Almost everyone knows that familiar, loathsome feeling of looking in the mirror one morning and finding a giant pimple on your face. But what if you awoke to find blemishes covering your chest, back, arms and bottom? Actually, body acne is more common than you may think -- it's just seldom talked about. But even if you don't want to talk about it, if you have body acne, you probably want to know how to get rid of it.
Body acne is similar to facial acne in both its symptoms and its treatments, and people who have facial acne are more likely to develop body acne. Acne forms when pores or hair follicles become clogged with dead skin and oil. Therefore, it makes sense that acne can form wherever there are sebaceous glands -- the glands responsible for the production of sebum, or oil -- and hair follicles. Body acne is most commonly found on the back, chest, and neck, but blemishes can appear anywhere except the palms of your hands and soles of your feet [source: Kern]. Body acne can be more challenging to control than facial acne -- the skin on your body is thicker and has larger pores than facial skin, making it easier for pores to become clogged. Plus, these areas are often clothed, which means your skin has constant contact with the oil it produces [source: Acne Skin Guide].
You obviously can't stop your skin from secreting oil and clogging your pores, but you can help prevent body acne by cleansing your skin properly. Read on to learn more.
Body Acne and Hygiene
Poor hygiene doesn't cause blemishes, but practicing good hygiene can help prevent acne -- especially body acne. Acne forms when oil mixes with dead skin cells and clogs pores, creating a breeding ground for bacteria [source: WebMD]. But cleansing your skin daily and exfoliating weekly can help prevent pores from becoming clogged.
Showering daily can help keep your skin clean and free of bacteria. Use a soft sponge and mild body wash and make sure you clean every part of your body -- including hard-to-reach areas such as your back [source: Acne Skin Guide]. Showering is especially important immediately after exercise or other activities that result in heavy perspiration. Also, make sure you gently exfoliate your skin at least once a week using a sponge and gentle scrub If you have oily skin, use a skin cleanser that contains salicylic acid or glycolic acid -- these ingredients gently exfoliate skin and help unclog pores [source: Valeo].
But while cleansing is important, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Showering too frequently, scrubbing your skin too hard, bathing in hot water, or using harsh, antibacterial soaps can actually make your skin worse. Make sure you cleanse your skin no more than twice a day, and use warm water and gentle cleansers [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
Hygiene may be an important factor, but it's not the only one. Read on to learn how stress and diet affect body acne.
Stress, Diet and Body Acne
If you've had acne, you've probably heard that you can cut down on your breakouts by controlling two simple things in your life -- your diet and your stress level. This isn't always the case, though. So far, scientists haven't proved that food causes acne [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. While some people believe their acne is aggravated by specific foods -- such as chocolate, peanuts, shellfish and fatty foods -- there's no scientific evidence that supports this. If you suspect that a certain food is making your acne worse, you can avoid that food [source: AcneNet]. But, in general, even the greasiest pizza won't cause body acne, and you don't need to rework your diet to clear up your skin.
That being said, it's always a good idea to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Not only is a balanced diet important to an overall healthier self, but it's also good for the health of your skin. Eat foods that are high in antioxidants, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains -- antioxidants help combat free radicals, which can cause fine lines and wrinkles [source: MyFDA.org].
As with food, the advice to reduce stress to clear up acne may not have a big impact. Normal, everyday stress doesn't cause acne; however, chronic stress can make it worse. In fact, stress is one of the chief contributors to adult acne [source: Acne.com].
Stress can worsen acne because it affects your body's hormone production. When you're stressed, your adrenal glands produce more cortisol, and this change in hormone levels causes your sebaceous glands to produce more oil. This excess sebum in your skin makes it easier for your pores to become clogged [source: WebMD]. In addition to affecting your hormone production, stress also affects the immune system. Stress can decrease the healing capacity of your immune system by up to 40 percent, making it more difficult for your body to heal existing blemishes [source: Ohio State University].
Although you can't live a completely stress-free life, there are ways you can reduce your stress levels. Daily exercise and a good night's sleep are two effective ways to reduce stress -- and maybe even reduce the likelihood of developing body acne. But no matter how well you manage stress, it may not be enough to prevent or cure body acne. Read on to learn how medications can treat body acne.
Body Acne and Medication
Body acne -- like facial acne -- can be treated with a variety of products. When over-the-counter treatments aren't enough, prescription oral medications can be used to it. These antibiotics typically contain erythromycin and tetracycline or tetracycline derivatives, and they prevent the growth of bacteria on the skin's surface. However, the problem with antibiotics is that acne-causing bacteria can develop a resistance to the drugs over time [source: Stiefel Laboratories].
In addition to antibiotics, there are a few other oral medications that can treat body acne. Birth control pills are sometimes prescribed for females to regulate hormone production and control acne [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. For severe cases of body acne, isotretinoin -- an ingredient in Accutane -- can be prescribed. This oral medication treats body acne by reducing the size of the sebaceous glands and preventing too much oil from being produced.
There are also many prescription topical medications that treat body acne. Topical treatments usually come in two varieties: antimicrobials, which reduce the presence of acne-causing bacteria, and retinoids, which unclog pores. Both types of topical medications are available in many forms, including gels, creams, lotions and liquids. Many topical treatments can cause dryness or redness, and retinoids can increase skin's sensitivity to sun -- but these side effects typically decrease after the first few weeks of use [source: Stiefel Laboratories].
While medications can help control and prevent severe body acne, milder cases can be treated with over-the-counter products. Read on learn more.
Body Acne Products
A prescription medication isn't necessary for mild cases of body acne -- but there are a variety of over-the-counter products available for treating your body acne. The first step to preventing body acne is to cleanse your skin daily with products that are noncomedogenic -- meaning they won't clog pores. You can also try a medicated body wash or cleanser that contains acne-fighting ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid [source: WebMD].
In addition to skin cleanser, you can also use a topical over-the-counter product. These products typically contain a number of acne-fighting ingredients, including:
- Alpha-hydroxy acid (dries up blemishes)
- Benzoyl peroxide (unclogs pores)
- Salicylic acid (dries up blemishes)
- Tea tree oil (kills bacteria)
These ingredients can be found in a variety of creams, lotions, gels and liquids. But keep in mind that you need a product that's easy to apply -- you'll often be dealing with hard-to-reach areas like your back [source: WebMD].
Although these products can help treat current body acne, they can't erase the scars left behind by previous acne -- but there are treatments that can reduce the appearance of acne scars. Read on to learn more about these treatments.
Body Acne Treatments
If you have acne scars, there are several procedures that can help reduce their appearance. However, it's important to discuss your options with a doctor before you make a decision.
Most of these procedures work by removing the top layers of skin and scar tissue. Typically reserved for severe scars, dermabrasion removes scar tissue by moving a spinning wire brush over the surface of the skin. For less severe scarring, microdermabrasion is an option. These treatments involve using a hand-held device to blow crystals onto the skin and remove cells on the skin's surface [source: Mayo Clinic]. Chemical peels are another option for less severe scars. They peel away scar tissue after a chemical solution -- often containing glycolic acid or trichloroacetic acid -- is allowed to soak into the skin. Laser resurfacing, a process in which a laser burns away the top layer of skin, is a relatively new procedure that can effectively improve scar tissue [source: WebMD]
Collagen injections can also help reduce the appearance of acne scars, but instead of removing layers of skin, it plumps up the skin. By injecting collagen into the "pit" left by acne, the skin under the scar is plumped, creating a smoother surface [source: WebMD]. This same concept of "raising" the skin is used in punch grafting, in which severe scars are removed and skin from elsewhere on the body is grafted into the area [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
Even though body acne can be a potentially embarrassing or uncomfortable problem, there are plenty of treatment options available. For more information on body acne and how to treat it, follow the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
More Great Links
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- AcneNet. "Acne mechanica." American Academy of Dermatology. (Accessed 9/11/09) http://www.skincarephysicians.com/acnenet/article_acnemechanica.html
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