As if regular ol’ on-the-face acne wasn’t headache enough, the prospect of it popping up on your back can be downright traumatic. But a few lifestyle changes can keep below-the-nape blemishes in check.
Bacne (back + acne) affects women and men of all ages, according to Joshua Zeichner, M.D., a dermatologist and the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research at NYC’s Mount Sinai Medical Center. And in all fairness, it isn’t limited to the back—it can also manifest on the chest area. But bacne and facial acne tend to go hand-in-hand. Studies have shown that half of those people with facial acne also have truncal acne. Only 2 percent of the people in the study had acne on their bodies without facial breakouts.
Bacne isn’t all that different from the sort that erupts up on the face. “It’s caused by the same combination of oil production, sticky skin cells around your follicles, and P. acnes bacteria on the skin,” explains Dr. Zeichner. And just like facial acne, it manifests as whiteheads, blackheads, papules (inflamed, pink, bumpy lesions) and pustules (pus-filled pimples).
The obvious culprit is sweaty gym clothing. Tight-fitting workout garb—especially sports bras—are a recipe for disaster. The fabrics aren’t as breathable as run-of-the-mill cotton, they rub up against skin, and they’re usually drenched in perspiration. Mix all that together with dirt, oils and bacteria, and that’s a sure-fire recipe for a breakout.
Other less-obvious transgressors: “friction—anything that occludes, rubs or irritates skin,” says Rhea Souhleris, an esthetician and owner of La Suite Skincare in Greenwich, Conn. That could mean a football player whose shoulder padding rubs against his trunk, a backpack worn on a sweltering day, or simply spending a lot of time in a car with one’s back pressed up against a leather seat.
Additionally, make sure to keep hair styling products (notorious pore cloggers) away from your back and neck area, and always run water over your back after rinsing out shampoo or conditioners.
Foods with high glycemic indexes—think sugars and starches—and stress-induced hormonal surges also contribute to breakouts, says Zeichner.
The shower is ground zero for treating bacne issues. Do it immediately after working out or any activity that causes you to sweat. A body wash containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid is optimal and able to cover large swathes of skin, explains Zeichner. “I recommend a 10 percent benzoyl peroxide wash. Higher benzoyl peroxide levels are needed on the back compared to the face because there’s a relatively lower concentration of oil glands on the back. Also, it is important to let the wash sit on the skin for 30 seconds before washing it off because it needs time to work on the skin.”
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