruation, pregnancy, and even menopause.”
Like hormones, genetics can also play a big part in back breakouts, as board-certified dermatologist Dr. Peterson Pierre, MD, explains that a family history of bad acne can up your chances of having breakouts.
“Being acne-prone can be genetic,” he tells HelloGiggles. “If there is a history of bad acne in your family, although not a given, chances are high that you will experience acne at some point in your life.”
High-fat and processed foods
Yes, even the foods we eat can contribute to back breakouts, as a 2010 study published in nutrients, revealed that high glycemic index foods can trigger acne in susceptible individuals. Dairy items like milk can also spike acne flares, according to Pierre, as he says that whole milk has fat, which prevents the rapid rise of blood or blood sugar. This makes it important to switch to skim milk, if you can, as he says it does not contain the high fat content of whole milk. Similarly, Dr. Pierre adds that sodas and high-sugar drinks (that includes seemingly-healthy juices from the juice bar), candy bars, fast, and fried foods should be consumed in limited quantities, as they too, can contribute to breakouts.
A quick dip in the pool can be more than refreshing during the summertime, especially when it’s an absolute scorcher out. However, chlorine found in pool water can be another sneaky culprit behind your bacne, as chlorine can dry out the skin, and speed up oil production, according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Apple A. Bodemer, MD.
“Chlorine is very irritating and drying, and when the skin gets too dry or irritated, the oil glands go into overdrive, making more oil in an effort to protect the skin,” she says.
Since chlorine can be very irritating, Dr. Bodemer explains that it is important to shower immediately after swimming, and wash chlorine off of the skin with a gentle cleanser.
Abrasive cleansing products
Bath tools and scrubs can definitely be helpful in removing summertime sweat and debris off of your skin while showering. However, Dr. Bodemer advises exerting caution on how you use your bath sponges or loofahs, as they can cause damage to the skin if used incorrectly, and lead to unwanted bacne breakouts.
“Abrasive cleansing tools like loofah sponges create micro trauma to the skin, signaling the oil glands that it needs more protection which leads to more oil production,” she says. “Similarly, abrasive cleansers (apricot kernel scrubs) will further damage the hair follicles, creating, and worsening the problem,” she tells HelloGiggles.
To adopt better cleansing habits going forward, Dr. Bodemer advises swapping out loofah sponges for a soft wash cloth, and using a cleanser and some warm water (not hot) to cleanse your skin thoroughly.
Best bacne-treating products:
1. Paula’s Choice Skin Perfect 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
Aside from boasting a reasonable price tag, Dr. Haley says this body exfoliant product also has easy application on its side, as it is liquid-based, meaning it can be easily applied onto a cotton pad, and then directly applied onto the skin. Similarly, the added beta hydroxy acid inside this product helps exfoliate and calm skin, allowing you to use it directly after cleansing and toning, she suggests.
2. Neutrogena Body Clear Acne Body Wash
Cleansing your back should be the last step in your shower routine, according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Gabriel Zenovia, MD, FAAD, as you’ll want to remove any shampoo and conditioner lingering on your back. That’s why Dr. Zenovia recommends using this body wash, as it contains two percent salicylic acid to treat and prevent back breakouts from wreaking havoc on your skin.
3. Replenix Acne Solutions Gly/Sal 10-2 Acne Body Spray
Unless you have a back-scrubbing sponge, applying some cleanser onto your back can be a very difficult task. This makes it a good idea to invest in a body spray that can stand tall against breakouts, according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jennifer Haley, MD FAAD, especially if you need to clean hard-to-reach areas. “This spray can be used on skin after hot yoga or exercise, especially when you can’t immediately get to a shower,” she tells HelloGiggles. “It also has both alpha and beta hydroxy acids, which promote exfoliation.”
4. Yuni Shower Sheets Large Body Wipes
If you aren’t a fan of spraybale acne products, Dr. Hayag recommends investing in body wipes, as they too, remove acne-causing sweat and dirt. “This product is a great measure to take between a workout and a shower, as it removes sweat and oil from the back to reduce chances of breakouts,” she explains.
5. SkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser
Dr. Haley says this cleanser is helpful in promoting physical and chemical exfoliation to clogged pores, as it contains alpha hydroxy and beta hydroxy acids, which encourage essential exfoliation.
6. Aveeno Clear Complexion Daily Facial Cleansing Pads
“These wipes contain salicylic acid, a beta hydroxyacid commonly used to treat acne breakouts,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner, MD. “This makes them a great product option for those-on-the-go, as they are easy on the back and can be easily disposed of when you’re finished using them.”
7. Skinceuticals LHA Cleansing Gel
This is another good cleanser choice for those living with bacne, according to Dr. Haley, as it uses beta hydroxy acid to exfoliate, without causing inflammation.
8. EltaMD UV Aero Full-Body Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF45 Spray
If you are looking for a good sunscreen recco this summer, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Todd Minars, MD, recommends using this sprayable sunscreen product, as it can provide coverage to hard-to-reach areas like your back. Plus, if you are looking for non-comedogenic products, he adds that this product fits nicely within those guidelines, as it is made without heavy, pore-clogging ingredients. “This sunscreen is oil-free, mineral-based and does not contain fragrances, colors, or parabens, which are not advised for those with sensitive skin or common flare-ups,” Dr. Minars tells HelloGiggles.
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