I remember always having to wear “high-back” tank tops or dresses, or turtlenecks to hide my body and chest acne. I cringe thinking of all those times I’d have to put more makeup to hide my acne on my back than on my face! While body acne is more “cover-up-able” than face acne, it can be just as common, frustrating, and difficult to deal with (both mentally and physically).
Today, we’re taking a closer look into body acne specifically–its causes, treatments, and how you can prevent it.
First of all, what is acne?
Long story short, acne is caused by clogged or irritated pores. For every hair on your body, there is a corresponding skin pore. Each pore, known as a hair follicle, contains a gland that produces an oily substance called sebum, whose function is to keep the skin and hair moisturized. When your pores are clear, the hair follicle remains normal. However, when there is an overproduction of sebum and/or a buildup of bacteria or dead skin cells, the pore becomes clogged, and acne can develop. For a more in-depth explanation of the different stages of, types of, and treatments for acne, check out our recent Acne 101 blog post.
Body acne, however, tends to be slightly different from facial acne–and more difficult to treat, as the skin is thicker on the rest of the body than it is on the face. It is often technically referred to as folliculitis, which is a condition in which the skin’s hair follicles become infected. The infection is usually bacterial (but can also be fungal) and shows up on your skin as tiny inflamed red pimples, sometimes pus-filled, and/or sometimes itchy. Folliculitis also has the potential to easily spread and turn into painful sores. Besides from body acne, another example of folliculitis is razor burn!
When it comes to body acne, it is really broken down into two forms: bacterial-based body acne and fungal-based body acne. Below, we break down the two.
Bacterial Body Acne
Body acne is more likely to develop in a moist environment, like post-workout, or mid-summer in NYC. When there’s friction between the skin and fabric you’re wearing, the lining of your skin’s pores is broken down. The top layer of skin dies, while sweat (and bacteria) trapped on the skin’s surface or in your fabric over-hydrates the pores. This clogs your skin with excess sebum and dead skin cells, causing inflamed follicles.
Always breaking out at your bra line or where your backpack rubs against your lower back? You may be experiencing a bacterial-based breakout in the form of acne mechanica, or friction-caused acne. It’s important to know that certain fabrics are more likely to cause irritation than others. More on which fabrics to avoid later on in this post!
Fungal Body Acne
If you notice that your acne itches or stings, you may be battling fungal acne. This form of body acne can cause bouts of itchiness and a stinging feeling, often causing it to be misdiagnosed. Some notice that the itch is worse post-sweating, and the tendency to itch these blemishes can make them appear more rash or hive-like.
Pityrosporum folliculitis is one of the most common fungal inflammations and is caused by an excess amount of a yeast living on the skin. It is most typically caused by the yeast known as malassezia, and shows up as a pinhead size, uniform pimples usually along the upper chest and upper back.
Yeast actually lives on everybody’s skin all of the time — so it’s not the presence of malassezia on your skin that causes the acne, but rather an excess of it. Hot, humid climates, sweating, or wearing non-breathable clothing can increase the amount of yeast on your skin and lead to inflamed follicles. Yeast feeds on skin oil, so those prone to excess oil production are more likely to experience an overgrowth of yeast or fungus on the skin’s surface. In addition, your diet can also cause increased yeast production (more on what foods to avoid below).
Whether your acne is bacterial or a fungal infection, there are ways to prevent and treat it effectively.
Below, we list a few steps you can take every day to prevent and treat body acne.
Exfoliate your body (especially the chest and upper back)
Dead skin cells build on the skin’s surface over time, which can clog pores or cause excess oil production, leading to acne. Exfoliating two to three times per week also helps encourage skin turnover and can decrease the formation of blemishes (you can use our Organic Sea Moss Exfoliator on the face AND body). When dead cells are removed, the living cells below are opened up, allowing moisturizers to penetrate more deeply and effectively (and remember, while it seems counterintuitive, dryness can also lead to acne!).
However, over-exfoliation can damage the skin and lead to irritation, so it’s important to use a gentle exfoliator that only removes dry, dead cells and irritators without damaging healthy skin. It’s all about finding that healthy medium.
Don’t forget to balance and hydrate the skin on your body too!
Unlike when we breakout on our face, breakouts on our body can be hidden by our clothing (thankfully…). As a result, we sometimes forget that the skin on our body needs to be treated, too. Besides from exfoliating, one of our favorite tips for chest and body acne in particular is to spray our Raspberry Vinegar Toner on the skin post showering. The acidity in this toner helps restore pH-balance, while getting rid of bacteria that may be living on our skin. Don’t forget to also hydrate your skin with soothing oils, which will help skin turnover, deliver antioxidants, and make sure your skin is over-producing sebum.
Shower soon after working out or sweating
An essential component of fighting bacterial acne is to avoid leaving moist clothing on the skin for an extended period of time. Post-gym or any sweaty/humid environment, remove your clothing and shower ASAP in order to clean out your pores. As a general rule, we say shower within 1-2 hours of working out.
Avoid yeast-producing or inflammatory foods
An over production of fungal acne and general face and body acne can oftentimes be caused by your diet. While you should definitely talk to your doctor about potential food allergies, we recommend avoiding yeast-cultivating or potentially inflammatory foods. Some of the most common culprits are sugar, dairy, and gluten. Also, refined and processed vegetable oils and meat can also contribute to inflammation or an overgrowth of yeast. To help offset excess yeast, you can also incorporate a daily probiotic supplement into your diet!
Wear skin-friendly fabrics
To avoid irritating your skin or creating friction-based acne, try avoiding synthetic fabrics such as spandex, polyester, acrylic, and nylon. Opt for natural fibers instead, like cotton, linen, silk, and hemp, which are less processed than synthetics and therefore less likely to cause irritation from chemical additives or dyes. When working out, always wear breathable, moisture-wicking clothing to avoid irritation from all that heat and motion!
Be careful with skin-irritating activities, like shaving
Another potential acne-causer is shaving. Everyone who shaves has most likely dealt with razor bumps–those small red “pimples” following the path of your razor! Here’s a tip: more blades = more irritation. Your skin will thank you for spending a lil’ more on that two-blade razor and opting for unscented shaving cream. It’s also a good idea to practice your shaving technique – avoid stroking over the same area multiple times, and use as few strokes as possible to get your shave. This will reduce inflammation of the skin which will reduce your likelihood of developing acne.
Finally, remember to shave at the end of your shower (post-exfoliating!) to allow the heat to open up your hair follicles and give any dirt, sweat, and residue a chance to wash away.
Keep your clothes bacteria-free
Remember to keep your clothing and home clean. If bacteria builds up on your clothing (which it does), imagine how much bacteria can build up on your bedding and towels… which you lie in and use every single day! Ew. Wash your towels frequently to avoid rubbing bacteria onto your freshly clean skin. Pro tip: spritz a little bit of our Rosewater Facial Toner on your pillowcases for an antibacterial and refreshing cleanse, for your face and the fabric!