In an unfortunately cruel twist of fate, acne—in all its miserable manifestations— does not simply come and go within adolescence. Instead, it follows us into adulthood and pops up on our dates, job interviews and, for many of us, rears its ugly head during pregnancy, too.
What can sometimes be more painful and embarrassing than having those red bumps spread across the bridge of your nose, however, is when they appear on your back or chest—what’s known as truncal acne—or on your arms and in very covered-up places where your clothes tend to rub against your skin all day, like your derrière.
That’s why we reached out to three dermatologists—Dr. David Lortscher, a board-certified dermatologist and CEO of Curology, a skincare company that designs custom formulas and products for its clients, Dr. Evan Rieder, a dermatologist at NYU Langone, and Dr. Amy Kassouf, a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic—to better understand body acne and for their advice on the best products to use to banish it for good.
1. Neutrogena Body Clear Body Scrub
Our skin is able to breakout all over our bodies because of the very same reason it’s prone to pimples on our faces: trapped, bacteria-forming dirt and oil. The oil glands under the skin—which are connected to your pores via hair follicles—produce a substance called sebum, Dr. Rieder explains. When the sebum is backed up within the follicle by dead skin cells and other debris, bacteria begins to form and grows into acne. To help eliminate this process, he recommends the OG acne-fighter, Neutrogena, which upped its game when it transformed its original acne body wash into a scrub that exfoliates as it cleanses.
2. Cetaphil Pro Oil Removing Foam Wash, 8 Fluid Ounce (Pack of 3)
There’s no rule that says one of the best face washes for sensitive, acne-prone skin can’t be used on the rest of your body. This cleanser from Cetaphil is designed to be strong enough to combat oil skin but is formulated with licorice root extract and zinc technology to soothe irritated skin.
3. PanOxyl Acne Creamy Wash
Dr. Rieder recommends Panoxyl because its active ingredient is 4% benzoyl peroxide—a highly affective acne-fighter. “Different brands have different ingredients to kill C. acnes bacteria—the bacteria that causes acne,” Dr. Rieder says. “Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide both kill the bacteria, but both can be a little harsh and drying. When using benzoyl peroxide, stick to a concentration of 2.5% to 5%. Higher than that is very irritating.”
4. CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser
“There are products made specifically by sensitive skin lines that provide good levels of active ingredients while using other agents to prevent or minimize irritation and drying,” Dr. Kassouf tells us. One such product is this cleanser from CerVa that packs a salicylic acid punch with the soothing, hydrating properties of three skin barrier-supporting ceramides.
“Very light, non-comedonal moisturizers, or ones that contain some of the same acids that we find in the cleansers can be used over the other, more drying active products,” Dr. Kassouf adds. “Simple astringents such as apple cider vinegar and witch hazel can be easily added to calm any regimen, too.”
5. Murad Acne Body Wash
You might think that sweat is a prime acne-causing culprit but that’s not exactly the case. “Exercise and sweat don’t cause acne, but it is true that the moisture produced [under tight-fitting clothes] may encourage acne and blackheads,” Dr. Lortscher told us. “If friction is involved, for example, from the rubbing of a bicycle helmet on the forehead, or a sports bra on the back or shoulders, acne breakouts are more likely. If you’re doing activities that cause sweating, shower or change clothes right away.”
This body was from Murad is especially effective at eliminating blackheads thanks to the glycolic and salicylic acids, but it’s also gentle and calming thanks to its green tea and licorice root extracts.
6. La Roche-Posay Toleriane Purifying Foaming Cream Cleanser
This cleanser from La Roche-Posay was meant for your face, but those of us with sensitive skin all over will appreciate that it’s formulated with Glycerin to help moisturize skin and prevent over-drying. Dr. Rieder likes it for how kind and easy it is on skin that’s prone to breaking out, redness or reactions of any kind.
7. Mario Badescu A.H.A Botanical Body Soap
The brand is known for its affordability, but Mario Badescu has become truly beloved because of its high-quality, soothing ingredients like the ginseng root extract found in this body soap. Other fruity ingredients, like the papaya and grapefruit extracts in this bottle, help breakdown dead skin cells to leave skin feeling soft, smooth and smelling good enough to eat.
8. Clinique Acne Solutions Cleansing Bar for Face & Body
This bar soap is gentle, yet effective enough to use on your face, so you know this formula from the skincare legend will work wonders on the rest of your body, too. If you have really specific needs from your skincare, like being vegan, gluten-free, sulfate-free and free of synthetic colors, parabens, phthalates or fragrance, you’ve come to the right place.
If you find yourself super-resistant to these over-the-counter products, it may be time to call in the professionals.
“If your body acne is severe, prescription topical therapies are a consideration, and can be discussed with your dermatologist,” Dr. Lortscher says. “Acne on the body can be more treatment-resistant than facial acne and permanent scarring can occur. If you have acne that is leaving depressed scars or firm, raised scars, it’s best to discuss treatment options with your dermatologist.”
Dr. Lortscher’s own Curology line, while not exactly OTC (it comes in the mail), was designed by a team of dermatologists with a number of skincare needs and concerns in mind. After completing an assessment about your own skin and what you’re dealing with, Curology determines the best mixture of custom ingredients for you and sends it right to your door.