What Causes Body Acne & How Can You Clear It?

Posted on April 5th, 2022 By in Beauty Read Time: 18 mins.

We’ve all been there. You roll out of bed, brush your teeth, and as your eyes slowly come into focus, you notice something.

A breakout. It could be on your face, your chest, your back…acne has a way of flaring up in the places you don’t want, at the times you don’t want, doesn’t it?

woman holding skin health acne vitamins in front of warm blurry mirror backdrop
Some topical and ingestible products (like Virgo) can help clear & prevent acne

No matter where it is, acne can be an annoyance.

An annoyance you would just as well avoid altogether, or at the least nip in the butt when it does rear it’s (white) head.

So what causes that pesky body acne in the first place? And how can you clear it up? Let’s find out.

A Gentle Intro to Acne

First of all, let’s clear something up. Acne is SUPER normal, and nothing to be ashamed of.

In fact, about 1 in every 10 people walking planet Earth suffer from acne at some point in their lives.

That being said, as anyone who has, or has had acne knows, it can totally suck.

Like really bad.

It can be uncomfortable, itchy, and let’s face it, nothing can test your self-confidence quite like some angry, red pimples.

Before we dive into some types of body acne, let’s cover some of the most common causes of acne.

Body acne is often the result of one, or a combination of these core causes:

  • Fluctuating hormones
  • Diet & lifestyle choices
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Use of certain cosmetics / products that can clog your pores

If you’ve been wondering what causes body acne, and how you can clear it, identifying which of these reasons could be at play is an important first step.

There are some quick and easy ways to clear body acne, such as getting the best antioxidants for your skin into your diet.

We’ll cover plenty of solutions you can try for clearing your skin later in this post.

But first.

The best way to approach how to clear up body acne is by getting a really good understanding of what acne is.

As they say…you must know your enemies to know how to defeat them!

What Is Body Acne?

Acne is a common skin condition that affects millions of people around the world.

The condition occurs when hair follicles underneath the skin become blocked with excess oil (sebum), bacteria, and dead skin cells.

As a result of the obstruction, whiteheads, blackheads, or pimples occur on the surface of the skin. 

While acne is most often observed on the face, it can affect virtually any part of the body.

Body acne is fairly common on the back, chest, shoulders, upper arms, and buttocks. 

There are several types of body acne.

Acne Mechanica

One of the most common types of body acne is known as acne mechanica.

No, not ex-machina, but basically as intense.

This type of acne occurs most frequently in people who are in regular contact with sports equipment.

Acne mechanica can vary in presentation, ranging from deep, painful cysts or nodules that leave deep scars to tiny colorless bumps and pustules.

Acne mechanica is caused when sweat begins trapped on the skin during your workout as a result of workout gear.

Stagnant sweat, combined with heat and friction, causes swelling of the skin and can lead to breakouts.

Acne mechanica can occur anywhere on the body, but it is typically concentrated in the areas where equipment makes contact with the body.

For example, football players may break out on their scalp, forehead, neck, or chin due to their helmets.

They might also deal with back acne (also crudely known as “bacne,”) blemishes on the shoulders, and zits on the butt and chest due to their pads. 

Acne mechanica can affect anywhere that a uniform fits tightly.

Hikers may develop acne mechanica on their backs or shoulders due to carrying a heavy, sweaty, pack for hours.

Anyone who wears tight-fitting synthetic fabrics, such as dancers or figure skaters, can develop acne mechanica wherever their workout gear makes contact with the body.

Acne Cosmetica

While acne mechanica is caused by sweat and friction, acne cosmetica occurs when hair or skin products cause the pores to become clogged. 

One of the most common manifestations of acne cosmetica is acne that appears along the hairline and back of the neck as a result of the use of certain shampoos, conditioners, or styling products.

These products naturally contain oils and silicones that can clog pores, contributing to breakouts of bumps or whiteheads.

People with long hair may notice breakouts on their shoulders, chest, or back, depending on the length of their hair.

The best way to resolve acne cosmetica is to discontinue the use of the products that are causing the pores to become clogged.

However, it may be difficult to determine which styling products are causing the problem without trial and error over an extended period of time.

Other Types of Body Acne

There are also other types of body acne.

One other common type of acne can result from sun exposure, particularly sunburns.

While some people think that spending more time in the sun will dry out your skin, making it less prone to acne, the opposite is usually true.

When sunburned, your body senses that the skin is becoming too dry and starts to produce more oil to overcompensate.

This overproduction can cause the pores to become clogged, contributing to acne.

Not bathing frequently enough, particularly after sweating excessively, can also contribute to body acne.

When sweat is allowed to sit on the surface of the skin, the dirt, oil, and dead skin cells sitting in your pores can trigger a breakout.

A good hygiene routine is critical to combating acne.

What Causes Body Acne?

As noted above, some types of body acne are easily attributable to specific causes or lifestyle choices, such as a person who works out on a regular basis with tightly fitted workout gear.

However, there are many other factors that contribute to the development of body acne, some of which are entirely outside of the sufferer’s control.

Here is an expanded version of our initial list of acne causes:

  • Hormonal fluctuations during puberty, menstruation, or pregnancy
  • Age
  • Stress levels
  • Weight
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Dietary habits
  • Sleeping patterns
  • Drug and alcohol consumption
  • Menstrual cycle regularity 

These factors can also contribute to the severity of body acne; two people with similar workouts, for example, could experience body acne completely differently as a result of the factors listed above.

How Can You Clear Body Acne?

Body acne can be frustrating, but it can often be cleared without medical intervention and some simple lifestyle changes.

The first step in determining the best way to clear body acne is to try and identify the primary cause of your breakouts.

Each of the causes of body acne should be addressed slightly differently when it comes to treatment.

However, there are some tips that can help no matter what the cause of your acne:

  • Shower regularly, particularly if you have been sweating or are wearing heavy makeup, styling products, sunscreen, or bug spray
  • Wash your face and body with a mild cleanser that is non-irritating and won’t dry out your skin
  • After washing, pat your skin dry instead of rubbing in order to minimize irritation
  • If it’s not possible to shower after your workout, change into clean, dry clothes instead
  • Eat the best nutrient-dense foods for skin-health and drink plenty of water
  • Wash your laundry more often using detergent designed for sensitive skin. Pay special attention to pillowcases, bedsheets, sportswear, headbands and visors, hats, and other headgear
  • Apply sunscreen throughout the day if you’re spending time outdoors. Choose broad spectrum of at least SPF 30 that is oil-free and non-comedogenic, meaning it will not clog pores
  • Try dietary supplements specially designed to help clear skin through the use of vitamins and antioxidants like vitamin B9

Treating Acne Mechanica

If you think that you have to give up your favorite sports in order to treat acne mechanica, think again.

The best way to treat acne mechanica is to adjust your routine in order to minimize the friction and contact of your athletic equipment with your skin.

Follow these tips to help improve your acne mechanica:

  • Choose breathable clothing with dri-fit technology
  • Do not share your protective gear or sports equipment with others
  • Wipe down communal workout equipment with disinfectant before and after use
  • Minimize friction by adding padding to your sports gear where possible
  • Choose loose-fitting workout gear that won’t trap sweat
  • Change your clothes as often as possible, particularly right after a workout

Treating Acne Cosmetica

Treating acne cosmetica is relatively straightforward — once you figure out which of your products is causing the problem.

If you’re not sure where to start, check the labels of your hair and body products and look to see which ones contain ingredients like oils, waxes, and silicones.

Each of these ingredients can contribute to clogged pores, which trigger acne cosmetica.

Stop using products that contain comedogenic ingredients and look instead for products that are labeled as non-comedogenic, meaning they will not clog your pores.

Products labeled for sensitive skin may also be helpful in minimizing irritation to your skin.

Treating Hormonal Acne

Treating period breakouts is a bit more complex, so we covered it in it’s own post.

Should I See a Dermatologist for Body Acne?

Most people are able to improve their body acne on their own without visiting a dermatologist.

However, some people may need additional help in clearing their acne after trying the steps above. 

See a dermatologist if you have implemented the measures above for several weeks and have not seen significant improvement in your body acne.

A dermatologist may recommend trying over-the-counter products that contain acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.

Prescription treatments may be required for people with severe body acne.

The Bottom Line

Body acne often occurs as the result of pores that are clogged by sweaty, restrictive clothing; comedogenic beauty products; or other risk factors.

Many people may be able to reduce the appearance of body acne through at-home treatments like dietary supplements designed to target acne, using gentle cleansers regularly, and eliminating the use of constrictive workout gear.

Some people may need to see a dermatologist for prescription treatments if they experience severe acne.

Sources:

Acne – Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic 

Management of acne | National Library of Medicine 

Acne clinical guideline | American Academy of Dermatology 

Recommended Reading:


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These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Our products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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