Let’s face it: Along with summer’s heat, humidity, and other sweat-inducing qualities comes a ton of gross beauty problems. From dry, cracked feet to ingrown hairs and chafing, there’s a lot that can hold you back from living the confident poolside life you’re destined to lead. But don’t worry—we’re talking to experts about how to fix them. Welcome to Ew! Beauty.
Oh, the last weeks of summer. The air hangs heavy and hot as we race to squeeze in last-minute warm-weather adventures. At this point in August, we've pretty much given up on makeup, as it'll just slide off our faces anyway. In fact, we've kind of entered a permanent state of sweatiness; a dampness that won't quit. Might that be the reason that our open-back sun dresses have started to reveal what can only be described as a topographic map of inflammation and pus around our shoulder blades?
The short answer: Yes. The follow-up answer: We don't have to live like this.
Read on for everything you've ever wanted to know about bacne: causes, treatments, and prevention.
There's a reason why bacne feels like a different sort of hell than your monthly crew of hormonal face pimples. Dr. David Lortscher, CEO and Founder of Curology, explains, "Part of acne development involves excess oil—sebum—secreted by sebaceous glands into the pores of the skin. These sebaceous glands are more prominent on our chests and backs, which can explain the prevalence of body acne in these areas." Not only is your back a prime location for acne thanks to sebaceous glands but turns out, the microorganisms that hang out on your skin love the vibe back there: "Microorganisms contribute to the inflammatory component of acne. They love the oily environment, and our immune system works hard to fight against them via inflammation. They also love a warm, moist environment, such as the one found on a sweaty back," he tells us.
But, that said, there's usually not one thing that causes back acne. "Acne is very much multi-factorial," Dr. Lortscher clarifies. "With hormones, genetics, lifestyle, diet, fabric choices, exercise, sweating, choice of skin-care products, and more all possibly influencing the different stages of acne development."
So, let's say you're reading this because you've already discovered a constellation of painful pimples on your back. First things first: Don't pick. Don't scratch, don't squeeze, don't scrub. Though it'll be satisfying in the moment, you'll definitely regret it: Dr. Lortscher says in addition to scarring, it could worsen the breakout.
Instead, carefully wash it with the right soap. Dr. Lortscher recommends using one with zinc pyrithione, like Noble Formula 2 percent Pyrithione Zinc Bar Soap (he notes that using a non-vegan version of the soap is advised since vegan bars have cocoa butter in them which can trigger a breakout). "Use it every other day in the shower to start, then increase to daily as tolerated," he says.
Dr. Lortscher also says you can try a benzoyl peroxide cleanser (but be careful, as this ingredient can stain your clothes and bedding!). "Another beneficial ingredient to rotate in to help unclog pores is salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid. A good cleanser option containing salicylic acid is Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash. Rotating these three products throughout the week can prove quite helpful."
Dr. Christine Choi Kim, board-certified medical and cosmetic dermatologist, adds that a prescription might help: In addition to isotretinoin (Accutane), she prescribes topical retinoids or oral antibiotics, depending on the severity. "I offer a back acne treatment performed by an esthetician that is similar to an acne facial," she says. Basically, leave the extractions to an expert.
Worth noting: "No treatment is a cure so the aim should be to control acne until your body’s susceptibility to have breakouts passes, which is highly variable based on an individual’s hormones, genetics, and lifestyle," Dr. Lortscher adds.
While summertime sweat is definitely a cause of seasonal bacne, Dr. Lortscher says your skin-care products might be contributing. He suggests going to cosDNA.com, which tells you what's in your products. Enter in your body washes and lotions, then "pull up and run the ingredient list through the 'Analyze Cosmetics' section of their website—the website of the manufacturer should have an ingredients list or check other websites that sell the product, such as Ulta or Amazon. Once you click Analyze, look in the acne column—if there are any 3s, 4s, or 5s, consider stopping the use of this product."
Also, there are some obvious things that some of us don't remember to do, like showering after you exercise and changing out of sweaty clothing as quickly as you can. Dr. Lortscher says you can also try consuming less dairy, which might help.
There are, of course, ways to prevent back acne that aren't just topical. Certain birth control pills, anti-androgen pills, and Accutane can all help—if your bacne is severe, ask your dermatologist what your options are.