How to (finally) get rid of your back acne
This might be summer’s outro, but that doesn’t mean it’s over. And until you have no choice but to pull on a sweater, you might as well show some skin. So why not keep it at its best? Enter back acne, aka bacne, which is here to ruin your beach day. It’s especially stubborn to treat, in part because of its inconvenient placement and because a number of factors beyond the usual acne-causing suspects (stress and hormones) could contribute to it.
Really, bacne is no different than the acne on your face. “The primary pathogenic factors that cause acne are the same regardless of location,” says Sejal Shah, MD, a cosmetic dermatologist and founder of SmarterSkin Dermatology in NYC. “Oil and dead skin cells block the pores and lead to P. acnes bacterial overgrowth and inflammation.” But it being on your back, where it’s vulnerable to certain irritants and tends to be an afterthought, can complicate matters. Here, what may be keeping you from a clear, smooth back—and how to fix each one.
Your yoga gear makes for prime acne-making conditions, especially if you don’t hop in the shower right after savasana. “Fabrics that are too tight, clingy, or don’t breathe well can trap sweat, oils, and debris, leading to acne,” says Shah. That includes synthetic materials like Lycra and polyester, according to Rhea Souhleris Grous, director of aesthetics at La Suite at Union Square Laser Dermatology. In addition to changing and, ideally, rinsing off as soon as you’ve finished your workout, consider cleansing your back before you exercise, too. “[This] removes any bacteria, oils, and other debris that can potentially mix with sweat and clog pores,” she explains. Try La Roche-Posay Effaclar Clarifying Cleansing Towelettes.
Your yoga gear makes for prime acne-making conditions, especially if you don’t hop in the shower right after savasana.
YOUR SHOWER ROUTINE
Your shower is basically a bacne incubator. First, there’s the water. “Hard water contains high levels of minerals that can dry the skin and disrupt the skin barrier potentially exacerbating acne,” says Shah. Install a showerhead with a filter, such as the T3 Source Showerhead, to eliminate them. Then, anything that’s stored in the shower and comes in contact with your body, such as loofahs and sponges, may be to blame. “Items that sit in the shower collect bacteria,” explains Souhleris Grous, who recommends a fresh washcloth instead. Finally, reconfigure your shower routine. “You should cleanse your body last,” she adds. That’s because residue from your shampoo and conditioner can linger on your back, where they potentially clog the pores. Cleansing last ensures that that doesn’t happen.
Technically, skin on your back is thicker than on your face. But that doesn’t mean you can tackle bacne with harsh ingredients or gritty scrubs. In fact, doing so might actually worsen it. (It only irritates your skin, according to Souhleris Grous, which can create inflammation and therefore, more bacne.) The usual body washes with salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are fair game, but if they haven’t worked, rethink your ingredients. Souhleris Grous likes to cocktail products to avoid irritation. First, she suggests applying Environ Evanscence Clarifying Lotion after showering. It contains niacinamides, which maintain skin’s moisture barrier and minimize irritation. Then, she combines a squeeze of Environ Derma Lac Lotion, which gently exfoliates with lactic acid, with a few drops of Environ A, C & E Oil. Not only does that contain antioxidants, but the vitamin A regulates cell turnover and oil production. “This combination really helps to regulate and hydrate skin,” she explains.
As you’re not face-to-face with your bacne on a regular basis, you may not have the time or the energy to use acne-fighting products there every day. But “the most important thing is to stay consistent with whatever you’re doing,” says Souhleris Grous. She suggests giving a product at least a month to see improvements. If you’ve adjusted your routine and still don’t notice a difference, consider visiting a dermatologist. A professional peel can help, says Souhleris Grous, who prefers a combination of salicylic acid and azelaic acid (which has an anti-inflammatory effect). Otherwise, says Shah, “if topical treatments are not working, prescription oral medications might be required.” That includes antibiotics, which target the acne-causing bacteria, as well as spironolactone and birth control, both of which control the hormones that contribute to acne.
Keeping your back clear and smooth can seem high-maintenance. But once you pinpoint what, exactly, is behind it, you can adjust your routine accordingly. And feeling comfortable in your skin—whether you’re in a strapless dress, bikini, or tank—is worth the effort.
By Deanna Pai. Collage images by Ford for Rose Inc.