What's the deal with body acne?

The cause of body acne, plus products and routines to get “bacne” off your back.

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How to get rid of back acne with Curology Acne Body Wash
We’re here to tell you what we know, but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider about your specific health concerns.
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Body acne is super-common, but obviously that doesn’t make breakouts any less annoying. In fact, it tends to be even more stubborn than pimples and blackheads on your face—so it can take more than just an anti-acne cleanser or body wash to beat “bacne.”

There are some key 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?

Acne is caused by the same predominant factors, no matter where it shows up. As with all forms of acne, there are many possible causes of body acne, from inflammation and hormones to using the wrong products for your skin type.

Body acne is common on your chest, shoulders, and neck because the sebaceous glands that produce oil in our skin are more prominent in these areas. The skin on your body is tougher than the skin on your face, so it can be more difficult to get rid of body acne (ugh, we know), but your body can also tolerate stronger ingredients than your face.

Three women in bathing suits and bathing caps against cloudy sky

Exercise/sweating

Breaking a sweat doesn’t make breakouts any less annoying. In fact, it tends to be even more stubborn than pimples and blackheads on your face—so it can take more than just an anti-acne body wash to beat “bacne.” Read on for derm-approved advice for how to banish acne from head to toe.

Laundry detergent

If your clothes, pillowcases and sheets are washed with pore-clogging ingredients, that could contribute to body acne. Find yourself struggling to pronounce most of the ingredients on your detergent bottle? That’s a clue you may want to toss it. Switch to a laundry detergent without sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate.

Cosmetics

Body 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. If a product contains any known comedogenic ingredients, we recommend looking for an alternative.

Over-exfoliating or being too rough with towels, loofahs, or body brushes

Be gentle on your skin! Avoid harsh cleansers and physical methods of exfoliation such as loofahs and back brushes. Irritation can trigger or exacerbate breakouts.

There’s a fungus among us

Microorganisms like the pityrosporum fungus thrive in warm, moist areas, and these guys contribute to inflammation. If you tend to have a sweaty back, for example, fungus will love it—and that could lead to body breakouts. Tight clothing that doesn’t let your skin “breathe” can give acne microbes an even better environment to thrive in. Opt for clothing with a looser fit that won’t trap heat or cause friction on your skin. And most importantly, cleanse your skin ASAP after breaking a sweat to wash away those gnarly microbes.

Woman in a sports bra and shorts jumping into a split against a light neutral background

How to treat body acne

We recommend starting with a zinc pyrithione soap because it helps get rid of that acne-causing pityrosporum fungus that lives on the skin. Many people see a difference after just a few weeks of replacing their normal body cleanser with a zinc soap! To make sure the zinc has time to sink into your skin and get to work, leave the soap suds on your skin for about a minute before rinsing it off. This is a good chance to sing shower karaoke or plan what you’re going to have for dinner.

Tips to treating body acne:

  1. Keep your zinc soap on a perforated holder so it can drain and dry in between uses. You don’t want your zinc soap to live in a damp corner of the tub—that can only lead to more “bad” microbes! Give your soap a quick rinse before using it, to be on the safe side.

  2. If the zinc soap doesn’t do the trick, then add in a benzoyl peroxide (BP) cleanser for an extra kick, alternating between both of them.

Give any one of these zinc soaps a try:

  1. Noble Formula 2% Pyrithione Zinc Bar Soap

  2. Clean &Clear Advantage 3-in-1 Exfoliating Cleanser

The right product matters, as some ingredients can clog pores and make a breakout worse, so keep an eye on the labels to double check ingredients.

Avoid zinc soap bars that contain cocoa butter or coconut oil, because those can clog pores. Look out for isopropyl myristate, laureth-4, and sodium lauryl sulfate on the ingredients list—these can contribute to acne breakouts for some people.

Sulfur and salicylic acid

If the zinc pyrithione soap and a BP cleanser aren’t cutting it, look into adding a salicylic acid to your rotation. Salicylic acid (a beta hydroxy acid) is a common over-the-counter acne treatment available in lotions, gels and serums. BHA is especially helpful for oilier skin types. Among other benefits, BHA helps unclog pores and reduce inflammation.

Curology Acne Body Wash bottle against a neutral gray background

The Acne Body Wash by Curology is dermatologist-designed to treat and help prevent acne, plus washes your pores of regular dirt and grime. Our body wash is formulated with 2% salicylic acid, just enough to be tough on acne but kind for all skin types—so you can use this lightly foaming goodness every day.

Acne wipes with salicylic acid are perfect for tossing in your gym bag for a post-workout freshening up—but these can be irritating to skin, so proceed with caution if your skin’s on the sensitive side.

If by some unusually bad luck this routine doesn’t help, consider adding sulfur soap to your routine as well. Try not to mind the scent—it can smell kind of like eggs. Sulfur can help break down dead skin cells, and has both antibacterial and antifungal properties.

Benzoyl peroxide for body acne

Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most effective acne-fighting ingredients available without a prescription, but it can be kind of harsh on skin. Plus, it can bleach your clothes, whether you use a benzoyl peroxide cream or a wash. Still, a benzoyl peroxide body wash is an effective way to get the anti-acne benefits because it’s potent enough that it continues to work on your skin even after you’ve rinsed it off.

Give these benzoyl peroxide products a try:

If the breakouts on your chest and back are particularly stubborn, and the combination of zinc, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and sulfur seem to improve things, don’t give up! There might be something causing acne that you haven’t figured out yet. Check out our guides to the causes of acne:

Body lotion for acne-prone skin

Make sure any products you use on your bod are non-comedogenic (read: don’t clog pores) and don’t contain irritating ingredients like coconut oil or sulfates. To learn more, check out our guide on how to check the ingredients in your skincare products for pore-clogging or irritating ingredients.

How to get rid of bacne

To treat body acne, it helps to build your routine step by step. Start with a good zinc pyrithione soap for a few weeks. Acne can be caused partly by a common fungus that lives on the skin, and zinc pyrithione helps fight this fungus. Many people see a difference after replacing their normal cleanser with a daily zinc soap.

Any skin strategy works best when you ease into it and take your time. However, in some cases, body acne may take stronger medications to deal with. Check with your medical provider for more options if your body acne is particularly stubborn or is leaving scars.

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We’ve got your back

The best way to banish body acne is to be consistent and patient. Give your skin at least three weeks to catch up and show improvement with each new product or routine change. If you experience any irritation, back off until your skin recovers—overdoing it will just make things worse. Remember, we’re here for you when the going gets rough. Send your Curology provider a message with any pressing questions that aren’t answered in our guides.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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If you’re feeling unsure about what your skin needs to beat breakouts, why not consider signing up for a free trial with Curology? Just take a quick skin quiz and snap a few selfies and one of our licensed medical providers will evaluate your skin. If Curology is right for you, we’ll send you a 30-day supply of your Custom Formula with a mix of active ingredients chosen for your unique skin concerns, plus any of our recommended products, for free—just pay $4.95 (plus tax) to cover shipping and handling. Subject to consultation. Subscription is required.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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