What’s Causing Your Bacne? We Ask the Experts
Main image – Renedehaan/Stocksy
As if acne breakouts on the face weren’t problematic enough, life can throw in a pesky breakout on your back and shoulders sometimes too. And we’re supposed to just take this lying down? (We couldn’t resist…)
Ah yes, back acne, or ‘bacne’ as it’s (un)affectionately known, shows itself as a breakout of spots on the back and shoulders. They might look like red bumps, whiteheads or blackheads and darn it, they can be really painful.
But before you assume it’s just you in the bacne club, it’s important for you to know that it’s actually more common than you think. In fact, the NHS says that bacne affects more than half of people with acne. So, whilst it may not be a club you want to be in, just know that you’re not the only one in it.
What causes bacne? And what changes can we make to ensure it calms down or better still, goes away for good? Below are the bacne facts, as well as five ways to fight it and some handy tips from Dr. Geeta Yadav, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of FACET Dermatology.
Don’t worry. We’ve got your back…
What causes back and shoulder acne? 9 surprising reasons
Just like with facial acne, our hormones have a big part to play. But there are other factors too.
“Back and shoulder acne can be caused by hormonal changes and lifestyle habits, such as frequent workouts in tight clothing,” explains Dr. Yadav.
Here we’ve set out the most common causes of back and should acne.
1. Your haircare products
Perhaps the biggest surprise? “One of the biggest hidden causes is actually your hair products, especially conditioner if you’re not fully cleansing your shoulders and back when you’re rinsing it out,” Dr Yadav says. “This can clog pores and cause blemishes.”
If you’re someone who never normally has breakouts and you’ve suddenly started getting spots on your back and shoulders, try clipping your hair up when you have conditioner in to see if this improves your breakouts.
Image – Adobe
2. Your workout
According to Dr Yadav, tight workout clothes causing friction against your back can cause acne. Sitting in sweaty clothes too can be a major contributing factor, she says.
If that’s you, try switching your workout clothes for looser, cotton alternatives. And make sure to shower off straight after exercising before changing into clean clothes. Make sure any towels you’re using are clean too, according to Dr Yadav.
Another surprise cause of back and shoulder acne may be the friction on your skin caused by either tight clothes or any bag straps you routinely wear on your back. The medical term for this is ‘mechanical acne’.
If you notice your acne is generally localised to areas where your bra or bag straps lie try switching to looser straps or varying where you position them.
Yep, your hormones could be behind your back and shoulder acne. But don’t despair, you can still tackle your breakouts with skincare or medication from your dermatologist.
One study found that more men than women suffered from acne in their teenage years but that more women than men suffered from post-teen acne.
Again, just because you’re suffering from acne, it doesn’t mean you can’t clear it up. Keep reading for Dr Yadav’s tips on how to tackle your bacne.
Another study found that the children of people with acne were more likely to have it themselves.
This won’t be a shocker to everyone but may be the reason you’re breaking out on your back and shoulders. Again, stay tuned for our tips on tackling it below.
7. Skin type
9. Changing medication
Various types of medication- including steroids- may cause or aggravate acne.
Speaking to your doctor about whether your medication is causing back and shoulder acne may allow them to look for alternatives that don’t contribute to your breakouts.
The symptoms of bacne
Not all bacne looks the same and there are various types of different spots you may notice on your back or shoulders.
- Whiteheads- Small, white pimples that never form a head
- Blackheads- Open black or brown spots
- Papules – These are small (typically under 10mm in width) under the skin bumps with no visible pus
- Pustules – These are similar to papules but have a white, pus-filled head to them
- Nodules – These are hard lumps under the skin that don’t have a white head to them and can be very painful
- Cysts – These are red, pus-filled lumps under the skin which can can be crusty and have a white or yellow head. These can be very painful to the touch.
How to know which type of back acne you have
You’ll generally be able to see for yourself what type of spots you’re getting on your back and shoulders but if you’re unsure, a dermatologist or GP will be the best person to tell you the type of acne you may have.
They’ll look at your skin and ask about things like your family history and periods, as well as what medications you’re on. They may also order tests to work see if there’s an underlying cause of your acne.
Acne is generally categorised as being mild (generally seen as mostly whiteheads and blackheads with some papules and pustules), moderate (more whiteheads, blackheads with lots of papules and pustules), or severe (lots of large papules, pustules, nodules and cysts).
14 ways to clear up your bacne
Luckily, there are loads of products, lifestyle changes, medications and treatments that can help tackle your back and shoulder acne. Here are 12 of the best.
1. Be smart with your shower gel
Investing in a body wash containing gentle acids is beneficial to the skin. These are also known as AHA or BHA body washes. AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) and BHAs (beta hydroxy acids) help to buff away dead skin cells.
“I’d recommend using a salicylic-infused body wash to help clarify pores,” says Dr. Yadav. Q + A Salicylic Acid Body Wash (£7.50/$9.28) is gentle and contains soothing aloe vera too.
2. Clip your hair up
If you find that you suddenly have bacne, or that it’s mainly on the areas where your hair falls, consider the products you’re using and don’t let your conditioner sit on your back.
Whilst your conditioner is in your hair, loosely twist it up into a bun so that it’s not sitting on your back and shoulders. This will minimise the chances of your pores getting blocked and spots appearing. Turn your head upside down and rinse your hair forwards so that the products don’t run down your back.
And if applying a leave-in conditioner or heavy serum, make sure your shoulders and back are covered while your hair is still wet or the serum is sinking in. Limiting contact between your hair and skin will help to limit breakouts. So, cover up when spritzing on a hairspray too.
3. Try a clarifying body spray
Similarly to an AHA or BHA body wash, these contain gentle acids which help to clear pores. The difference is that a body spray is more targeted so is spritzed directly onto the affected area.
It’s usually fast-drying and handily has a 360 degree nozzle so that you can get the right angle when you spray. Try Dermalogica Clarifying Bacne Spray (£25/$30.94). Hold it a foot and a half away from your body, mist onto cleansed, dry skin and wait 30 seconds before you put on any clothes.
4. Change your bedding regularly
Now, we’re not saying you don’t already. But here’s one more reason why you should keep doing it, or at least do more frequently.
You may not be able to always see it, but your bedding collects all sorts of bacteria and grime. This creates the perfect breeding ground for bacne (and facial acne too for that matter) so make sure you change your bedding once a week.
5. Take spare clothes to the gym
If you like to sweat your cares away during your workout, we applaud you! Just make sure you do the proper after care to stop your sweat from causing a bacne breakout.
“Shower immediately after working out or change out of your workout clothes and use a cleansing wipe until you can cleanse more thoroughly,” advises Dr. Yadav.
Also make sure you’re always using a clean towel after showering to avoid spreading bacteria across your back.
6. Address your haircare products
We touched earlier on how your haircare regime can affect the skin on your back and shoulders, causing breakouts. Dr. Yadav recommends buying shampoos and conditioners “formulated by a dermatologist and that are non-comedogenic to help prevent body breakouts and scalp congestion.” Try Aveda Scalp Solutions Balancing Shampoo (£28.50/$35.27) or if you’re in the US, SEEN Shampoo ($12).
7. Avoid picking spots
Picking your spots not only increases your risk of pigmentation and acne scarring but can also spread infection.
A dermatologist or doctor may be able to inject particularly large of painful acne spots with cortisone, to help reduce the inflammation within days.
Medications like retinol or benzoyl peroxide may also help to clear up your breakouts. Speak to your doctor who may be able to prescribe medication for severe acne.
Some types of laser treatment have been shown to be able to clear up acne breakouts. Normally offered by dermatologists or licenced aestheticians, laser treatment are offered in office. The downside? They can be fairly expensive with prices for a single treatment costing from around £220 in the UK and $150 per session in the US.
11. Blue LED light
A perhaps more affordable option (and one that you can do at home), blue LED light has been shown to help clear up acne in some cases, with one study finding a 40% reduction in acne blemishes after 6 weeks of treatment.
You can either opt for in-office blue light treatments or a good quality at home device.
12. Pimple patches
These clear (or sometimes even star-shaped) hyrdollocoid patches aren’t just for your face you know.
While most pimple patches simply provide a sterile environment that helps a blemish heal, some have added ingredients like salicylic acid which unblocks pores to help breakouts heal quicker. Starface– regularly seen on the faces of everyone from Hailey Bieber to Florence Pugh- offer packs of 32 salicylic acid pimple patches from £10.99/$12.00.
Image – Starface
14. Other skincare treatments
Treatments like microneedling have also been shown to be effective in treating some types of acne. Your dermatologist or licenced aesthetician will be able to talk you through whether this is right for you.
How to prevent back and shoulder acne
Since one of the most common causes of bacne is sweaty workout clothes, make the change to looser, cotton clothes now and make sure to use clean towels, shower after exercising and change into clean clothes after.
Also, avoid letting your hair sit on your back and shoulders while it has product in, including conditioners, hair masks and serums.
Finally, use body scrubs or exfoliating washes with AHAs or BHAs to prevent pores becoming blocked.
Bacne’s a real pain in the back(side). However, now that you know the causes – hormones, bacteria and clogged pores – simple steps can be taken to help fight and prevent it.
Hygiene hacks like re-thinking your shower gel, being savvy with your haircare regime and switching up your laundry days can all make a big difference.
If you’re concerned though, speak to your doctor or dermatologist who should be able to diagnose exactly what type of acne you have and recommend the best treatments for it.
Meet the expert
Dr. Geeta Yadav is a world-renowned board-certified dermatologist and the founder of FACET Dermatology in Toronto, Canada. She is regularly featured for her expert advice in the likes of Byrdie, Allure and Vanity Fair.