From properly cleansing to applying SPF and everything in between, we all know how important a good skincare routine is—and it's not just skin-deep, nor is it all about saving face. We mean that quite literally: A proper regimen for everything below the neck is key, and it tends to call for different products and routines than our faces.
Since we all want our skin to be smooth, clear, and healthy from head to toe, we decided to spotlight a particularly annoying pain point today: body acne. Or, rather, how to get rid of it once and for all. So to learn about the different types, what causes it, and finally, how to get rid of body acne, we reached out to two dermatologists and a celebrity esthetician. Read on for a comprehensive breakdown of skincare concerns and consider it a cheat sheet to a smooth, glowing, and healthy body.
First, we wanted to get a specific breakdown of the different types of acne that can flare up. This way, we can better target each concern with the proper remedy. As Dendy Engleman, MD, explains to us, "You can get the same type of acne on your body as you get on your face." Specifically, "there's the traditional hormonal acne, " which "tends to come and go, including around your period or when you’re under stress. Hormones, such as your stress hormones or testosterone, can trigger oil production to increase and flare up acne" on your face and body. "However, body acne tends not to show up as blackheads and instead can be whiteheads, pimples, and cysts," she says.
And then there's cystic ance, which Engleman describes as "the most severe type of acne that is painful to the touch, even throbbing, and is deep in the skin. Cysts occur when the pore gets clogged with dead skin cells, sebum/oil, and bacteria."
If neither of these sound familiar, but you still notice some pimples on your body, that might because "ingrown hairs and keratitis pilaris are often mistaken for acne," warns celebrity esthetician Shani Darden. "Folliculitis is a result of inflamed hair follicles, usually caused by bacterial or fungal infections; dermatitis is a result of irritation from clothing friction, exacerbated by sweating; keratosis pilaris is caused by an overproduction of keratin that blocks pores," Engleman explains. All of these conditions mimic acne, so if you aren't sure which it is, it's best to consult a dermatologist.
Even though a lot of acne is caused by hormones and genetics, there are definitely some habits and lifestyle choices that contribute to it. As Cindy Yoon-Soo Bae, MD, explains, it can also be "drug-induced" or come from "occupational exposures, hair products with agents that essentially occlude the follicle (for example using pomade that gets onto your bangs and then onto your forehead causing acne or people with long hair using hair products who develop acne on their backs)," and "tropical acne describes acne caused by extreme heat and can be seen on the trunk and buttocks," as well as acne "in areas previously treated with therapeutic radiation."
In terms of friction-induced breakouts, especially when it's hot out and you're sweating throughout the day, you should consider wearing looser clothing and make sure you exfoliate properly. This can prevent a "buildup of dead skin cells on the surface, which contributes to clogged pores," as Darden explains. Sweating not only clogs up your pores, it also attracts dust and dirt, and the "elements stick to the body more when it is wet," Engelman echoes.
"If you’re experiencing body acne, you want to make sure that you find a gentle yet effective body wash. Do not use something that dries out your skin, as this can exacerbate breakouts," advises Darden. She also explains, "Your back can tolerate more than your neck and chest" in terms of treatments, which is why body skincare is so different. "Regardless of whether or not you’re experiencing breakouts, I always recommend carrying your skincare routine down your neck and chest. (I love to use the Dr. Dennis Gross Peel Pads)." You also have to make sure that you're showering after workouts. If you suspect the cause is hormonal, you should cut out dairy from your diet to see if that helps clear it up," she continues.
Engleman suggests you "try to keep skin dry and clean to avoid harboring bacteria that causes breakouts. If you are spending time outdoors and being active, make sure to shower to wash away any dirt and grime." And "to prevent folliculitis caused by sweat, oil, bacteria, etc., use Dickinson's Original Witch Hazel Refreshingly Clean Towelettes." When you're looking for a body wash, she says to opt for something gentle that "contains salicylic acid to reduce inflammation and unclog pores or an antibacterial bar," and you can also "spot treat with your acne treatment containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid."
Both specialists also suggest using an over-the-counter spray. Engelman likes "Proactiv Acne Clearing Body Spray," as it contains salicylic acid, which is anti-bacterial. She also recommends that you consider investing in a multivitamin like "zinc, which reduces skin inflammation while vitamin E can help heal your skin." And if you tend to have back acne, a gentle anti-bacterial bar soap like Cetaphil’s Antibacterial Soap Bar can help keep control acne and inflammations. You can also invest in an over-the-counter retinoid like Differin Gel to treat the affected areas." Mix it with your lotion when applying it.
And now, learn how to exfoliate properly, as explained by dermatologists.