From whiteheads and blackheads to pustules and papules, back acne can be annoying to deal with—let alone successfully treat. Luckily the best back acne treatments come in a range of formulations, with a variety of active ingredients that’ll help acne-prone skin types keep blemishes at bay. But before we dive into the products you should add to your body’s skin-care routine, let’s cover what causes body acne—and how you can prevent it.
What causes back acne?
As SELF has previously reported, back acne (or bacne) can flare up due to hormonal changes related to things like menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause, and as a side effect of certain medications like corticosteroids. Sweating excessively (especially in tight, heat-trapping workout clothes) can also contribute to body acne, as sweat can cause clogged pores and eventually blackheads if it sits on the skin for too long. Those are the main causes, but some people are just more prone to developing bacne than others, thanks to genetics.
Keeping your skin, hair, and clothes clean will prevent the buildup of acne-causing bacteria and oil. Moisturizing and gently exfoliating the skin on your back is also key to avoiding bacne, as the former prevents excessive oil production and the latter removes pore-clogging dead skin cells.
What are the most effective active ingredients for treating back acne?
The same ingredients that work effectively against facial acne will have a similar impact on back and body acne. Trying a product that contains benzoyl peroxide, which kills the type of bacteria that causes acne (C. acnes), is a great place to start, according to previous reporting by SELF. While this ingredient is highly effective, it can be irritating and even bleach your clothes, so be careful and do a patch test before applying it to your breakouts. For an antibacterial ingredient that’s gentler than benzoyl peroxide, look for tea tree oil, which can help address acne in people with more sensitive skin (but, again, it’s always smart to start with a patch test).
Chemical exfoliants like salicylic acid and glycolic acid can help resolve bacne too, by sloughing away dead skin, excess oil, and bacteria, and, in turn, preventing clogged pores. Retinol, the over-the-counter version of prescription-strength retinoids, is another exfoliating option and it works by speeding up skin-cell turnover, so healthy skin emerges and dead skin sheds faster. Just make sure to slowly introduce a new, possibly irritating product to your skin like retinol—and wear sunscreen, as this ingredient can increase photosensitivity.
All of the aforementioned ingredients are great options for treating bacterial acne, but if your breakouts are itchy and look like uniform red bumps, you might have fungal acne, a skin condition that differs from regular acne in its causes and treatment.
As SELF has previously reported, this type of acne happens when an overgrowth of naturally occurring yeast on your skin causes irritation, inflammation, and the aforementioned itchy bumps. If you think that’s what you’re dealing with, seek out products with antifungal ingredients like pyrithione zinc, selenium sulfide, or ketoconazole.
Bear in mind: Even once you know the key ingredients to look for, you may have to try a few different options before you find something that works for your skin. Just like with any new skin-care product, give your back acne treatment time to take effect and garner improvements—as much as several months, says the American Academy of Dermatology.
Your bacne might be frustrating, but it doesn’t have to stick with you forever. From acne body washes to pimple spot treatments, we’ve highlighted the very best back acne treatments below from top skin-care brands like Neutrogena, Paula’s Choice, CeraVe, and more, containing the very ingredients that’ll help keep your back healthy and clear.