With a diligent skincare routine, you might do your best to keep your complexion clear of acne, but what happens when a pimple pops up somewhere that’s not your face?
Not to worry—we’re here to help, and explain everything you need to know about dealing with these unexpected zits, from potential causes to effective treatments.
You have sebaceous glands all over your body, including your stomach. These glands are the largest and most concentrated on your face and scalp and are the origin sites of acne.¹
The main causes of stomach bumps that may mimic acne include folliculitis, ingrown hairs, heat rash, and contact dermatitis. Different causes require different treatments—so it’s important to figure out the culprit behind your belly blemish in order to make it go away.
If you develop a sudden and itchy acne breakout on your stomach and you notice the spots have a red ring around them, it’s possible that you may have folliculitis.² Folliculitis is a common skin condition that occurs when your hair follicles become infected and inflamed.
It can be caused by bacteria, fungi, or viruses, and can affect any part of your body that has hair follicles. Folliculitis isn't dangerous, but it may lead to more serious conditions if you have a compromised immune system.³
If you have a healthy immune system and stop the activity that caused the folliculitis (such as shaving or tight clothing), these acne-like breakouts may resolve on their own. However, you can expedite the healing process and find relief by using warm compresses on the affected area.
Dermatologists recommend applying a warm compress three to four times a day for 15 to 20 minutes each time on the afflicted area. You can apply the compress more frequently if it helps alleviate your discomfort. Additionally, if shaving, plucking, or waxing was the cause of the infection, it's recommended to refrain from doing these activities for a month.⁴ If you don’t notice improvement or you if you experience worsening at any time, always consult your healthcare provider to receive a formal diagnosis and treatment.
Ingrown hairs are hairs that have curled and grown back into your skin instead of rising up from it. They can appear as small, red, painful bumps on your skin's surface, and can sometimes become infected.⁵
One of the most common causes of ingrown hair on your stomach is using hair removal methods such as shaving, waxing, or plucking, which can cause the hair to break and grow back improperly.
You can prevent ingrown hairs by removing your hair properly. When shaving, make sure you wet your skin with shaving gel and warm water, shaving in the direction the hairs are growing. Make sure to rinse your razor after every stroke and hold a wet cloth to your skin after shaving to reduce any irritation. You can also try lower-risk hair removal methods such as hair removal cream.⁶
If you believe your ingrown hair is infected, contact a healthcare provider for an evaluation as a topical or oral antibiotic may be necessary.
Heat rash, also known as prickly heat, is another common skin condition that can lead to pimple-like bumps on your stomach. Heat rash occurs when your sweat ducts become blocked and sweat gets trapped beneath your skin, leading to inflammation.⁷ When this happens, you will develop a bumpy rash that looks a lot like acne. Heat rash, however, can be difficult to differentiate from other rashes. Be sure to follow up with your healthcare provider.
Heat rash will usually go away on its own in 24 hours to a few days. However, you can help prevent it by avoiding tight-fitting clothing, exfoliating properly, and by taking cool showers.⁸ You should also use non-comedogenic lotions that won't clog your pores.
If the rash doesn't get better on its own, using a mild to mid-potency corticosteroid (steroid) cream which can be prescribed by your health care provider. In addition, calamine lotion and antihistamine tablets can also offer you relief.⁹
If you’re ever unsure about what exactly caused your rash, or what type of rash you’re experiencing, it’s always best to contact your healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
Contact dermatitis is another potential cause of skin irritation that can look like acne on your stomach. The inflammation and redness occur when your skin comes into contact with something irritating that triggers an immune response in your body.¹⁰
Common triggers for contact dermatitis include harsh soaps, laundry detergents, fabrics, and certain foods and medications.
To prevent contact dermatitis, you need to avoid triggers. Most cases will resolve on their own as long as you eliminate the trigger. However, if it doesn't get better, your healthcare provider may prescribe different types of topical cream to help. Again, it can sometimes be difficult to know if you’re dealing with contact dermatitis or something else. This is why it’s important to have your health care provider take a look.
If you are dealing with stomach acne from clogged pores, some natural ingredients, such as tea tree oil and aloe vera, have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe and heal pimples on your stomach. To use these ingredients effectively, simply apply a small amount to the affected area regularly until your pimples are gone.¹¹
Tea tree oil is a natural essential oil that has been shown to be effective in treating acne. Research shows that using tea tree oil can significantly improve mild to moderate acne, and it is usually well-tolerated in all skin types.¹²
It contains a compound called terpinen-4-ol, which has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce the severity of acne breakouts.¹³
Aloe vera has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties, including for the treatment of acne. Aloe vera helps fight acne by reducing inflammation, promoting healing, fighting bacteria, and keeping your skin hydrated.¹⁴
While you may have tried some home remedies or over-the-counter medications for your stomach pimples, there are times when it's important to seek professional help.
Here are some signs that you should consult a healthcare provider:
Your pimples are severe, painful, or widespread.
You're experiencing other symptoms, such as fever or fatigue.
Your pimples are not responding to over-the-counter treatments.
Your pimples are causing emotional distress or affecting your quality of life.
If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, it's a good idea to make an appointment with a healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause of your pimples and get a personalized treatment plan.
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Acne is a common skin condition that affects millions of people worldwide, and finding the right treatment can be a frustrating experience. That’s why at Curology, our licensed dermatology providers are standing by to help you on your skincare journey.
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Pimples on the stomach are often caused by clogged hair follicles, hormonal changes, or sweat buildup. In some cases, they may be a sign of an underlying condition such as heat rash or contact dermatitis. Either way, it’s best to consult with your healthcare provider to get the right diagnosis and treatment.
Yes, pimple-like lesions on the stomach are normal and can be caused by a variety of factors, including hormones, sweat buildup, and friction. They can usually be treated with over-the-counter remedies or natural remedies, but in some cases, it may be necessary to seek professional help.
There are several things that can help treat stomach acne, including keeping the area clean and dry, avoiding tight clothing, using over-the-counter acne medications, and applying natural remedies such as tea tree oil or aloe vera.
In some cases, prescription-strength medications may be necessary, so it's important to consult with a healthcare provider if the acne persists or is causing discomfort.
Makrantonaki, E., et al. An update on the role of the sebaceous gland in the pathogenesis of acne. Dermatoendocrinology. (January-March 2011).
American Academy of Dermatology Association. Acne-like Breakouts Could be Folliculitis. (n.d.).
Winters, R.D. and Mitchell, M. Folliculitis. StatPearls. (2022, August 8).
American Academy of Dermatology Association. Acne-like Breakouts Could be Folliculitis. Ibid.
National Health Service. Ingrown Hairs. (2023, January 18).
National Health Service. Ingrown Hairs. Ibid.
Guerra, K.C., et al. Miliaria. StatPearls. (2022, August 28).
National Health Service. Heat Rash (prickly heat). (2021, February 15).
National Health Service. Heat Rash (prickly heat). Ibid.
Litchman, G., et al. Contact Dermatitis. StatPearls. (2023, February 9).
Mazzarello, V., et al. Treatment of acne with a combination of propolis, tea tree oil, and Aloe vera compared to erythromycin cream: two double-blind investigations. Clin Pharmacol. (2018, December 13).
Malhi, H.K., et al. Tea tree oil gel for mild to moderate acne; a 12 week uncontrolled, open-label phase II pilot study. Australas J Dermatol. (2016, March 21).
Carson, C.F., et al. Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: a Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties. Clinical Microbiology Reviews. (January 2006).
Surjushe, A., et al. Aloe vera: a short review. Indian Journal Dermatology. (2008, n.d.).
Meredith Hartle is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Curology. She earned her medical degree at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, MO.
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Meredith Hartle, DO