Chest and back acne
Reviewed by Dr Neel Patel
When most of us think of acne, we think about spots on the face. Nearly everybody with this condition has spots here, but it’s also fairly common to get them on the chest and back too. According to the NHS, half of people with acne get spots on their back (sometimes called “bacne”), and about 15% get them on their chest.
In this article we’ll look at the causes of chest and back acne, the symptoms you should look out for and how to get rid of chest and back acne.
Causes of chest acne and back acne
Acne is thought to be related to the sensitivity of your sebaceous glands. These are glands that produce sebum, an oily substance that keeps the skin lubricated.
In people with acne, the sebaceous glands produce too much sebum. This excess sebum plugs the hair follicles in the skin and mixes with dead skin cells. Bacteria on the skin that is otherwise harmless can infect these plugged follicles and cause painful, pus-filled spots.
Chest acne and back acne can also be caused by:
- Clothes causing friction - opt for light clothes that aren’t tight fitting
- Carrying bags - backpack or bags with straps that go over your chest
- Excessive sweating - have a shower after working out
- Medication - acne can be a side effect of certain medications
- Hormones - hormonal changes during puberty or pregnancy can cause your glands to produce more sebum
- Skincare products - harsh scrubs can irritate skin causing acne
- Diet - it’s thought that certain foods including dairy may cause acne, but more research needs to be done in this area
- Stress - acne could flare up around times of stress
- Seasons - many people find their acne worsens in the winter
- Neglecting your skin - treating acne of your back and chest differently to your face for example not being able to reach areas to apply treatment
If you have acne, you’ll probably live with spots most of the time simply because that’s how your skin works. However, you might notice that certain things trigger worse breakouts, or cause particularly severe spots like nodules or cysts.
Symptoms of body acne
Body acne affects the back, chest and shoulders, it can appear as:
- Blackheads - small black or dark coloured bumps on the skin
- Whiteheads - small white or flesh coloured firm bumps
- Papules - small red bumps under the skin’s surface
- Pustules - small red bumps with white tips
- Nodules - large hard inflamed lumps
- Cysts - cystic acne causes large pus-filled spots that are prone to bursting and scarring
Body acne treatment
The first thing to know is that there’s no cure for acne, but there are lots of different treatment options and lifestyle changes you can make. Over time you should be able to reduce the severity of your symptoms.
If you have moderate or severe acne on your back or chest you should see a GP for prescription treatment. Aside from that, there are a few things you can do to help manage your symptoms at home:
- Consider buying a lotion applicator so it’s easier to apply topical treatments to your back
- Try to avoid wearing bags that put pressure on the affected areas
- Don’t squeeze or pick your spots as this can lead to scarring
- Keep your skin clean but avoid scrubbing it as this can cause irritation
- Make a note of anything that seem to trigger your acne so you can avoid the
- Follow sun safety advice when taking acne medication as it can make skin more sensitive to the sun’s rays
Mild acne on the back and chest can usually be managed with pharmacy treatments like:
- Gels or creams that contain benzoyl peroxide
Moderate or severe acne will need attention from a doctor. Your GP should be able to prescribe stronger treatments like:
- Retinoids - find out how retinol can help acne in this article
- Azelaic acid
- Combination of antibiotics and topical gel
- The combined contraceptive pill
For an explanation of what counts as mild, moderate and severe acne, read this article: Types of acne and its causes. If your GP thinks that your acne is really severe they might refer you to a dermatologist who can provide specialist help. You can find out more about what treatments are available by consulting this guide from the NHS.
Folliculitis or acne?
Folliculitis and acne are common skin conditions with similar symptoms which can make it hard to know whether the spots you have are acne or folliculitis. Acne occurs when your pores and hair follicles become clogged or blocked. Whereas folliculitis happens when hair follicles become inflamed and infected, it can affect any area of the body that has hair.
With acne your skin will appear spotty and oily, it may be painful and hot to touch. Folliculitis can also be sore and painful, it’s often accompanied by itching and a burning sensation.
Acne appears as whitehead, blackheads and pustule type spots. Folliculitis looks like small pimples or bumps around a hair follicle. These can look inflamed and become a crusty sore. You should see your GP if the condition is widespread and doesn’t improve.
When to see a doctor about body acne
If you’re affected by body acne, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP, especially if your symptoms are severe or they’re affecting your mental health.
They should be able to prescribe treatment and – if necessary – refer you to a dermatologist.
Visit our secure online Acne clinic
If you’re seeking prescription treatment for acne, Online Doctor can help. Our in-house clinicians manage our secure online clinic and can supply a range of prescription treatments. Find out more by browsing available treatments here.