Medically reviewed by Angela Sheddan, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 2/9/2022
Uncomfortable. Unsightly, Embarrassing. That’s bacne (aka back acne) in a nutshell.
While your face is probably the most common place for blemishes to pop up, the back is a close second. There are actually a few things that can cause acne on this part of your body — more on that soon!
It’s a frustrating spot for acne, too. Unlike your face, it can be hard to reach, and therefore treat, the skin on your back.
That said, there are ways you can treat it — you just have to make a concerted effort. Here, we’re reviewing what back acne is, what causes it and how to deal with it.
The first culprit? Sebum. It is produced by your sebaceous glands to lubricate your skin and hair. They exist in your face, but also in your back. In fact, the mid-back is one of the areas of the body that has the most sebaceous glands. Sebum isn’t all bad though. It creates a barrier over your skin to protect it from bacteria and other harmful substances in the environment. However, if you produce too much sebum, it can lead to breakouts.
If excess sebum and dead skin cells combine, it can block your pores and hair follicles and lead to blemishes.
Before you can learn how to banish blemishes on your back, you’ve got to know what’s making them pop up. Once again, similar things that cause regular acne, cause back acne. Common causes include:
Hormone imbalances, such as what occurs during your period. They can lead to an excess of sebum being created.
Overwashing your skin can also wipe away natural oils and cause sebum (an oily secretion) production to go into overdrive.
Things that put pressure on your skin or create friction can also be problematic. For your back, this could be too-tight clothing or even backpacks.
Medications can also lead to acne. These include ones prescribed to treat epilepsy, stress and depression.
Back acne can have a big impact on your life. One study of 132 people found that it was significantly tied to sexual and bodily self-conciousness in both men and women. Who needs that? To prevent those negative feelings, you’ll need to know how to get rid of it. These tactics can help.
Topical treatments can effectively treat pimples. You put them on top of acne and they go to work, penetrating the skin to clear up those bumps and blemishes. Of course, reaching your back can be tricky. To do so, you can get a lotion applicator for your back.
Two common topicals: Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide can both remove dead skin cells and eliminate acne-causing bacteria. Salicylic acid has another added benefit — it reduces swelling. Both can also be found over the counter, with no prescription needed.
Tretinoin is a topical that does require a prescription. It helps your skin shed the dead skin cells that cause breakouts. Another prescription is clindamycin, which is actually an antibiotic that impedes bacteria from multiplying.
A few combined oral contraceptives are FDA approved to treat acne. They work by lowering levels of hormones responsible for acne (like testosterone) and reducing sebum production.
The other prescription medication is isotretinoin. It lowers sebum production, which can help stop dead skin cells from clogging pores.
Sometimes, oral antibiotics are even prescribed to prevent acne-causing bacteria from multiplying.
Your skincare routine also matters when it comes to fighting back acne. When it comes to washing your back, skip the bar soap and consider using a face wash back there.
In fact, research that has found that reaching for a mild facial cleanser can reduce acne. Ideally, you want to look for a gentle, non-abrasive cleanser without alcohol, which can be drying. Also be on the lookout for something labeled “non-comedogenic,” which means it won’t clog pores. Hers offers a facial cleanser that fits these requirements.
Daily sunscreen is also a must. Some people believe that the sun’s rays can clear acne, but the opposite is true: It can make it worse. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen (meaning it protects skin from UVA and UVB rays) with a minimum of SPF 30 on a daily basis.
Finally, treat your back skin right (and help it stay clear!) by wearing loose clothing made of a breathable fabric. You should also wash workout clothes after each use — and change out of sweaty clothing ASAP after exercising. All of these things can make acne worse.
Living with back acne can dampen your spirits and knock your self-confidence. Whether you have mild acne or severe acne back there, the good news is that there is a way to deal with it.
From topical treatments (like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide) to prescription acne medications of the oral variety and healthy skin habits, you can nip bacne in the bud and live your life with clearer skin — everywhere.
If you have stubborn back acne or want an expert opinion on which treatment option to start with, you should speak with a healthcare professional. He or she will be trained in assisting patients with acne and will be able to take into account special considerations (like if you have sensitive skin or are dealing with cystic acne).
From there, they will be able to give recommendations on acne treatments and skin care products and provide tips on keeping your skin healthy.