How to Get Rid of Body Acne, Fast
Two skin-care experts weigh in.
We’ve all experienced some radical changes to our bodies, and our skin especially, during this time in quarantine, and we’re here to tell you: It’s fine. It’s totally normal to have some unexpected dullness or breakouts, even if you usually only have one or two a month. There is an unprecedented amount of stress at the moment, and we already know that stress is merciless when it comes to our skin. That’s why we’ve added a few new calming routines to our days to remedy that lingering anxiety, such as relaxing baths, aromatherapy oils, perfumes that are reminiscent of the outdoors, and clarifying masks. The latter might take care of those pesky pimples on our faces, but many of us are experiencing acne elsewhere, too, like on our backs, arms, and chests.
So how do we remedy full-body breakouts through and beyond all this craziness? We asked two experts for the intel: Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, and Dr. Tiffany Libby, a cosmetic dermatologist in New York City and a Mohs surgeon and assistant professor of dermatology at Brown Medical School.
The Causes of Body Acne
Like the acne on our faces, there are many different stressors that can give rise to acne on the body. Dr. Libby states, “Acne can happen anywhere on the body that you have hair follicles. In general, the main contributing factors to acne are clogged pores, increased oil or sebum production, inflammation, and presence of bacteria. Stress, pollution, poor cleansing habits, diet (specifically high-glycemic-index foods and dairy), and hormonal changes can also contribute to acne breakouts. On the body specifically, there are increased factors that can specifically contribute to body acne, such as sweat, dirt, oil, and friction in those areas.” This means that wherever we grow hair (which is virtually everywhere on our bodies), we can expect to eventually see breakouts, even if we have never experienced body acne before.
Now, one can wonder why breakouts occur on specific body parts, while others seem absolutely poreless. Does this mean that there are different causes of acne on different parts of our bodies, the same way different zones of our faces are triggered by different stressors? “Not really,” says Dr. Libby. “They are all due to the same pathophysiology of first starting out with a clogged pore and excess oil, which then becomes inflamed, leading to acne.” In other words, acne is acne, regardless of whether it has attacked the chest or arms.
Hormones & Body Acne
Hormones are essentially the little soldiers in our bodies that ensure everything is running as smoothly as possible. Typically, when there is a hormonal imbalance in our bodies, we can see it on our faces. If you’ve ever had a hormonal zit, you understand that they are both painful and stubborn. Some of us, unfortunately, also experience painful and stubborn breakouts on our backs and chests. So does this mean that they are also backed by hormones? Dr. Zeichner explains, “Hormonal sensitivities often [lead] to acne breakouts in the lower one-third of the face, including the jawline, neck, and chin,” meaning that acne on the arms or back is most likely birthed from overactive pores or environmental stressors. “In severe cases, [hormonal] breakouts can occur on the whole face, as well as the chest, back, and arms.” If you believe that the acne on your body may be caused by something like hormones and that cannot be cleared with a simple wash, contact your medical professional.
Is This Even a Breakout?
To determine whether a body irritation is a breakout, or possibly an allergic reaction to something touching the skin, Dr. Zeichner recommends studying the texture. “Acne breakouts look like red, angry bumps that often have pus inside them. Allergies tend to be red, itchy, and scaly patches. When they are caused by an allergy from an outside source, it usually has a distinct pattern on the skin that mimics whatever came in contact with the skin.”
Dr. Libby adds, “Allergic contact dermatitis...can usually present as an itchy rash, sometimes with water blisters or redness and scaling. This looks different than acne, which can be painful but typically not itchy.” If there is a breakout on your chest that seems extremely itchy, and reminiscent of the shape of that one necklace you’d prefer to never take off, you probably should.
Allergic reactions are not the only things that can be reminiscent of acne. “Red bumps that occur in the triceps area may not be acne at all,” says Dr. Zeichner. “We commonly see a rash called keratosis pilaris. Here, dead skin cells get trapped within the pores, giving an appearance similar to acne. The arms are studded with firm bumps within the follicles.” These bumps can unfortunately stick around for a long time, but with proper exfoliation (especially chemical), you can remove the dead skin and help your arms return to normal.
What Should We Do?
Although many of us have multi-step routines for our faces, we rarely see someone who gives the same due diligence to her body-care products. When was the last time you saw an influencer flaunt the essence she uses on her legs? Dr. Zeichner states, “It is important to take care of your body just as you take care of your face. The wrong products can lead to dryness and irritation and aggravate conditions like acne.” Luckily, using a light, non-greasy lotion after you shower or bathe can help prevent unnecessary dryness that can lead to breakouts.
So what else can we do to prevent body acne before it starts? “I often recommend using the same benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid wash that you use on your face also on your body, chest, arms, where you may also experience breakouts,” says Dr. Libby. “I also like chemical exfoliants like AHAs and BHAs on body areas, as well. The skin on the body is thicker and a bit more resilient than that on our faces, so it typically tolerates any face treatments very well.” This means that if there is a product that works extremely well for the breakouts on your face, it will likely work on those areas of your body that are prone to breakouts as well. Additionally, both Dr. Libby and Dr. Zeichner prefer chemical exfoliants or acids such as AHAs and BHAs to gently dissolve the acne-causing dead skin cells from the skin and to eliminate bacteria.
Lastly, make sure to change the clothes you wear daily. In quarantine, it’s very simple to wear the same shirt a few days in a row or go straight from a living-room workout to your Zoom meeting. However, Dr. Libby states that “standing around in tight, sweaty workout clothes will certainly exacerbate acne breakouts on the body,” as it keeps close to the skin all the bacteria and sebum it has absorbed into its fibers. Compare it to the way you use a towel to clean up a spill: If the towel absorbs the entirety of the spill, yet remains on the ground, everything will stay there until you remove it. So get naked. And if that’s not your thing, wear light, breathable fabrics that don’t cause much friction. Your skin will thank you for it.
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