Medically reviewed by Brendan Camp, MD
Acne doesn’t just appear on the face but also on different parts of the body, including the arms. Arm acne may show as pimples, whiteheads, or blackheads on the upper arms, back of the arms, or shoulders.
There are a variety of reasons that might make you prone to acne on your arms, though more research is needed to better understand what may be causing acne to show up on the arms in particular.
This article talks about potential causes of acne on arms, tips on how to manage it naturally, and when to speak to a dermatologist.
Acne vs. Keratosis Pilaris
Acne on arms differs from keratosis pilaris, characterized by little bumps, usually on the upper arms, that may appear rough and dry, like goosebumps, and aren’t painful to the touch.
Acne on Arms: A Breakout or Something Else?
Acne breakouts are oftentimes thought about in relation to the face, but they can happen on the arms too. More research is needed on causes of acne on arms in particular, but there are some factors that may increase the potential of acne showing up on the arms.
Hormones play a role in the development of acne in general. Although there is a lack of research on hormones and acne on arms, generally speaking, changes in hormone levels during puberty, menstrual cycles, and pregnancy can cause the sebaceous glands to produce more oil and subsequently lead to acne.
And even though acne is often associated with puberty and the teen years because of hormonal changes, acne can also persist into adulthood or show up for the first time as an adult.
Some of the hormones related to the development of acne include:
Insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1
Sweating can also cause breakouts of acne. Excessive sweating, such as during or after exercise, can lead to a buildup of bacteria, dirt, and oil on your skin, which in turn can lead to clogged pores and subsequent acne.
Tight clothing, such as on the arms, may also trigger acne on acne-prone skin. Tight clothing can trap sweat and heat, causing irritation when the clothing rubs against the warm, sweaty skin.
Similarly, sports equipment may be a culprit of acne on arms as it can also trap heat and sweat, leading to irritation and breakouts on acne-prone skin. Sports equipment like shoulder pads or tight tops made of material that isn’t breathable could breed an environment for arm acne to appear.
Wash Regularly to Prevent Future Breakouts
Proper hygiene is important for helping your skin stay acne-free. Washing your body removes dead skin cells and oils that could clog pores. Showering or bathing once or twice a day may be necessary to keep arm acne at bay, depending on how acne-prone your skin is and how much you sweat.
For example, showering immediately after exercising can help clear your skin of any buildup of oil, sweat, or dirt that could potentially cause acne on the arms.
When choosing a bodywash, be sure to avoid products with lots of oils as using oily skin-care products can trigger breakouts.
Heat and Humidity
Research has suggested that heat and humidity may also trigger acne breakouts. Some studies have found that people living in hot and humid climates get acne more frequently than those in dry or cooler climates.
Although it’s unclear if heat and humidity are risk factors for acne on arms specifically, studies have shown that being in a hot environment leads to more sebum secretion, which causes acne to worsen in general. If you’re prone to acne on your arms, increased sebum secretion on hot days may mean a breakout of arm acne.
Humidity can also irritate the skin, which may be worsened by tight clothing, such as a tight shirt that leaves the arms susceptible to a buildup of sweat and heat.
How to Naturally Heal Acne on Arms
Acne on arms may be managed without using specialized skin-care products or medications by keeping your skin clean and—as hard as it may be—keeping your hands off the affected area.
As acne on arms can be caused by clogged pores, washing your skin regularly may prevent acne. Wash once or twice a day to help ensure any excess skin oils, sweat, or dirt is rinsed off your skin, decreasing the chances that your pores get clogged. It’s especially important to wash your skin after sweating a lot, such as after exercising or being outside on a hot day.
Be sure to use gentle, nonabrasive soap that doesn’t have any alcohol in it.
Try not to touch the affected area. It can be tempting to pick or pop any zits or pimples on your arms, but it’s important to leave them be, as picking, popping, or squeezing the acne can mean longer healing times and increase the risk that the acne leaves scars or dark spots.
Skin-Care Ingredients to Target Arm Acne
There are many skin-care products that claim to clear acne. It’s important to remember that not every product will work for your skin, and it’s best to consult a dermatologist to help you navigate the skin-care aisle more confidently.
Certain ingredients in skin-care products can help promote acne healing. For example, soaps with salicylic acid or benzoyl may help with acne on arms if you have oily skin prone to acne. Products with benzoyl peroxide may help by killing bacteria that could potentially clog pores.
A healthcare provider, such as a dermatologist, may recommend topical ointments to treat acne on arms. Common ingredients in topical acne ointments include:
It’s important to talk with a healthcare provider or dermatologist before trying out new skin-care products to ensure they don’t contain ingredients that could worsen your arm acne or otherwise irritate your skin.
Seeing a Dermatologist for Prescription Treatment
Sometimes acne on arms or elsewhere is stubborn. If you find that acne on your arms is persisting despite appropriate care, and it’s bothering you, it may be time to talk to a dermatologist.
A dermatologist may ask you about your history of acne and lifestyle habits to get to the bottom of what might be causing the acne to persist. They may suggest over-the-counter (OTC) treatments to try first to see if that helps clear the acne. Be sure to ask about any skin-care product ingredients you should avoid.
A dermatologist may recommend prescription treatment, including a topical medication (such as a cream or gel) or an oral antibiotic for acne that isn't responding to OTC treatments.
Acne on arms happens when sebaceous glands become clogged with oil, dirt, or bacteria. There are a variety of potential causes of acne on arms, including hormones, sweat, and heat and humidity. Certain sports equipment or tight clothing may also make the arms more prone to acne.
Washing regularly and avoiding touching acne on arms may help prevent and heal acne. Acne that persists may be treated with special skin-care products or prescription medication at the recommendation of a dermatologist.
Read the original article on Verywell Health.