How To Get Rid Of Body Acne, According To Dermatologists
Bonus: The products they suggest are all under $35.
I spent way too much time in my teens wondering how to get rid of body acne instead of just asking an expert. Mostly, I was embarrassed by the occasional breakouts that would pop up on my back, chest, and, sometimes, on my butt. I tried treating my body acne the same way I treated the acne on my face which, it turns out, isn’t all that effective. That’s because, as experts explain, not only is the skin on your body different than the skin on your face, but the things actually causing breakouts on your body are a totally different ball game.
Body acne isn’t just difficult to talk about, it’s also difficult to deal with. For starters, it pops up in places you can’t always keep a watchful eye on. While a pimple on your chin tends to grab your attention, a breakout on your back can get *really* painful or inflamed before you even notice something’s brewing. In fact, a lot of the time, you don’t notice body acne until it’s reached the “ouch, what the heck is that” phase of the breakout. Because there are so many factors that make body acne a literal pain, I asked dermatologists to explain the causes and treatment options for body acne.
Using their advice, here’s everything you need to know about body acne, from top to bottom, including the best products for getting rid of body acne from preventing it in the first place to treating body acne scars after the fact.
What Causes Body Acne?
Just like facial acne, not all body acne is created equally. In fact, those breakouts you get on your chest, under your arms, and on your butt could all be different issues that just look like pimples. That said, most body acne is caused by a mix of pore blockage, bacteria, and dead skin buildup.
“Other than standard acne, there’s also folliculitis,” shares board-certified dermatologist Dr. Nkem Ugonabo. Folliculitis is the medical term for inflamed hair follicles and they look just like acne. The inflammation is usually caused by a buildup of sweat or dirt. There’s also keratosis pilaris, commonly known as KP, another acne-mimicker, according to Ugonabo. These are acne-like little red bumps on the skin caused by your skin producing too much keratin. Too much keratin blocks your hair follicles, causing irritation.
So what’s causing your body acne? “Most commonly it's folliculitis caused by occlusion,” explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Tiffany Clay, “meaning, if you have clothing that's really tight, it can clog your pores.” Clay sees this type of breakout frequently in athletes and people who work out a lot, especially if they sweat and wear compression garments for long periods of time. Sweating, friction, and bacteria on the skin clogs pores and makes those little hair pimples come up.
Dull shaving razors can also be a trigger for body breakouts. “It's really common to use a razor that's dull, which could over-exfoliate and irritate the surface of the skin. If a little bacteria goes into the skin from those little scrapes or cuts, that can cause bumps too,” explains Clay. Dead skin can also block hair that’s trying to grow between shaves, causing irritation, inflammation, and little red bumps.
How To Prevent Body Acne
Common types of body acne are pretty easily prevented. Once you figure out why you might be breaking out, there are simple ways to address the issue, like changing out of sweaty workout clothes ASAP and showering as soon as possible.
You should also keep an eye on clothing that might rub and irritate your skin. And, most importantly, don’t pick. “Picking is just not going to help,” says Ugonabo, “and it's also going to trigger hyperpigmentation which can take even longer to treat.” Instead of picking at or trying to pop body blemishes and body acne, try focusing on exfoliating your body regularly in order to keep your pores clear of dead skin and oily buildup.
Regularly physically exfoliating — like dry brushing — is another way to keep your skin clear and your hair follicles unclogged, but it’s important to be careful. “It has to be done with a clean brush on clean skin,” says Dr. Purvisha Patel, board-certified dermatologist. “If you dry brush over active acne or breakouts, you can spread the breakouts as well,” she says.
How To Treat Body Acne
Treating body acne takes time and there’s no way to get rid of body acne overnight. “If you’re trying over-the-counter products consistently for about two months and aren’t seeing improvement, it’s time to see a dermatologist,” says Clay. If you don’t want to wait that long or don’t want to deal with trial-and-error product testing at home, Clay recommends seeing a dermatologist sooner.
But if you are down for at-home treatment, Clay and Ugonabo both recommend a number of ingredients that will probably look a little familiar. Ingredients like salicylic and glycolic acids as well as benzoyl peroxide and retinol all fall under the dermatologist-recommended umbrella when it comes to body acne. These are likely ingredients you’ve used on your face, but are found in higher concentrations in body care products because the skin on your body is generally less sensitive.
Using products that clear out bacteria and gently exfoliate the skin are your best bets for treating body acne. Here are the best body washes, treatments, and tools for treating body acne. The best part? They’re all under $35.
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Body Washes For Body Acne
The best body washes for fighting body acne usually include some type of acid. Ugonabo and Clay are big fans of benzoyl peroxide, which destroys acne-causing bacteria. The one downside: It can also stain your towels, so make sure to rinse well after using. Benzoyl peroxide products found in stores are usually either 5% or 10% active; both are effective, but 10% can be extra drying, so experts recommend moisturizing after usage. While acne washes can be used every day, Clay recommends using benzoyl peroxide washes every other day if you have dry skin.
If you’re looking for a good body wash with benzoyl peroxide, Ugonabo recommends trying PanOxyl first. “I think it’s a nice starter for people who are just starting out,” she says. It’s also available over the counter at a lot of drugstores, so it’s easy to find and purchase.
Another dermatologist-recommended ingredient for getting rid of body acne is salicylic acid. “It’s great if you have oily skin,” Clay says. “It's going to get any dirt, oil, or dead skin that's clogging the pores out.” According to Clay, most salicylic body washes are gentle enough for daily use, but she does not recommend using one more than once a day when you’re first starting out.
One salicylic acid body wash Ugonabo recommends to patients is CeraVe. It’s non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog pores, which is a common cause of body acne. This means the wash will work double time to treat active breakouts and prevent future breakouts from happening. This body wash is also fragrance-free and includes ceramides, which help to moisturize the skin.
For a less expensive wash, Ugonabo turns to Neutrogena. “Neutrogena’s Body Clear body wash has salicylic acid as the main ingredient. It’s another one that I have recommended to people,” says Ugonabo. This tried-and-true drugstore favorite is both affordable and effective.
Glycolic acid is another body acne-fighting favorite. “It’s a great chemical exfoliator,” explains Clay. “It enhances skin cell turnover as well, so you're going to get those pores unclogged.”
“Glytone’s glycolic acid body wash is a good one to look for,” says Clay, and reviewers agree. One reviewer shared that it helped not only clear up her hormonal body acne, but minimized the dark spots her acne left behind as well.
This scrub — recommended for use before stepping into the shower — combines glycolic acid, a dermatologist favorite, and lactic acid to buff away dead skin and unclog pores. It’s also best in class for folks with KP, according to reviews. “In just 4 short weeks I have seen improvements I never thought possible,” one user wrote. “I have KP everywhere,” said another. “I can stress enough how much of an improvement this has made on my skin.”
If bar soap is more your speed, this organic African Black soap bar is your best bet. (Also, you get a *literal* pound of it for under $15.) With over 2,000 five-star reviews on Amazon and a very affordable price tag, it’s raved about for treating everything from head-to-toe acne to post-acne hyperpigmentation.
One five-star reviewer said, “I use a lot of expensive skin care products on my face/ neck, but nothing has given me the results this soap gave me instantly.” Another, who works as an esthetician, dded, “I've noticed my KP isn't as bad, my breakouts have decreased, and my skin texture has improved significantly.”
Body Acne Treatment Products
If an acne body wash isn’t your thing, don’t fret. There are plenty of ways to treat body acne without swapping out your favorite body wash, like lotions and spot-treatment gels. These products use the same ingredients as the acne-fighting products above, they just have a slightly different delivery system.
As with any skin care products, there are a few hard-and-fast rules you can bring with you when shopping for body acne treatments. “I often tell patients to look for body washes and body lotions that say things like non-comedogenic or oil-free,” says Ugonabo. Non-comedogenic and oil-free products are, she says, usually more gentle and therefore less likely to worsen a breakout.
This product is the one that always clears up my bacne, which can get particularly brutal in the summer. Don’t let the name fool you, this isn’t a traditional body lotion. It’s a liquid exfoliator with 10% glycolic acid that works all over the body to unclog blocked pores, red bumps, and keratosis pilaris.
If you’re dealing with stubborn acne, you can reach for a retinol. Retinol works wonders on the body, the same as it does on the face, but Ugonabo and Clay were clear that retinol is very drying and shouldn’t be anyone’s first choice because it can be irritating to the skin.
If you’re looking for more natural ingredients to fight body acne, Clay recommends considering tea tree oil. “Tea tree oil is a natural anti-inflammatory topical product. If you want a leave-on product, it’s good.” However, Clay cautions that you shouldn’t apply pure tea tree oil directly to your skin. “It could actually cause a chemical burn,” she says. Instead, look for products that include tea tree oil.
Truly Beauty is a cult-favorite beauty brand that’s always going viral for the right reasons. Case in point: This body-acne fighting serum which uses dermatologist-recommended tea tree oil, along with witch hazel and charcoal to clear and disinfect clogged pores and follicles.
Reviewers also speak to how quickly this product starts to work, a major factor for many people looking to clear up body acne quickly. “I noticed blemishes began to fade within days,” shared one reviewer while another claimed it “helped tremendously” with both KP and butt acne.
This adapalene gel from La Roche-Posay is an over-the-counter retinol that comes recommended by Dr. Clay. According to her, “It’s really good for hyperpigmentation and for treating the acne.”
An affordable favorite, this “special cleansing lotion” is basically a toner designed specifically for acne on the body that contains calming niacinamide to counteract its drying ingredients. Reviewers swear up and down by this product’s abilities to deal with acne on the chest and back, but this cleansing lotion makes this best-of list on account of its ability to clear up butt acne, specifically folliculitis.
“I get inflamed hair follicles on my butt and [this] works amazing,” wrote one reviewer. “I have sensitive skin on my bum and tend to get inflamed follicles down there easily. This has helped so much in managing all of that,” shared another.
For between the shoulder blades and other hard-to-reach spots, an acne-fighting mist is probably the way to go. I love this one from Versed because it’s affordable, effective, and I can grab it at Target. It’s 2% salicylic acid, which is what experts recommend for treating body acne and, thanks to its nozzle, can really get the places you can’t reach with your hands. It also dries down quickly so you don’t have to worry about it rubbing off on your clothing.
Reviewers also swear by this mist. One reviewer wrote that “I started breaking out recently on my back and chest with really bad, inflamed, big pimples. I bought this and within a week the pimples had calmed down significantly.” Another shared, “this product took my skin from never looking worse to never looking better.”
Another product of the spray variety — and part of the 2021 Glow Beauty Award-winning Bliss Clear Genius line — this product works to heal and prevent acne with 2% salicylic acid. It also contains other dermatologist-recommended skin care ingredients such as niacinamide and cica, which hydrate and soothe skin, making it a great choice for people who have sensitive skin.
Reviewers point out that this product is effective, but also gentle enough to use multiple times a day. One wrote, “I have horrible body acne and this has really helped clear it up. I use it before I go to bed and in the morning after I work out.” Another shared, “I've struggled with severe to mild acne on my back for years, and nothing has worked well and been this convenient.”
Tools for Body Acne
When it comes to washing body acne, there are a few things to keep in mind. While physical exfoliation is good, it’s important to be gentle with skin that’s experiencing a breakout. It’s also important to be sure that you can reach the areas on your body where acne or breakouts are happening. Finally, it’s *extra* important that you don’t spread acne-causing bacteria from one area of your body to another and that you don’t introduce any new bacteria to your breakouts.
All of these concerns can be handled by using the right tools when washing your body acne and, yes, a lot of them have actual handles.
“For hard-to-reach areas such as mid-back, I often advise my patients to get something with a long handle that will help them reach,” says Ugonabo. “Affordable shower brushes can be advantageous, as long as it’s soft and not too abrasive.”
This brush exfoliator will set you back less than $10 and has soft, silicone bristles that are designed to not cause irritation to inflamed or broken out skin. The brush head is also much easier to keep clean than your average loofah.
Another in-shower device that’s effective and easy to keep clean is this double-sided back scrubber from AQUIS. While it does have two sides — one more textured for exfoliating and one softer for cleansing — neither one is too rough, according to reviews. “Most exfoliating products are too rough. This is a gentle exfoliating cloth, hangs to dry easily, and doesn't get moldy,” shared one user.
“I have had back acne since I was a teenager,” another reviewer wrote. “This thing not only cleared away the bumps but now the scarring from my past bumps are going away. The new skin feels like it's ‘breathing’ for the first time in decades.”
It’s important to clean and regularly replace the tools you use to treat your body acne, which makes applicator tools for harder-to-reach places like this one a great addition to your acne-fighting tool kit. The wooden handle applicator comes with three reusable, washable pads for applying lotions and treatments evenly across hard-to-reach places on the body.
“This applicator is worth every penny,” shared one reviewer, adding that “the applicator portion does not absorb the product being used, so there's no waste.” It’s also incredibly affordable and well worth adding to your online shopping cart.
How To Get Rid Of Body Acne Scars
One major concern that people who deal with body acne have is how to handle the aftermath. Acne can leave behind redness, scarring, and hyperpigmentation. The number one way to keep body acne scars at bay, according to Clay, is by wearing sunscreen. “Sunscreen is going to help prevent your dark spots from getting darker, especially on the body. Any little bit of ultraviolet exposure is going to make [dark spots] turn darker or turn red and they'll tend to stay that way for a longer period of time.” You should be applying sunscreen all over your body, not just on your face.
When it comes to treating body acne scars and brown spots with over-the-counter products, exfoliation is, again, key. “I like products that contain things like kojic acid and azelaic acid. They’re both great for helping to improve the appearance of hyperpigmentation,” Clay says.
This spot treatment features 10% active azelaic acid, one of Dr. Clay’s recommended ingredients for treating post-acne brown spots, which helps brighten hyperpigmentation. The reviews are also glowing with many shoppers swearing by its ability to reduce the appearance of their acne scars.
This oil uses lemon peel and tea tree oils to minimize hyperpigmentation, one of the types of scarring that body acne leaves behind. “Because it exfoliates, this oil is going to be really helpful with hyperpigmentation as well,” says Clay.
This body mist is designed specifically for fading acne scars and hyperpigmentation and contains kojic acid, one of Clay’s go-to ingredients for minimizing the appearance of acne scars. It also includes dermatologist-loved glycolic acid and soothing niacinamide. One reviewer shared, “I’ve been suffering with severe hyperpigmentation, rough texture, and folliculitis on my back for nearly two decades. I've been using this for a month and my back is finally smooth!”
Dr. Tiffany Clay, M.D., board-certified dermatologist
Dr. Nkem Ugonabo, M.D., board-certified dermatologist
Dr. Purvisha Patel, M.D., board-certified dermatologist