Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/13/2021
Most acne develops due to a combination of sebum and skin cells clogging your pores, often as a result of fluctuations in your body’s production of certain hormones.
Acne mechanica, however, is a less common form of acne that develops due to friction, rubbing, pressure, stretching or squeezing of your skin.
It’s quite common in athletes, but can potentially affect anyone.
Below, we’ve explained what acne mechanica is and the factors that can cause it, as well as the steps that you can take to treat acne mechanica and prevent it from coming back.
Acne mechanica is a form of acne that can develop when your skin is subject to friction, rubbing or other forms of pressure.
This type of acne often develops on skin that comes into direct contact with sports equipment or tight clothing.
When these things rub against your skin, they can trap heat and produce irritation that contributes to acne breakouts.
Acne mechanica looks similar to other forms of inflamed acne. It often starts as small bumps on your skin.
Over time, these bumps can form into larger breakouts of inflamed acne lesions that affect your face and/or body.
You may notice the following types of acne during an acne mechanica breakout:
Comedones. These small acne lesions aren’t inflamed, but can cause your skin to take on a bumpy, rough texture.
Inflamed acne. You may notice inflamed acne lesions, such as fluid-filled pimples, that develop on areas of skin that are subject to repeated friction and pressure.
Cystic acne. When acne mechanica is severe, it can produce cystic acne that develops deep beneath the surface of your skin.
Acne mechanica can develop anywhere on your body, including your face, shoulders, torso and buttocks.
Since acne mechanica looks similar to the more common acne vulgaris, it’s easy to mistake one form of acne for the other.
The following symptoms can often signal that you have acne mechanica:
You have acne that only develops in areas of your skin that are covered by tight clothing, such as around your shoulders (from bra straps or a backpack), near your hairline (from a hat or headband) or around your buttocks and thighs.
Your acne breakouts developed right after you started training for a sport or working out more frequently.
You play seasonal sports and notice acne breakouts during your sports season, but not during your off season.
Any clothing, sports equipment or other item that rubs against your skin or traps heat and sweat can potentially cause acne mechanica.
Common items that can cause this type of acne include:
Helmets. Protective helmets used for cycling, hockey, horse riding and other sports can rub against your cheeks and forehead. Helmets with chin straps may also cause acne to develop around your chin and jawline.
Hats and headbands. Hats, headbands and other items of clothing that cover your hair and face can rub and trap sweat against your skin, causing acne mechanica that affects your forehead and hairline.
Shoulder, elbow and knee pads. Protective pads used for football, skating and contact sports can create friction and trap sweat against your skin, causing acne mechanica that affects your shoulders, torso and limbs.
Backpacks and bags. Casual bags, backpacks and even golf or gym bags can produce acne mechanica that affects your neck and shoulders.
Tight-fitting clothing. Several types of clothing can produce acne mechanica, including tight-fitting, synthetic clothing used for gymnastics, dance and other sports. Sports bras that put pressure on your shoulders may also cause acne mechanica breakouts.
Seating. Although acne mechanica is usually linked to sports, it can also develop due to seating that traps heat and sweat against your body. Some people develop this type of acne during long periods of rest on a seat or in a bed.
Prosthetic devices. Prosthetic limbs, arm slings and other medical devices that directly apply pressure to your skin may cause acne mechanica.
Fabric masks. Fabric masks, such as the protective masks used to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other viral illnesses, may cause a form of acne mechanica referred to as “maskne.”
Like other common forms of acne, acne mechanica is treatable. To clear up your breakouts, you may need to make changes to your habits and use acne medication.
The first step in treating acne mechanica is to stop the habits that are causing your skin to break out in the first place.
To stop breakouts from occurring, you may need to avoid wearing tight clothing, take care when using sports equipment or simply take a break from the activities that cause you to break out for a few weeks.
In most cases, over-the-counter acne treatments such as facial cleansers and body washes will clear up acne mechanica fairly quickly.
Look for the following science-based ingredients to treat breakouts and keep your skin acne-free:
Benzoyl peroxide. This acne medication is a common ingredient in facial cleansers and body washes. It works by reducing sebum production and killing the bacteria that cause inflamed acne to develop on your skin.
Salicylic acid. Another common ingredient found in cleansers and body washes, salicylic acid helps to wash away dead skin cells, unblocked clogged pores and reduce the severity of red skin and swelling that can occur during acne mechanica breakouts.
Make sure to pick an acne treatment that’s a good match for your skin type. If you have dry skin or sensitive skin that’s easily irritated, you’ll want to look for a gentle cleanser or mild body wash that’s formulated to minimize irritation.
Our Deep Sea Cleanser for Acne is formulated to cleanse and hydrate acne-prone skin without clogging pores or causing excessive dryness.
Most of the time, acne mechanica clears up quickly after you change your habits and use acne treatments.
If you’ve been actively treating your acne mechanica for six to eight weeks and don’t notice any improvements, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider or schedule an appointment with a dermatologist.
They may prescribe prescription acne medication to treat breakouts and, if necessary, a topical antibiotic to control bacterial growth.
If you’re prescribed medication to treat acne mechanica, make sure to use it as directed for the entire treatment period.
Since acne mechanica is caused by clothing and sports equipment, it’s usually easy to prevent by making changes to your habits and lifestyle.
To stop acne mechanica from coming back, make sure to:
Remove sports equipment as soon as you finish training. If you wear a helmet, pads or other protective gear that rubs or presses against your skin, take it off as soon as your training session or game ends.
After exercising, wash your skin right away. Try to take a shower as soon as possible after you finish exercising. Wash any affected areas of skin using a gentle facial cleanser or body wash.
Avoid overly tight sports or workout clothing. Try switching tight-fitting sports clothes for looser-fitting alternatives. Loose clothing is less likely to trap sweat and heat against your skin.
Take care with bags, backpacks and other items. Make sure not to let bag straps rub against your skin. If you wear a backpack, make sure that it fits comfortably and doesn’t place excess pressure on the skin around your neck and shoulders.
When possible, choose moisture-wicking clothing. Moisture-wicking fabrics work by pulling sweat and other liquid away from your skin. This helps to reduce friction and stop issues such as acne mechanica from developing.
Limit your time sitting or resting in one position. Try to avoid sitting or laying down in one position for long periods of time. You can reduce pressure on your skin by walking a short distance, stretching or changing your seating position.
Acne mechanica can be a serious annoyance, especially when it causes you to develop large, inflamed acne lesions on your face and/or body.
Like other forms of acne, acne mechanica can be treated with acne cream or other acne treatments and by making changes to your habits to minimize friction and pressure against your skin.
If you have persistent acne mechanica, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider or schedule an appointment with a dermatologist.
You can learn more about keeping your skin clear and acne-free in our full guide to preventing acne breakouts.
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