Body Acne: Causes, Treatments & Prevention

body acne
body acne

Acne is a common condition that afflicts millions of Americans every year. It is estimated approximately 50 million Americans will experience acne every year. However, only a fraction of sufferers will ever seek the services of a dermatologist.

Many people think of acne as a teenage rite of passage that will resolve itself in time, but others are not so lucky. Face and body acne can affect them throughout their lives, causing self-esteem problems, anxiety, and even depression.

In this article, you’ll learn about the different body acne causes and some of the available treatments.

What is Body Acne?

Body acne, also known as truncal acne, is not much different from facial acne. Chest, neck, torso, and arm acne share many of the same causes as facial acne.

There is a significant lack of data on the prevalence of acne on the back and shoulders because of the lack of visibility. As can be expected, many people are not forthcoming about their body acne if they do not see a professional.

Current estimates indicate that approximately half of the people who have acne on the face will also have shoulder and back acne.

No evidence supports that pimples on the shoulders and upper arms are any more severe than those found on the face. Severe body acne may lead to scarring if popped and often leads to more acne, so it’s best to leave them alone. The vast majority of sufferers find that their acne will clear up in time.

Body Acne Causes

Acne can break out anywhere on the body, but everyone is different. Some people may only get pimples on the back of the neck, some may only get chest acne, whereas others may find them all over their bodies. The causes of truncal acne are the same as those that cause facial acne. The following factors are common causes of both facial and body acne:

  • Overactive oil glands
  • Excess dead skin cells
  • Hormonal changes
  • Medications
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Menstrual cycles
  • Genetics
  • Age
  • Diet
  • Stress

How Pimples Develop

The most common areas where pimples appear are on the face, neck, chest, and shoulders. Although acne can appear on the lower body, this isn’t as common. The number of sebaceous glands are responsible for where acne appears, which is why teenagers with acne may also have an oily complexion.

Pimples (in any area of the body) develop in the same manner:

  • Oil and dead skin cells become trapped within the skin’s follicles, creating a clogged pore.
  • If bacteria manage to get into the follicle, it may lead to a pimple. The reddish color of pimples comes from inflammation.

Acne Mechanica

Truncal acne pertains to any form of acne that appears on the body. However, there is another type of body acne known as acne mechanica.

Tight clothing, sports gear, and other pressures on the skin combine with heat and sweat to inflame the follicles. In most cases, acne mechanica can be stopped by changing the clothing you wear.

The issue is that many people do not realize that their acne has been caused by the artificial pressures placed upon their skin. Try to keep an eye on whether you started developing acne on your chest or shoulders after wearing a certain piece of clothing a lot.

Treatments and Prevention for Body Acne

Luckily, there are ways to deal with pimples on the back or acne on the chest, meaning it’s time to seek treatment for truncal acne. Most people will not require prescription treatments or regular trips to the dermatologist to treat their acne. This is especially true for younger people dealing with significant hormonal changes associated with puberty, and their acne often clears with time.

If you are concerned about your acne, there are various treatments and precautions you can take to address neck, torso, and arm acne causes.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Treatments

Many of the most effective treatments for body acne can be found in any local drugstore. OTC acne medications should be the first port of call for anyone struggling to deal with their acne.

It’s important to remember that no OTC treatment will work overnight. Doctors recommend persisting with OTC treatments for a minimum of three months before seeing any results.

The best products contain salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and hydroxy acid. These cleansing agents exfoliate the skin and tackle severe acne head-on. However, skin type also plays a role in the effectiveness of these products so be sure to keep that in mind. Here are a few of the top OTC products.

Glycolic Acid

Look for glycolic acid products for dry and sun-damaged skin. These products remove dead skin cells on the surface layers of skin. They can also lighten any existing acne scars and support an even skin tone.

Glycolic acid is especially effective at helping the skin to retain moisture. It also speeds up the exfoliation process, reducing the appearance of pores.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is best for people who have oily or highly inflamed skin. These OTC medications dig deep into the pores to reduce redness through proven anti-inflammatory ingredients.

These products are not recommended for people who have dry skin as they increase the chances of drying. Like glycolic acid-based products, these medications reduce the appearance of pore size and eliminate dead skin cell accumulations.

Alpha Hydroxy Acid

Alpha hydroxy acids are found within gentle cleansers that target bacterial growth, dead skin cells, and oil production. Both face and body washes are available from drug stores. Many of these cleansers have been thoroughly tested by professional dermatologists, so check the labels in the store.

Unlike more potent products, a mild cleanser with alpha hydroxy acid will stay gentle on the skin. Stripping away the natural oils produced by the glands can lead to an overproduction of sebum, increasing the chances of worsening acne.

Medicated Sprays/Lotions

Cleansers are not a silver bullet for acne. Some people will discover cleansers do not have the desired effect of clearing acne. If this sounds like you, try medicated sprays and lotions instead. Sprays come highly recommended because they are easier to use on hard-to-reach areas, such as the middle of the back.

While all sprays and lotions contain different ingredients, look for ones that also contain aloe vera. Aloe vera helps to protect the skin from dryness by nourishing and moisturizing the skin.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is a common topical medication used to treat mild to moderate acne by reducing the amount of acne-causing bacteria from the skin. It works by peeling away the skin to get rid of any dead cells, bacteria, and excessive oil that may be trapped underneath. Stronger dosages may require a prescription from a dermatologist, however, there are plenty of milder options available OTC.

Improvement in acne is usually seen after 3-4 weeks of use. Benzoyl peroxide can dry the skin and cause general irritation, so it’s important to not use on areas you may have a sunburn. Benzoyl peroxide can also stain clothing and hair, so thoroughly washing it off your body and hands is strongly recommended.

Can You Use Multiple Products?

Unlike other medications, treating any kind of acne with a selection of products is perfectly acceptable. Most solutions work in tandem and will not excessively irritate the skin. Careful monitoring is vital for ensuring healthy skin.

However, keep in mind that  pimples on the back of the neck can be extremely sensitive. Pay special attention when using multiple products in this area.

If any of the following symptoms arise from using more than a single acne treatment, scale back immediately:

  • Irritation
  • Dryness
  • Skin peeling

Depending on skin type, it may require some trial and error to find the perfect product. There is such a wide selection of OTC acne treatments for a reason, so keep trying until you find your match.

Prescription Treatments

It is easy to become frustrated with body acne. Truncal acne is stubborn, and OTC treatments may not always succeed. Instead, a stronger prescription treatment could be required to get a severe breakout under control.

Approach a primary care physician, and they can provide a referral to a qualified dermatologist who will offer a prescription for an acne treatment.

Acne on the body can cause discomfort and lead to severe scarring, so it is important to seek treatment from a professional when significant inflammation is present.

Prescription treatments come in several forms, including oral and topical medications. Some of the most common prescription acne medicines include:

  • Accutane (Isotretinoin)
  • Prescription-strength face wash
  • Prescription Benzoyl Peroxide
  • Topical retinoids
  • Oral antibiotics
  • Oral contraceptives (women)

Although treatments that require a prescription are more potent, it still takes time to get a breakout under control. Many patients discover they need to test several medications until they find the one that works for them.

What matters is closely following the instructions provided by a qualified medical professional. Often, you’ll be instructed to slowly incorporate prescriptions into your current routine (such as using a retinoid twice a week to start with) and monitoring the results.

Lifestyle Treatments

Acne prevention relies heavily on a healthy lifestyle. The way somebody lives their life can raise the odds of experiencing a breakout, which can lead to depression and feelings of insecurity.

Making the following lifestyle changes can help to protect the skin from pimples.

Take Regular Showers

Poor hygiene is a massive contributing factor to acne. Although a lack of cleanliness is not a cause of truncal acne, its presence does play a role.

The skin can become irritated by sweat. Removing sweat after a workout can limit skin irritation, and therefore acne.

Mitigate Skin Friction

Friction and trapped heat irritate the skin. Many everyday items contribute to skin irritation, such as sports equipment, tight clothing, bras, and even purses.

Identifying these triggers and making changes leads to healthier skin. This does not mean people need to avoid these causes; they simply need to limit them.

Stop Popping Pimples

As tempting as it may be to pop an especially large pimple, trust us: it’s a huge mistake. Popping pimples leads to additional skin irritation and increases the risk of scarring. Excessive popping may worsen breakouts and make them more difficult to treat through conventional methods.

Let OTC medications and prescriptions do the work. If a pimple pops of its own accord, wash the area immediately to remove contaminants from the skin’s surface layers.


Acne is a reality of life for millions of people around the world. Yet people often forget that some breakouts can be severe, and lead to a lifelong battle with skin concerns and heightened insecurities. The fact of the matter is that body acne is more common than people think.

Addressing the causes is one thing, but medications have a massive role to play. New treatments are being developed constantly, but clinical trial participants are necessary to advance existing research.

If you have acne and would be willing to participate in the development of an acne trial, visit the Vial website.

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