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Acne on Arms: Causes & Treatment Options

Kristin Hall

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 12/17/2020

Acne is a common skin condition. Most of us likely dealt with it as teenagers; and some are unfortunate enough to continue dealing with it long into adulthood. 

Having acne on your arms can be difficult to manage. Do you use the same products you use on your face? Can you just hide it and pretend it doesn’t exist? But like all acne, there are answers to your questions. 

The first step in determining how to get rid of your arm acne is in identifying that the breakouts are indeed what you think they are. 

If It’s Truly Acne 

Acne can occur anywhere on your body, but if it occurs on your arms, it’s likely also on your face, the most common place for female acne.

It’s typically caused by a combination of four different factors: oil production, bacteria (specifically Propionibacterium acnes), inflammation, and dead skin cells. Things like hormonal fluctuations, stress, diet, cosmetics, and genetics may play a role in whether you develop acne.

There are several types of acne, including: 

  • Whiteheads or closed comedones: Characterized by a small, white head

  • Blackheads or open comedones: Characterized by a small black opening

  • Pustules: Characterized by a white head, and inflamed red base

  • Papules: small, tender bumps that frequently cluster together

  • Nodules: Hard, large, deep, and painful pimples 

  • Cysts: Deep, painful, and pus-filled lesions

One particular form of acne worth noting is acne mechanica. Acne mechanica occurs when friction occurs between the skin and heavy clothing or equipment. It’s common under athletic equipment.

Intense heat and friction irritate the skin and create the perfect environment for papules and pustules.

Acne Treatment 

The good news about having acne on your arms, if there is any, is that it’s typically easy to treat. The treatment of acne involves stopping your current breakout and preventing new ones. Consulting with a dermatologist or healthcare provider can ensure you spend less time testing out anti-acne treatments in search of something that will actually work, though not all acne treatments require a prescription

The following are some acne solutions that have considerable scientific support for their use: 

  • Benzoyl peroxide: An over-the-counter, topical solution that can be found in face washes, gels, creams, and other formulations. While it’s often effective, it may cause skin irritation and dryness, and bleach clothing.

  • Topical antibiotics: Prescription topical products that work to eliminate the bacteria that causes acne, while reducing inflammation. 

  • Topical retinoids:  Prescription retinoids such as tretinoin and adapalene are often the first lines of defense for mild to moderate acne, and work by targeting dead skin cells and clogged pores.

  • Isotretinoin: Isotretinoin is an oral retinoid that’s usually prescribed to treat moderate-to-severe acne, or acne that has been otherwise unresponsive to topical retinoids or other conventional treatments. 

  • Oral antibiotics: In cases of severe acne, a healthcare provider may prescribe systemic treatment such as an oral antibiotic.These medications are generally used in combination with other treatments.

  • Oral contraceptives: When acne is triggered primarily by hormonal fluctuations, and oral birth control can help limit breakouts.

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Other Possible Causes For Arm Breakouts 

Acne is just one possible culprit for the lesions and pimple-like breakouts on your arms. However, there are others. And treating your arms for acne when they’re suffering with a different condition could worsen your breakouts. If you’re at all unsure of the cause of your “pimples,” talk with a healthcare provider. 


Folliculitis is an infection in the hair follicles that resembles an acne breakout. The lesions may have red rings around them, itch or hurt. 

This condition occurs when the hair follicles are damaged, making them vulnerable to bacterial invasion. This damage can occur from tight clothing, rubbing your skin, having skin rub against skin, or from shaving. 

A healthcare provider may prescribe an antibiotic to speed recovery from folliculitis.

Keratosis Pilaris 

Keratosis pilaris results from dead skin cells, and is actually most common on your upper arms and thighs. 

This condition may resemble red goosebumps or the “skin of a plucked chicken,” according to the American Academy of Dermatology. The condition is harmless, but may be treated by keeping skin moisturized.

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In Conclusion

Hey ladies — acne still sucks. But when it shows up on your arms, it can be a whole new level of annoying. 

Luckily, treating acne on your arms isn’t so different from treating acne on your face. Your healthcare provider or a certified dermatology practitioner will be able to guide you toward an effective treatment regimen, which may include things like topical or oral retinoids, antibiotics or even hormonal birth control. 

Learning how to identify what type of acne is affecting your arms can also help you pinpoint over-the-counter remedies that might help the healing process. Our guide to getting rid of acne fast has all the information you need to help fight acne on your arms fast.

Of course, a solid skincare regimen is never a bad idea, either. 

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.