You look in the mirror to see a pus-filled explosion has erupted on your nose and chin. You turn around to catch a glimpse of the cyst-like pimples that have taken up residence on your back, and any sort of pressure you put on them causes a lot of pain. No, you haven't contracted the plague. It's just acne, but the pain, discomfort and embarrassment of having less than perfect skin can certainly make you feel like an outcast.
Acne is a skin condition that produces inflamed breakouts on your skin. The breakouts occur when your skin's sebaceous glands, which produce the sebum (oil) that keeps your skin and hair moisturized, become clogged by dead skin cells or an abundance of sebum. When clogging occurs, bacteria can develop, and these bacteria are at the root of acne's inflammation. Whether you call them zits, pimples, blackheads or whiteheads, acne breakouts tend to be one of two major varieties:
- Acne vulgaris: This is the more common form of acne, which manifests itself in blackheads or whiteheads.
- Acne cystic: This severe form of acne occurs when the clog is deep within the follicle. It manifests itself in the form of red bumps, pustules, nodules and cysts on the skin. These can be very painful, and they can also cause scarring.
Acne typically affects teenagers when their bodies go through hormonal changes, which can stimulate the sebaceous glands and trigger overproduction of sebum. While most teenagers will outgrow their acne problems, adults can also have breakouts, most notably women in the days leading up to menstruation.
Acne appears on the areas of body where the sebaceous glands are most dense. Most acne sufferers -- a full 92 percent of them -- experience facial acne. The back and chest are also problem areas for people with acne, with 60 percent of sufferers reporting breakouts in these areas [source: McCoy].
Acne on your back, or "bacne," as some call it, tends toward the more severe types of acne, causing more pain, scarring and even extreme embarrassment. Let's take a look at what causes this severe acne and how you can combat it.
Back Acne Causes
Although doctors aren't certain why acne occurs, they do know some key factors that make a person more acne-prone [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. As we mentioned previously, hormones can be a big cause of acne. When puberty hits, a teenager's androgenic hormones, which include estrogen or testosterone, can go into overdrive and cause the sebaceous glands to pump out excess sebum. The follicles can't handle it all, so clogged pores result. Adult women may also experience breakouts during hormonal changes that occur just before their menstrual cycle begins.
Heredity may also be a factor in how acne affects you. If one or both of your parents had acne, you're at a greater risk for inheriting the triggers that cause overproduction of sebum and lead to clogged follicles [source: Fulton].
Environmental and situational factors may also trigger a condition called acne mechanica, in which acne occurs on areas of the body where the skin's more susceptible to aggravation by heat, pressure or friction. Pollution and high humidity can also be factors in back acne because they create the perfect conditions for clogged pores and breakouts.
If you participate in sports, you can get acne mechanica along your hairline from wearing a helmet. Tight uniforms that put a lot of pressure on the skin can also be a cause of acne mechanica. But athletes aren't the only ones prone to this condition. Musicians who play string instruments can develop acne around the chin area from having to hold their instruments underneath their chins.
From these examples, it's easy to understand how acne mechanica can manifest itself on a person's back. Students toting around heavy backpacks can develop acne on their backs from the pressure of the straps. People who work outside in hot weather can develop acne from too-tight clothing. People who drive a lot can be prone to back acne from the pressure of the seat on their backs.
Some people believe that stress or certain foods, such as chocolate or fried food, play a role in acne development. However, scientists have not discovered anything to prove these myths correct [source: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research].
Now that we know a little more behind the causes of back acne, let's take a look at how you can control it.
Back Acne Treatments
Bacne can sometimes be alleviated through home treatments. Some home remedies also stoke a lot of old wives' tales, so steer clear of these so-called "remedies":
Some home remedies, such as gels made with 5 percent tea tree oil, zinc supplements and glycolic acid, may relieve the pain caused by back acne [source: Gibson]. Wearing loose-fitting, breathable clothing will also relieve some pressure and friction on your back and allow skin to breathe properly.
Over-the-counter topical and oral medications may further help treat acne. Cleansers containing 2 percent salicylic acid and spot treatments with benzoyl peroxide will help dry excess oil. Apply them to clean skin and cover the entire affected area. Continue using, even if your breakouts appear to have disappeared. If you find it difficult to reach your back, you may want to go to a spa for a back facial. You can also get similar results at home with a loofah sponge or back brush and specialized acne body wash made with salicylic and glycolic acid.
But sometimes home treatment isn't enough to clear up stubborn acne. If OTC treatments don't help after four to 12 weeks of usage, if your skin is scarred or if the acne affects your self-esteem, you should seek help from a dermatologist. A dermatologist can thoroughly examine your skin, diagnose the problem and prescribe the proper medicine for your situation.
With proper care, you can diminish the embarrassment of back acne and enjoy beautiful skin. Read on for more information about acne.
- The A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia. "Seborrheic dermatitis." July 18, 2007. (March 7, 2011)http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001959/
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Acne." November 2009. (March 7, 2011) http://www.aad.org/public/publications/pamphlets/common_acne.html
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Acne Mechanica." AcneNet. 2010. (March 7, 2011)http://www.skincarephysicians.com/acnenet/article_acnemechanica.html
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Frequently Asked Questions About Acne." AcneNet. 2010. (March 7, 2011)http://www.skincarephysicians.com/acnenet/FAQ.html#6
- Dador, Denise. "Prep for the beach with a 'back facial'." KABC TV/DT. June 2, 2008. (March 7, 2011)http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/health&id=6181594
- Fulton, James, Jr. "Acne Vulgaris." Medscape. Dec.17, 2010. (March 7, 2011) http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1069804-overview
- Gibson, Lawrence E. "Natural acne treatment: What's most effective?" Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Oct. 20, 2009. (March 7, 2011)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/natural-acne-treatment/AN01716
- Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. "Acne." Nov. 3, 2009. (March 7, 2011) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/acne/DS00169
- McCoy, Krisha. "How to Treat Back Acne." Everyday Health. Feb. 17, 2010. (March 7, 2011)http://www.everydayhealth.com/acne/back-acne-treatment.aspx
- McCoy, Krisha. "The Truth About Natural Acne Remedies." Everyday Health. Feb. 17, 2010. (March 7, 2011)http://www.everydayhealth.com/acne/natural-acne-remedies.aspx
- WebMD. "Acne - Topic Overview." Healthwise, Inc. Feb. 27, 2009. (March 7, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/acne-vulgaris-topic-overview