Ask Curology: What’s the difference between body and face acne?

How to treat acne, from head to toe

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C
Jul 16, 2020 · 5 min read

Women with skincare cream spots on their faces
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Welcome to Ask Curology, penned by one of our in-house medical providers in response to your questions about all things skincare. This week, it’s a head-to-head competition between two types of acne: body acne and face acne. What’s the big difference between the two, and what should you do if you have both?

• • •

Dear Curology,

First off, I’m a huge fan. I’ve been using Curology for about a year, now, and my breakouts have gone from constant to practically non-existent. Unfortunately, it’s a different story from the neck down. I have a pretty epic case of acne on my chest and back. I know I’m not supposed to use my custom cream on my body, but help me out, here!

Why is my body acne so much tougher to get rid of than the acne on my face? And what can I do about it?


Bacne Backup

Dear BB,

I’m so happy to hear that you’re loving your Curology medication! I’m glad you were able to tackle the breakouts on your face, but I also understand how difficult it can be to deal with body acne. Before we get into what differentiates body acne from facial acne, I want you to know that acne is caused by the same predominant factors, no matter where it shows up.

There are, however, some differences between face and body acne. The most obvious difference is the location: facial acne shows up on the face, and body acne shows up on the chest, back, and shoulders. There can also be differences in what’s contributing to the acne. For example, a sweaty sports bra rubbing on the shoulders might contribute to body acne, but wouldn’t necessarily impact the acne on your face.

What causes body acne?

Of course, many factors contribute to breakouts. Genetics, normal hormonal fluctuations, stress, diet, and other lifestyle choices can all play a part. Regardless of the specific cause, though, proper treatment can often help!

SweatSweating doesn’t directly cause acne, but moisture from sweat can create an environment that acne-causing bacteria love. To help prevent breakouts after a sweat session, wear loose clothing and sweat-wicking fabrics. If you’re doing activities that cause you to sweat, do your best to shower or change clothes right away.

FrictionRemember that sweaty sports bra I mentioned earlier? The combination of moisture and tight-fitting clothing creates an environment that may encourage breakouts. Things that rub against your skin cause friction, which may further irritate your skin and contribute to body acne. But it’s not just limited to your athletic wear! For example, friction from a backpack might be playing a role in your back acne (so you might consider using a cross-body bag instead).

Likewise, don’t scrub your skin too hard. You might want to avoid exfoliation with loofahs and back brushes, as irritation can contribute to breakouts!

CosmeticsBody wash, lotions, and even makeup can contain potentially pore-clogging ingredients. So, unfortunately, a product that you’re using to try to improve your body acne (or cover it up) might accidentally make it worse. See if your products pass the CosDNA test. If you need help finding replacements, our blogs and guides have plenty of non-comedogenic product recommendations.

LaundrySome people believe their choice of laundry products play a role in their breakouts. Although not proven by research, it may help to take a look at the ingredients in your laundry detergent and fabric softener. Some find that their body acne improves when they switch to a laundry detergent without sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate. Some also say that fabric softeners and fabric softener sheets in the dryer deposit a waxy residue onto fabric that may clog pores in acne-prone individuals. Again, there’s no research-backed proof that this helps breakouts, but it can’t hurt to try removing these items from your routine!

How can you treat body acne?

Like we’ve discussed, switching up your fashion choices and body products can help make a difference with body acne. Body washes and bar soaps with the right active ingredients can help, too!

Salicylic Acid WashA body wash with salicylic acid can gently exfoliate the skin and help prevent and treat blocked pores.

Curology Bottle acne body wash

The acne body wash by Curology

Zinc SoapA zinc pyrithione soap can help cleanse the skin of acne-causing bacteria and fungus that live on the skin and thrive in a sweaty environment. Here are a few good choices:

Sulfur SoapA sulfur soap can also be used to treat body acne. Sulfur can help break down dead skin cells and has both antibacterial and antifungal properties. Try not to mind the scent, though!

Benzoyl Peroxide WashBenzoyl peroxide can get rid of acne-causing bacteria, help unclog pores, and has a mild anti-inflammatory effect.

Custom superbottle for breakouts | Free Trial button

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In your case, BSB, I think updating your Curology subscription to include the acne body wash is probably the easiest way to treat body acne. For those readers who aren’t Curology members yet, you can get your first month of Curology and try our products for free — subject to consultation from a medical provider (like me). New members who report body acne when they sign up will get a chance to add a bottle of the acne body wash to their first box. Just a head’s up: you’ll need to pay $4.95 (plus tax) to cover shipping + handling.

I hope this helps! As always, please sound off in the comments if you have any more questions, or get in touch with your Curology medical provider for a consultation.

All my best,

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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