How Do I Deal With Body Acne?

Our very own Dr. Benjamin Barankin was recently quoted in Reader’s Digest Best Health discussing how to deal with body acne.

You’ve just sized-up a sizeable cystic breakout on your breastbone. Another doozie is popping up on your shoulder – and then there’s the peppering of little pimples across your thighs. As if life doesn’t feel fabulous enough these days, now you’ve got body breakouts to contend with, too. But take comfort in this: you’re not alone in experiencing bacne (back acne) and even buttne (also a thing).

About 5.6 million Canadians deal with acne, says Dr. Benjamin Barankin, a dermatologist with the Toronto Dermatology Centre. And of those who get it on the face, 52 percent will also get it on their trunk. (It is possible, though much less common, to have body blemishes without getting facial breakouts). When you factor in — and no judgement, here — the less-than-ideal lifestyle choices that have come with pandemic life, from ordering in meals more often, to skipping exercise, to sleeping poorly, body breakouts are on the rise. According to one recent survey, 38 percent of respondents said pandemic stress had definitely worsened their body acne. Fortunately, there are ways to banish breakouts on the chest, back, butt and legs.

What is body acne?

Whether you’ve got a zit on your chest or your chin, the underlying causes are almost identical. Facial and body pimples pop up due to excess oil production, blocked pores and inflammation, which are compounded by your genetics, hormone fluctuations and stress levels. That’s why most people who struggle with bacne also have facial breakouts to contend with.

Acne on the trunk and limbs is called folliculitis and is the product of pores being blocked with oil and dead skin, which then pop up as red bumps. Areas where clothing friction has caused dermatitis, or skin irritation, can also lead to zits, especially if combined with sweat. Think between the boobs and along the upper back, following the lines of a sports bra, for example. Breakouts on the bum are often related to tight-fitting clothing, too. People who sweat it out on Peloton rides are probably familiar with the occasional blemish on their behinds. Another common culprit is shaving, which can irritate hair follicles into producing pimples on the legs (mostly the thighs, since there are more oil producing glands there, compared to the shins, for example), bikini area and around the armpits.

Why am I breaking out now?

The surge in pandemic-related stress has resulted in more patients experiencing breakouts all over, says Barankin. There’s the full-on stress of life as we know it (which can kick the skin’s sebum production into overdrive) coupled with the lifestyle changes many have made in lockdown. If you’re someone who used to literally “work out” your stress, but you gave up exercise when your gym closed, you might be dealing with more hormonal breakouts due to higher levels of cortisol in your body. Or, if you took up daily sweat seshes in an attempt to jog away from anxiety, and aren’t always showering after your workouts, you may be noticing more breakouts than usual. You might also be able to point a finger at Uber Eats. Studies show that high glycemic foods that cause your blood sugar to spike quickly, like bread and potatoes (hello burger and fries!), as well as dairy, can worsen acne for some people.

How do I get rid of body blemishes?

For starters, switch your usual ultra-creamy body wash for something designed to actually zap zits. A shower gel that contains salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide will help to unblock pores and exfoliate the skin’s surface layer to manage existing pimples and prevent future breakouts. Add a product with a chemical exfoliant, like AHAs and BHAs, a few times a week to whisk away acne-causing dead skin cells and bacteria. After cleansing, a light hypoallergenic body lotion will help to prevent dryness (which can exacerbate breakouts).

One of the gold star ingredients for facial acne is retinol – especially for women in their 30s and 40s, because it works on blemishes as well as fine lines. “You’ve got one product that treats and prevents acne, and acne scarring, but also treats wrinkles,” says Barankin. But, slathering a pricey facial serum all over your shoulders may not be the best bet in terms of your skincare budget. Those products also aren’t made to penetrate the thicker skin on the torso, says Barankin. A more practical option is a gel or lotion designed to deal with body acne. Over-the-counter options are likely to include active ingredients such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide (but use creams with this ingredient with caution, since it can leave bleach stains on your sheets and pajamas). And then there’s a new prescription topical treatment called Aklief that was created, and tested, for use on the back, shoulders and chest, and could be a game-changer for many women, says Barankin.

But of course, what you put on your skin is only part of the solution. Barankin suggests a multi-step approach to caring for body acne that includes wearing looser, more breathable clothing (if you think that’s a factor for you), cleansing and treating breakout-prone areas daily, and utilizing stress management techniques like meditation, yoga and/or other forms of exercise.

Credit: Karen Robock,

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