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What should men look for in body acne cleansers?

Is treating acne on your back different than treating it on your face? See more personal hygiene pictures.
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Driving lessons, first dates and facial acne are all awkward rites of passages for most teen guys. Even after they've mastered parallel parking and ordering in fancy restaurants, however, some guys struggle with acne -- most of the time it shows up on the face, but it can appear elsewhere on the body, too.

Why does acne linger -- and sometimes get even worse? Body oil, or sebum, is produced in sebaceous glands within the skin. It travels through tubes called follicles to pores on the surface, where it draws dirt and dead cells.

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Sebum is a good thing -- oil coats the skin and keeps it from drying out. But when your sebaceous glands produce too much oil, the sebum can also plug the follicles and provide a breeding ground for the bacteria P. acnes. The skin grows inflamed and irritated, erupting into whiteheads, blackheads and pimples. These unsightly bumps are temptingly easy to pop and pick at, which can deepen the infection and lead to permanent scarring.

The hardest hit areas are those with the most sebaceous glands: the face, back and chest. They're aggravated further by friction from clothes rubbing against the skin. High levels of the male hormones androgen and testosterone play a role by increasing oil production and hair growth. Additionally, anabolic steroids and androstenedione (a testosterone precursor) may promise muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger's -- but they'll also cause a galaxy of pimples that makes it embarrassing to flaunt them (on top of more harmful effects).

In this article, we explain how to choose body acne cleansers to unclog pores and clear out bacteria. We'll give you hints for applying them to improve their usefulness, too.

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Start off with low amounts of cleanser to avoid drying out your skin.
Start off with low amounts of cleanser to avoid drying out your skin.
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The most common (and most useful) ingredients in body acne cleansers deliver a one-two punch: One ingredient puts P. acnes on the ropes, and the other keeps it there. These are found in separate products, so you can alternate using them.

The first ingredient to look for is benzoyl peroxide. A chemical relation to hydrogen peroxide, benzoyl peroxide kills P. acnes by drowning it with oxygen. (The bacteria are anaerobic, which means they thriving in oxygen-free environments.) A concentration of around 2 percent is typical, with 10 percent found in maximum strength formulas.

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The second ingredient is a mild stripping agent called salicylic acid. Salicylic acid, which occurs naturally in willow trees, breaks down a skin protein called keratin. As the keratin dissolves, it takes a lot of the dirt and dead cells with it. Concentrations range from 0.5 percent to 2 percent.

Despite their low doses, both of these chemical compounds can dry and irritate skin. It's wise to start on the low end and increase concentration only if necessary. If you're concerned about skin sensitivity, choose formulas made without dyes or fragrances, especially synthetic ones. Some brands include skin softeners like aloe and allantoin.

Likewise, avoid other skin care products with alcohol, abrasive granules, or deodorant or antibacterial chemicals, all of which can dry out skin. Also steer clear of products that contain oil. If you need a moisturizer to offset the effects of the cleanser, check for products marked "oil-free," which contain other sealants to help skin retain its natural oil, or "noncomedogenic," which are designed to keep pores from clogging.

Now that you know what should be on the outside of the package, what sort of product should be inside? Next, we compare the different delivery systems for cleansing acne-prone skin.

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If you have dry skin, you might want to find an alternative to soap.
If you have dry skin, you might want to find an alternative to soap.
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Cleansers for body acne come in the same forms as other cleansers. Bars, liquids and gels are the most common. As far as effectiveness is concerned, ingredients count more than form. Consider your skin type, too. Many people find that bar soaps make dry skin worse, for instance.

Price and economy are another concern. A bar may be less expensive than a liquid on the store shelf, but it could cost more per use and leave a pool of unusable goo in the soap dish.

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Then there are personal preferences and priorities. Some people think bar soaps are more environmentally friendly because they typically come in less packaging than liquids or gels. On the other hand, they can be harder to rinse off if you have access to hard water where you live.

You'll get more from any type of cleanser by following these tips:

  • The cost of clean skin is eternal vigilance. Use the cleanser regularly, not just when a breakout threatens. Twice a day is recommended.
  • If the timing works out, cleanse your skin after activities that leave you sweaty. The salt and dirt in sweat can be particularly irritating.
  • Wait at least a few minutes after washing to apply any acne medication. "Chasing" some medications with others can trigger an outbreak -- following a benzoyl peroxide cleanser with a retinoid-containing cream, for example, can irritate your skin.
  • Apply cleansers by hand using a gentle massaging action. Scrubbing with a washcloth or mesh pad can aggravate the skin.
  • If at first you don't succeed, try a different cleanser. Brands vary in their formulation, and some might be better suited to your skin type than others.

One last word of advice: Be patient. It may be six weeks before you start to see an improvement. As Albert Einstein said, "It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer."

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Sources

  • American Academy of Dermatology. "7 Acne Skin Care Taboos." May 21, 2010 (Jan. 12, 2011) http://www.skincarephysicians.com/acnenet/acne_care_taboos.html
  • American Academy of Dermatology. "12 Ways to Get Better Results from Acne Treatments." Jan. 14, 2009 (Jan. 19, 2011) http://www.skincarephysicians.com/acnenet/twelve_results.html
  • Barrymore, John. "How to Get Rid of Body Acne." (Jan. 12, 2011) https://health.howstuffworks.com/skin-care/cleansing/tips/get-rid-of-body-acne.htm
  • BenzoylPeroxideInfo.com. "Salicylic Acid vs. Benzoyl Peroxide." (Jan. 13, 2011) http://www.benzoylperoxideinfo.com/salicylic-acid-vs-benzoyl-peroxide
  • Benzoyl Peroxide Info. "What Do Different Concentrations of Benzoyl Peroxide Products Do?" (Jan. 16, 2011) http://www.benzoylperoxideinfo.com/what-do-different-concentrations-of-benzoyl-peroxide-products-do/
  • Chi, LLC. "Banish Acne with Salicylic Acid." (Jan. 13, 2011) http://www.chiskinlabs.com/salisylicacid.html
  • iWise.com "Albert Einstein Perseverance Quotes." (Jan. 19, 2011) http://www.iWise.com/Albert_Einstein/Perseverance_quotes
  • Mayo Clinic. "Performance-Enhancing Drugs: Know the Risk." Dec. 23, 2010 (Jan. 13, 2011) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/performance-enhancing-drugs/HQ01105
  • MedlinePlus. "Acne." Dec. 11, 2009 (Jan. 17, 2011) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000873
  • Oakley, Amanda. "Hormone changes in acne." April 4, 2010 (Jan. 13, 2011) http://dermnetnz.com/acne/acne-hormones.html
  • The Beauty Brains. "How Does Oil-Free Moisturizer Work?" Sept. 22, 2008 (Jan. 17, 2011) http://thebeautybrains.com/2008/09/22/how-does-oil-free-moisturizer-work/

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