What To Do About — Ugh — Back Acne

by Tori Telfer

Back acne is a strange beast. It's got its own unsavory portmanteau word — "bacne" — and it happens to even the ladies with the clearest facial skin. During the long, dark months of winter, you can hide the beast easily enough, but when summer arrives in all its sheer, backless, cut-out glory, the presence of back acne starts to feel like a dirty little secret that the whole world suddenly knows about. It also feels like something that high school boys and only high school boys should suffer from. Why does bad acne happen to good people?

I decided to consult an expert to find out what the deal was with back acne, because really, if we can't admit that we don't know everything about everything, how are we supposed to move forward in this crazy world? So I talked with Dr. Goldfaden, dermatologist and founder of Goldfaden MD, who explained a few things about our backs. Turns out back acne isn't some huge mystery, it's just that our backs are a little tougher — and dirtier — than our adorable faces. And in this case, it's OK to break out the heavy-duty exfoliant.

Your back is not your face. Don't treat them the same.

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I asked Goldfaden if we should just treat our backs like we do our faces — you know, perform that whole cleanse-tone-moisturize shtick. It would be exhausting, so I was kind of relieved when he assured me that back skin is not at all the same as delicate facial skin — "it's tougher and thicker and therefore pores are bigger." So your subtle under-eye serums won't do much for your shoulder blades.

If you've got serious back acne, what you should use is a product designed not only for tougher back skin, but for easy access. Glo Therapeutics has a product so innovative I'm shocked it hasn't been popularized before: a 360-degree salicylic acid-based back acne spray that can be held at any angle and still manages to mist. Genius.

Glo Therapeutics Back Acne Treatment, $34, Dermstore

Above all, don't forget to exfoliate

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Since backs don't get cleaned as much as faces do, things can, uh, build up. Don't make me say "pustules" again.

If back acne is a regular problem for you, you may want to invest in a heavy-duty exfoliator. "If one is suffering from constant back acne, switch to an exfoliant that is specifically for the body," says Dr. Goldfaden. "Look for something with enzymes (papaya or pumpkin), salicylic acid, lactic or glycolic acid." dermHA has a Lactic Acid Exfoliating Body Gel that's specifically designed to target body acne.

And what about dry brushing, that hippie exfoliant? "It's not the most effective way to treat back acne, but it certainly can’t hurt," Goldfaden said. "Brushing skin when dry removes dead skin cells and increases circulation. So it may help prevent — but not necessarily treat."

Dry Skin Body Brush , $11, AmazonDr. Song 50% Lactic Acid Gel Peel, $15, Amazon

People don't keep their backs as clean as their faces

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We wash our faces morning and night, but our backs get splashed and soaped once a day, maybe. This means our backs are constantly covered with sweat, dirt, clogged pores, and all sorts of other nasty little things that lead to pustules (literally the worst word I could have chosen). Goldfaden cited heavy clothing, sweating, exercise without showering afterward, clogged hair follicles, and sweating through heavy lotion as causes of back acne; shampoo and other hair products can also work their way down to the back area, irritating skin and stopping up pores.

Another problem? Backs are impossible to reach — no casual midday splashing-with-water here — which is why it's important to invest in a long-handled body brush and/or loofah, for easy cleansing.

You can occasionally double-up on products, if the product is effective enough

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No need to go out and buy your back a completely new set of toiletries. Try a gentle but effective facial soap, like Osmia Organics' Black Clay Facial Soap, and save some of that lather for your upper back area, too. I asked the founder of Osmia Organics, Dr. Sarah Villafranco, if their gentle, natural products were effective enough for tougher back skin, and she replied, "The product about which I have heard the most 'bacne' feedback is the Black Clay Facial Soap, which seems to help reduce those fine, red bumps that sometimes occupy the upper shoulders. The balancing combination of iron-rich, black clay and mineral-rich Dead Sea mud can help soothe acneiform skin and diminish future outbreaks — we've heard from lots of customers who found that the soap helped with acne on the chest and upper back."

Osmia Organics Black Clay Facial Soap, $24, Amazon

After washing your back, dab Osmia Organics Spot Treatment onto problem areas. Dry skin? Moisturize with OSEA Blemish Balm, a light moisturizer that still fights acne with three seaweeds and cypress, juniper, and rosemary essential oils. Both can be used on your face and provide soothing, organic relief to an inflamed back.

Osmia Organics Spot Treatment, $22, AmazonOSEA Blemish Balm, $48, Amazon

Conclusion? Keep your back clean and exfoliated; opt for heavy-duty products designed specifically for the body; check out that salicylic acid spray if you're really suffering; and don't be afraid to moisturize or go organic if you've got sensitive or drier skin. Most importantly, go forth and enjoy the summer with increased peace of mind — and all the sheer paneling your heart desires.