Your Body Acne Treatment Plan, Straight From Dermatologists

Goodbye to buttne and bacne.

Your body acne treatment plan, straight from dermatologists.
Getty Images/Catherine Delahaye

Even if you’re not shy about showing a little skin, having some body acne can make one hesitate to wear that low-cut top or backless dress. Body breakouts are just as common as the ones you get on your face: Acne affects about 85% of people between the ages of 12 and 24, so if you’re dealing with pimples, blackheads, or bumps on places like your back, chest, or shoulders, you’re definitely not alone.

With bikini season basically here, however, the skin woe can be more annoying than usual — leading you on a quest for the proper body acne treatment to clear things up. If you’re nodding your head in agreement, know that Bustle has you covered. Read on for expert intel on the most common causes of body acne, and what three board-certified dermatologists say you can do to help treat and prevent those pesky pimples.

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What Causes Body Acne

As board-certified dermatologist Dr. Papri Sarkar, M.D. explains, body acne can often be attributed to the same factors that cause acne on your face. “The most common cause — similar to facial acne — is hormones,” the Boston-based dermatologist says. During puberty, pregnancy, or a menstrual cycle, certain hormones increase and oil glands generally become more active, sometimes leading body acne to appear. “The most common places that we see it are in the areas where these glands are most dense, such as the chest and back, and sometimes even the buttocks and upper arms,” Sarkar notes.

Clogged pores are another common culprit for body acne. “Excess oil and dead skin cells can occlude pores, which can lead to inflammation,” Sarkar says. Pores can become jammed due to a lack of exfoliation or because of comedogenic products (formulas that clog pores) like certain lotions, shampoos, or oil-based perfumes. Basically, anything that obstructs your pores can lead to acne, Sarkar notes. Plus, bacteria can get trapped in there, worsening the problem.

New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Sue Ann Wee, M.D. notes that factors like stress, genetics, and diet can also affect body acne. For example, eating high glycemic foods — such as pasta, rice, bread, fruit, and sweets — causes an immediate spike in blood sugar, which can lead to inflammation that causes breakouts.

Body acne can also stem from your clothing. According to Sarkar, these breakouts are often seen in those who wear tight-fitting clothes for long periods of time — like dancers and athletes — especially if they’re sweating in them. As Dr. Snehal Amin, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of MDCS Dermatology, previously told Bustle, fungus and bacteria thrive in moist environments, such as your sweaty clothes — so it’s best to change into something dry in order to reduce the amount of time your skin is exposed to potential acne-causing bacteria.

Your sweaty workout clothes — especially sweat-drenched items, such as sports bras — can also lead to acne if left on for too long. “Fungus and bacteria thrive in moist environments, such as on damp sweaty clothes,” Amin explains. So changing into a dry shirt — even temporarily, before you shower — will limit the time your skin is exposed to potential bacteria. One thing to note: Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Heather Woolery-Lloyd, M.D. says body acne can sometimes be confused with folliculitis, an inflammation of the hair follicles that presents as smaller red bumps around the hair follicles — and that can be exacerbated by tight-fitting clothes, she explains.

How To Prevent & Treat Body Acne

With the right products and practices, you can keep body acne at bay and speed up the healing of any blemishes you currently have.

Stay dry: If you can, Sarkar says to try to shower or wipe yourself down right after a long workout and come out of those damp, tight clothes as soon as possible to prevent body acne since you want to keep your pores clear of dirt, sweat, and oil.

Use chemical exfoliants: The experts agree that you want to incorporate chemical exfoliants — like alpha and beta-hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs) — into your all-over skin care routine, just like you might already be doing with your face. Glycolic acid, in particular, “exfoliates dead skin cells and decreases bacterial carriage,” Sarkar explains. Salicylic acid, an MVP acne-fighter, can also help keep the pores on your body clear.

Cleanse with antibacterial soap: Woolery-Lloyd adds that antibacterial soaps may also prove helpful. Try incorporating something like a benzoyl peroxide body wash — an ingredient that fights acne-causing bacteria and helps decrease inflammation.

Wash your body after your hair: When shampooing and conditioning your hair, be sure to use body wash afterward — this will ensure any pore-clogging ingredients from your hair care products get rinsed off your skin. Dermatologist Dr. Mona Gohara, M.D. says, “Rinsing conditioner and shampoo down the back can leave some residue which can cause acne.”

Incorporate body retinol: Retinol can come in handy for the skin beneath your neck, too. Topical retinoids, Woolery-Lloyd explains, increase cell turnover to prevent pore congestion. Thankfully, retinol formulated for the skin on the body has become more prevalent.

Keep your sheets clean: Don’t forget to regularly wash your bedsheets as dirty sheets can be a potential acne culprit.

Be strategic when applying perfume: Another trick that can help? You should spritz your perfume — if you’re wearing any — onto an area of skin that’s less prone to acne.

See a dermatologist: If all else fails, Woolery-Lloyd says to consider making an appointment with your dermatologist. “There are prescription therapies that are very helpful to treat body acne and many come in foam formulations which make it easier to apply to a large body surface area like the back,” she says.

Shop Body Acne Treatments

The Benzoyl Peroxide Wash

Sarkar recommends this antimicrobial foaming wash that features benzoyl peroxide to quash acne-causing bacteria and unclog pores. One note from Sarkar: “Just make sure you wash it off thoroughly as it does bleach clothing and towels.”

The Salicylic Acid Cleanser

Woolery-Lloyd is a fan of this daily cleanser with salicylic acid to help keep pores clean and prevent body breakouts.

The Peel Pads

To treat body acne and improve your skin’s tone and texture, Sarkar points to these easy-to-use peel pads. With their blend of AHAs and BHAs plus antioxidants, they slough off dead skin cells and excess oil to keep your complexion clear and smooth.

The Retinol Serum

Experience the skin-clearing powers of retinol on your body with a serum like this one from Topicals. Besides an encapsulated form of retinol, it uses gently exfoliating urea (which is also great for rough patches, BTW) and AHAs to clear and even out your skin.

The Gentle Body Wash

For sensitive skin types, Woolery-Lloyd recommends this antibacterial body wash. It uses bacteria-fighting benzalkonium chloride for the acne- and-folliculitis-clearing job, but keeps your skin hydrated thanks to glycerin and sunflower seed oil.

The Exfoliating Pads

For maximum exfoliation, Sarkar says to consider these pads, which combine a slew of exfoliating acids including glycolic, lactic, and salicylic. It also boasts hyaluronic acid for hydration.

The Body Scrub

If you’re a fan of scrubs, snag this one from Differin. It contains both alpha and beta-hydroxy acids to slough away buildup in your pores as well as vitamin E microbeads to boost its exfoliating prowess.

Studies referenced:

Ayer, J. (2006). Acne: more than skin deep. Postgraduate Medical Journal.

Elsaie, M. (2016). Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an update. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol.

Heng, A.H.S. (2021). Gene variants associated with acne vulgaris presentation and severity: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Medical Genomics. Volume 14, Article number: 103 (2021)

McLaughlin, J. (2019). Propionibacterium acnes and Acne Vulgaris: New Insights from the Integration of Population Genetic, Multi-Omic, Biochemical and Host-Microbe Studies. Microorganisms.

Mills, O.H. (1975). Acne Mechanica. Arch Dermatol.

Reynolds, R. (2010). Effect of the Glycemic Index of Carbohydrates on Acne vulgaris. Nutrients.


Dr. Sue Ann Wee, M.D., New York City-based board-certified dermatologist

Dr. Papri Sarkar, M.D., board-certified dermatologist in Boston, Massachusetts

Dr. Heather Woolery-Lloyd, M.D., Miami-based board-certified dermatologist

Dr. Mona Gohara, M.D., board-certified dermatologist based in Hamden, Connecticut