Although common, body acne is oftentimes a warning sign of an underlying issue.
Body acne ranges from small, red bumps to large and discolored, pus-filled cysts and can occur on any area of the body where there are hair follicles and sweat glands, including the back, chest, shoulders, and buttocks. This is a common condition, with over 90% of people experiencing acne at varying severities at some point in their lives.
However, although acne isn't a life-threatening or serious condition, it can, in some cases, indicate poor health, and it's known to trigger some pretty serious conditions such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and even thoughts of self-harm.
But, luckily, acne can be managed with the right treatments, and in this article, we'll take a look at the main causes of body acne and the best ways to get rid of it.
Why Am I Getting Body Acne?
While the main cause of acne is a clogged pore and bacteria overgrowth, there could be many different factors that have contributed to the outbreak on your body.
If you’re dealing with small, itchy pimples that appear in clusters in areas like the chest, back, and lower back, this might be a condition known as acne mechanica. Acne mechanica typically occurs in people who are active and sweat a lot, as intense activity can trap heat and sweat that had already mixed with bacteria on the skin's surface against the body, which can result in some inflammation and pimples. Luckily, acne mechanica rarely develops into something more severe like cysts, and it usually goes away on its own after a little while or with minimal help of antibacterial body washes.
Tight clothing and certain fabrics such as polyester can also be a major contributor to body acne due to friction, trapped sweat, and bacteria. This can result in rubbing for a prolonged time which can lead to mild or moderate irritation and, in some cases, even more uncomfortable conditions such as folliculitis (an infection of the hair follicles).
Clogged Hair Follicles
Folliculitis is a bacterial condition that usually occurs when the hair follicles get clogged with sweat, bacteria, oil, and dirt. This can result in an infection that causes symptoms such as mild to moderate pimples, itching, and redness. And while there can be many causes of folliculitis, some of the most common ones include clogging ingredients in cosmetic products such as shampoos, conditioners, body lotions, and oils.
Fabric softeners are another common cause of facial and body acne, as they can coat the fabric of your clothing, sheets, and pillowcases and make it more susceptible to trapping sweat, oil, and bacteria. Additionally, they also contain waxy particles that remain on your clothes after washing and can irritate the skin as well as potentially exacerbate body acne. Pair this up with tight clothing, and you've got a recipe for disaster.
Fabric softeners coat your clothing, making it more susceptible to trapping sweat and bacteria.
Besides causing or exacerbating body acne, fabric softeners have been linked to conditions such as contact dermatitis and are one of the most common causes of rashes and allergies in the U.S.
Fragrance may not necessarily cause body acne, but it can definitely make it worse once it’s there. This is because fragrant ingredients can be irritating to the skin, and this inflammation can make body acne appear redder and can become itchy and uncomfortable.
Additionally, fragrant components in cosmetic and cleaning products are one of the main causes of contact dermatitis and allergic reactions that can appear as hives, redness, and swelling on the skin.
Hormones might be another cause of body acne, especially if you’re dealing with cysts and nodules. These are marked as grade four inflammatory lesions and can become severe with the high potential to leave permanent scars if not addressed properly and in time.
While acne is commonly associated with puberty, research has shown that there is a hormonal component to adult acne as well, and this can result in breakouts on the chest and back. There are many potential causes of hormonal acne, and some of the most common ones include stress, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), increased androgen activity, and certain medications.
How Can I Get Rid of My Body Acne?
The easiest way to get rid of body acne is to figure out what is causing it and avoid or address that particular cause.
Shower after Physical Activity
Avoid staying in your sweaty clothes for a long time after physical activity, as this can trap the sweat and bacteria close to your skin and lead to breakouts. Instead, take a shower as soon as possible, and make sure to use a mild cleanser that won’t irritate your skin.
Wear Breathable Fabrics
As we mentioned, tight clothing and certain fabrics can trap sweat and bacteria against your skin and lead to breakouts. To avoid this, make sure to wear breathable fabrics such as cotton, linen, silk, and loose-fitting clothing that won’t constrict your skin.
Wash Your Clothes in White Vinegar
White vinegar is a natural detergent that can help remove stains and the buildup of waxy residue that fabric softeners leave on your clothes. It can also help balance the pH of your skin and has antimicrobial properties that can kill bacteria and fungi, which makes white vinegar excellent for washing your pillowcases, particularly if you are dealing with facial acne.
Wash your pillowcase with white vinegar to kill acne-causing bacteria and fungi.
To wash your clothes in white vinegar, simply add half a cup of vinegar to your washing machine, along with or without your regular laundry detergent. While the smell isn't as noticeable as you might think it is, you can always add a few drops of lemongrass or peppermint essential oils to mask it completely.
Exfoliating acids such as glycolic or salicylic acid can soothe inflammation caused by breakouts and unclog pores by dissolving the cellular debris that has hardened inside the pores and is causing bacteria overgrowth. There are plenty of skincare products that contain these components, including cleansers, toners, and lotions, and they’re fairly affordable too.
However, even though regular exfoliation can help you get rid of body acne, avoid any type of physical exfoliation such as loofah, brushes, or scrubs as these are abrasive methods that can rupture the bump and cause pus and bacteria to spread and affect the surrounding area.
Use Fragrance-Free Cosmetics
Since fragrance in cosmetics can exacerbate body acne, it's logical to stay away from it and opt for anything that's fragrance-free. This includes body washes, lotions, and oils, as well as shampoos and conditioners, as these can also exacerbate body acne due to their clogging ingredients and fragrant components. Ideally, it's best to use a fragrance-free facial cleanser on your entire body as these are much gentler and designed not to irritate the skin.
Balance Your Hormones
Balancing your hormones to get rid of acne might be long and complicated, but it’s an important process. While there isn't one right way to do it, a good place to start is by following a healthy diet rich in whole foods and avoiding processed foods, sugary drinks, and caffeine. These can increase insulin levels and promote inflammation, which can make acne worse. Additionally, you can try supplements such as zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, and vitamin D, as these can help the skin repair itself and fight inflammation.
Furthermore, taking care of your health by exercising, getting enough sleep, and managing stress levels can also help balance your hormones and reduce some potential acne triggers.
Finally, you should avoid the use of birth control pills or other hormone-altering medications as these can deplete the body of essential vitamins such as zinc, magnesium, B vitamins, and selenium and cause nutrient deficiencies that can impair the body's ability to fight inflammation.
Body acne is definitely an unpleasant occurrence; however, in most cases, they aren't serious or dangerous and can be effectively treated at home. Therefore, try to narrow down the potential causes of your body acne and experiment with different treatments, as well as cut out some potential triggers until you find what works best for you.
Lastly, don't forget that body acne can sometimes be a sign that something deeper could be wrong with your health, so if you can't get rid of it on your own, make sure to consult a skin expert who's going to help you get to the bottom of it.
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