How To Treat Chest Acne, According To A Dermatologist


Because pores exist everywhere on our bodies, there also exists the possibility for breakouts everywhere on our bodies. (Great!) But some of those pores are more prone to acne than others, like those that are more exposed to sweat, bacteria, oil, inflammation, and other pore-clogging, pimple-causing phenomena — and that includes your chest. I reached out to New York City-based dermatologists Dr. Robyn Gmyrek and Dr. Kenneth Howe to understand what causes chest acne in the first place, and how to get rid of chest acne should you want to treat these breakouts.

According to Dr. Gmyrek, chest acne is basically the same thing as facial acne. “When a pore gets clogged by dead skin cells at the opening, sebum gets trapped inside. That creates inflammation, which leads to pimples and an overgrowth of bacteria,” she explains. Also like facial acne, the causes for chest acne are often multi-pronged. Some people have a genetic predisposition to acne, while some might experience hormonal breakouts. But along with biological factors, Dr. Gmyrek says that chest acne can be caused or worsened by excessive sweating, especially while wearing tight-fitting clothing. Occlusive clothing, like sports bras and compression shirts, trap sweat and oil, which leads to more bacteria and inflammation. Et voila: chest acne.

Beyond showering ASAP after a workout, you can also use pimple-fighting products to keep chest acne at bay. But be mindful of the products you’re using to treat chest acne, as Dr. Gmyrek warns that “your chest skin is more sensitive to being dried out or irritated by medicated acne products than facial skin.” So if you’re using a concentrated spot treatment, use it sparingly and occasionally so you don’t exacerbate dryness.

Dr. Howe adds that the risk of scarring is greater with chest acne, “particularly deeper acne cysts on the central chest" — so whatever you do, don’t pick at your spots. Dr. Howe says those resulting scabs and scars can take months to clear up. And if over-the-counter remedies aren’t working for you, Dr. Howe recommends paying a visit to your dermatologist. “Probably because the area is covered by clothes, a lot of patients neglect getting treatment for their chest,” he says. “But why continue to suffer, when we can clear it up?”

That said, there are ways to treat chest acne at home. Start with these five dermatologist-approved products, listed ahead, which can help you prevent, treat, and get rid of chest acne for good.


Try A Spray-On Exfoliant

This Paula’s Choice Clear Acne Body Spray contains 2% salicylic acid, a mainstay ingredient for treating acne. But in this formula, soothing and hydrating ingredients like allantoin, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid counteract salicylic acid's drying effects, which might otherwise be too intense for the thin skin on your chest. Dr. Gmyrek points out that this spray can be helpful for treating hard-to-reach back acne, too, since the pump is designed to spray at any angle.

"I love this stuff! This is the 3rd time I’ve repurchased it. I get bad breakouts on my shoulders and chest, and this spray clears them up within a few days and doesn’t dry out my skin," commented one satisfied customer.


Use An Acne-Fighting Body Wash In The Shower

If you have mild to moderate chest acne, Dr. Howe recommends using an acne-fighting body wash since they’re so easy to incorporate into your daily routine. (That said, Dr. Howe says that more severe cases of body acne might not respond to foaming cleansers, since they simply aren't left on long enough to thoroughly penetrate skin.)

Like the Paula’s Choice body spray, the Proactiv Deep Cleansing Wash contains 2% salicylic acid, which is the highest percentage of salicylic acid permitted in an over-the-counter product. The formula also contains soothing ingredients like aloe, jojoba esters, and camellia leaf extract to keep dryness and inflammation under control. Dr. Gmyrek suggests using this body wash with a gently exfoliating washcloth or body scrubber to maximize its pore-cleansing powers.


Always Apply Sunscreen

I probably don’t need to tell you that tanning is bad for literally everything to do with your skin, but Dr. Howe specifically warns against tanning as a quick fix for body acne. “That might work for a few weeks,” he says, “but once you’re out of the sun your acne will undergo a rebound flare, and come roaring back even worse. Plus, you’ll have caused lifelong sun damage to your exposed skin.”

For sun protection, Dr. Gmyrek swears by EltaMD products for acne-prone skin — they’re lightweight, non-comedogenic, and guard your skin against both UVB and UVA rays (the former are responsible for sunburns, the latter cause sun spots, and both can cause skin cancer). Use EltaMD UV Sport Broad-Spectrum SPF 50 on your chest (and the rest of your body) for up to 80 minutes of acne-safe, water-resistant sun protection. The non-greasy formula doesn’t leave behind a white cast, so it works beautifully on all skin tones.


Keep Pores Clean With Exfoliating Pads

Using salicylic acid-soaked treatment pads can be an effective, mess-free, and oddly satisfying way to treat chest acne. These Neutrogena Rapid Clear Treatment Pads clear away dirt, oil, and other bacteria to treat current acne flare-ups and prevent future breakouts. A word of warning: Since they’re intended for treating facial acne, these pads are highly concentrated and might be too drying for run-of-the-mill chest acne. Reserve them for more severe breakouts, or if you have very oily skin.


Apply A Spot Treatment To Blemishes (In Moderation)

If you’re dealing with just a few pimples on your chest, targeting them individually with a traditional acne treatment might be your best bet. The cult-classic Mario Badescu Drying Lotion is by far the most effective overnight spot treatment I’ve ever used. A powerhouse combination of salicylic acid, sulfur, and zinc oxide draw out impurities, while calamine lotion (that’s the weird pink sediment settled at the bottom of the bottle, which you should never shake) soothes inflammation. Remember to use just a small amount of this stuff, and only on your most stubborn spots, so you don’t risk excessive dryness or peeling on your chest.

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Dr. Robyn Gmyrek, M.D., Board-Certified dermatologist practicing at Union Square Laser Dermatology.

Dr. Kenneth Howe, M.D., Board-Certified dermatologist practicing at Wexler Dermatology.