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How to Get Rid of Back Acne: 19 Best Products and Tips From a Dermatologist

Because “Back acne is amazing!” said no one ever.

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Bacne (aka acne on your back and shoulders) isn't quite as visible as acne on your chest or face, but that doesn't make it any less complicated or frustrating to treat. Acne on your back is basically the same as acne elsewhere, and any type of breakouts can pop up back there, including deep underground cysts, comedones with whiteheads or blackheads, and other forms of inflamed bumps, according to Ava Shamban, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Ava MD. The unique challenge with acne on your back is that it's nearly impossible to see what you're workin' with, let alone properly apply your products to the entire area unless you have a roommate or, ya know, an incredibly flexible spine.

And its tricky location isn't the only factor that makes bacne a little different to treat from all the rest of your breakouts. Board-certified dermatologist Morgan Rabach, MD, cofounder of LM Medical in NY explains that the skin on your back is some of the thickest on your body, much thicker than the skin on your face, so figuring out how to get rid of back acne is gonna take a different approach and lots of pro tips. To give you all the information you need, we reached out to a bunch of dermatologists for their very best advice and product recommendations to prevent and treat bacne, so let's get into it.

What causes acne on the back?

Genetics, some medications, hormones, overall increased oil production that clogs the pores—the causes of back acne are the same as the causes of acne that you find on your face. But one additional factor that plays a huge role in the kind you find on your back, as Dr. Rabach points out, is sweat. "I also see a lot of people with sweat-induced acne from exercising and staying in sweaty clothes," Dr. Rabach explains. If that sounds like you, try changing out of any damp clothes as soon as you finish working out, and see if that helps reduce your zit frequency. If not, keep reading!

How do you get rid of back acne fast?

The absolute quickest way to treat back acne is with treatments available at a dermatologist's office, but if you have a mild or moderate case, a few at-home or over-the-counter treatments could help, too. “No home remedy or medication will work instantaneously, but there are a few solutions that can help treat breakouts and minimize inflammation,” says Rachel Maiman, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Marmur Medical. To prevent future breakouts from happening, you'll need to make a few adjustments to your lifestyle choices that could be causing your back acne.

And if you've currently got a back breakout, you'll also want to incorporate a few of the dermatologist-recommended bacne products below into your daily routine—but don’t overdo it. “Remember that over-treating the area can cause irritation and inflammation, and you do not want to get the area angry,” Dr. Shamban warns. Keep that in mind and scroll below to find out how to get rid of back acne the fastest way possible.

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Switch Out Your Hairstyling Products
Seen Skin-Caring Deeper Conditioner

What touches your hair, touches your skin, and that’s especially the case for the skin on your back. Hope Mitchell, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Mitchell Dermatology, says allowing shampoo or conditioner to run down your body during a bath or shower could be a sneaky cause of your bacne because “the ingredients may cause irritation and clog the pores.” According to Iris Rubin, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Seen, hair products that contain heavy oils, certain waxes, and styling polymers could potentially lead to clogged pores and breakouts, so stick with formulas free of all of the above (like the conditioner shown here) if you have an inkling that’s the cause of your bacne.

2 Eat a Healthy Diet
repeated asparagus, tomatoes and basil on the pink background
Yulia ReznikovGetty Images

The experts say diet definitely plays a role in preventing back acne, and Dr. Mitchell points out that eating too many foods high in glucose could be a contributing factor. “High sugar intake, as well as high dairy intake, can cause glycation, sluggish cellular turnover, and supplemental pore-clogging anywhere on the face and body,” adds Dr. Shamban. Improving nutrition, eating a more plant-based diet, and cutting out sugar and highly processed foods are all good preventative measures, according to Shamban. As far as the best foods for clear skin, board-certified dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD, previously told Cosmo that you'll want to fill your plate with probiotics, nuts, fruits, and dark, leafy greens.

Use A Back Cleansing Tool
AQUIS Double-Sided Exfoliating & Cleansing Back Scrubber

Dr. Shamban and board-certified dermatologist Michele Green, MD, recommend finding a good manual exfoliator tool, like one made of silicone or microfiber, with a handle that can extend. That way, you can tend to your entire back easily and regularly. Dr. Shamban recommends this two-sided band for cleansing and exfoliating in hard-to-reach places. Pour a bit of your acne body wash (more on which type to come) onto the middle of the band, wrap it around your back, then tug it from side to side to reach the entire surface area.

Shower With a Salicylic Acid Wash
Neutrogena Body Clear Body Wash

If you don't have a bottle of this in your shower rn, let's fix that. Dr. Rabach recommends showering with cleansers or body washes that contain salicylic acid. A fave acne ingredient, salicylic acid (aka BHA) helps reduce oil production (remember, an increase in oil clogs the pores, which leads to breakouts, yadda yadda). This classic cleansing formula uses 2 percent salicylic acid and is one you'll want to stock up on because *spoiler* you'll want to be showering more frequently, too.

Cleanse Your Back With Benzoyl Peroxide
PanOxyl Acne Creamy Wash, 4% Benzoyl Peroxide

Another daily body wash worth trying, this formula features the other holy-grail acne ingredient: benzoyl peroxide. It's antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, which means it's great for killing acne-causing bacteria and calming angry red pimples. If that sounds like your current situation, try this top pick from board-certified dermatologist Tiffany Libby, MD. Benzoyl peroxide can be drying, but this creamy wash contains 4% benzoyl peroxide (gentler but just as effective as 10%) and hydrating humectants and emollients to moisturize at the same time. “Lather it onto skin in the shower, let it sit for 2 to 3 minutes as short-contact therapy, and then rinse off,” says Dr. Libby.

Gently Exfoliate
AmLactin Daily Moisturizing Body Lotion
Now 41% off

Exfoliation is important for cell turnover, which will aid healing as it reduces the sebum buildup,” Dr. Green explains. A gentle way to slough off dead skin that could be contributing to your back acne is with a body lotion like this one that uses an AHA called lactic acid to exfoliate without any harsh scrubbies. “Because AHAs can be simultaneously exfoliating and hydrating, they are often an excellent choice,” says Dr. Maiman.

Cover It With a Pimple Patch
Peach Slices Deep Blemish Microdarts

If you’ve just got one big ol’ zit you’d like to zap, Dr. Maiman recommends hydrocolloid patches that have painless spikes (like the ones shown here) because they help deliver the ingredients deeper into the thicker skin on your back. These patches contain an acne-fighting blend of salicylic acid, tea tree, and willow bark and a hydrating-slash-soothing blend of hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and cica. The only downside to using one of these is how tricky it might be figuring out how to apply it over your shoulder, but if you're able to reach your dirty fingers around and pick, you and I both know you're able to slap a sticker on instead.

Protect Your Skin With Oil-Free Sunscreen
Specific Beauty Active Brightening Day Moisture Broad Spectrum SPF 30

Although your back doesn't see the light of day as frequently as your face, you'll still want to slather on the sunblock anytime you're in the sun to prevent it from damaging your skin, making your back breakouts worse, and causing (or prolonging) acne scars. If you have some lingering spots following a breakout, Dr. Mitchell recommends Ambi Fade Cream used in conjunction with sunscreen to help fade hyperpigmentation leftover from the bacne. This broad-spectrum sunscreen is oil-free so you don't have to worry about causing more bacne while protecting your skin from the sun.

Wipe Down After Workouts
Base Butter Sustainable Antibacterial Makeup Remover and Pre-cleansing Cloths

Gym time: great for relieving stress and clearing your mind, not so great for maintaining clear skin. Trapped sweat is another common culprit of a bacne breakout, but as long as you shower after each sweat session, you don’t have to choose between working out and a zit-free back. Can’t rinse off ASAP? Dr. Rabach suggests a quick after-the-gym wipe to remove sweat and oil before they clog your pores. Stick these reusable wipes in your gym bag, wet one down, and use it to wipe away the sweat that gets trapped under your sports bra straps or tight-fitting workout tops until you can get home to shower.

Avoid Tight Clothing
Zella Energy Tank

Dr. Shamban, generally, suggests wearing natural fibers that breathe (like cotton and silk) and eliminating fabrics like lycra and spandex until your bacne clears. But when you’re working out, Dr. Rabach recommends moisture-wicking fabrics to keep the area dry. Dr. Mitchell also suggests avoiding tight clothing, which can cause irritation on the skin and trap dirt, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to work out shirtless if your exercises require you to lay on the dirty floor. This loose tank allows for good airflow, it's made from moisture-wicking fabric, and it keeps your back covered. And remember: If you can’t shower or wipe down your body immediately after your workout, change out of your sweaty gym outfit and into a clean, dry shirt until you can.

Wash Your Sheets and Towels Frequently
Parachute Percale Sheet Set

…and as soon as you're done with that workout top and reusable wipe, throw everything in the laundry ASAP. Not only should you wash your workout clothes after every single use, but you also want to throw in your bath towels and sheets while you're at it. In addition to normal dirt and debris, “styling products, by design, leave a residue that can transfer to the skin from your hair, a pillowcase, or towel,” says Dr. Rubin. In other words, even if you shower with the intention, you could be getting your back all dirty again when you dry off. “Dirty bedsheets and towels can contain a buildup of the bacteria that causes acne. which is called P. acnes,” Michelle Henry, MD, board-certified dermatologist explains.

Use Gentle Detergent
Seventh Generation Concentrated Laundry Detergent, Free & Clear Unscented

“I would recommend frequent washing of towels and bedsheets to make sure that you're not creating a vicious acne cycle,” Dr. Henry adds. And make sure to use a gentle laundry detergent. Board-certified dermatologist Jeanine Downie, MD, previously told Cosmo that some of the chemicals in certain laundry detergents can be too harsh for your skin and cause breakouts. If you've recently switched detergents and noticed more back breakouts, try picking up a tub of this dye- and fragrance-free formula made for sensitive skin.

A Physical and Chemical Exfoliator
SkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser
Now 15% off

For the face, derms generally prefer gentler chemical exfoliants (like salicylic acid or glycolic acid) to help dissolve dirt and oil in clogged pores and remove dead skin cells rather than a harsher physical one, which sloughs away the dead skin mechanically. But for the back, Dr. Rabach recommends exfoliating with a combination of both physical and chemical exfoliants, like this AHA/BHA scrub by SkinMedica. Just don’t overdo it! Being too aggressive can cause irritation and a weakened skin barrier.

A Salicylic Acid Spray
Paula’s Choice Clear Acne Body Spray
Now 15% off

When your breakout is hard to see, and thus hard to treat, grab a medicated spray. Both Dr. Maiman and Corey Hartman, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology, are big fans of acne treatments with spray applicators for hard-to-reach places. This one by Paula’s Choice is a favorite of Dr. Maiman’s for how convenient and easy it is to sufficiently cover the area. The spray nozzle makes it so you don’t have to do that awkward, over-the-shoulder, elbow-twisting reach behind your back. And the formula, which contains acne-fighting salicylic acid to help reduce oil production and licorice root to calm irritation, soothes as it clears the skin.

Spot Treat With Benzoyl Peroxide
Glytone Acne 3P Treatment Gel

Dr. Libby would recommend using both a benzoyl peroxide cleanser and a topical (like this spot treatment) to patients, but it depends on two things: whether your skin can tolerate it and whether you can tolerate stained sheets. Benzoyl peroxide is notorious for bleaching clothing, towels, and sheets, so Dr. Rabach generally recommends sticking with some of the other exfoliating ingredients mentioned. That said, if you’re willing to give it a shot, a spot treatment like this could be really helpful for bacne—just stick with white fabrics when using it.

Try A Retinoid
Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment

If your back acne looks more like a few big zits rather than a breakout over the entire area, Dr. Rabach suggests spot-treating with the over-the-counter retinoid Differin. This gel clears acne and stops breakouts from forming and also helps prevent the dreaded acne scarring that follows. Dr. Maiman's tip: Apply the retinoid with an applicator tool, such as Aquasentials Easy Lotion Applicator, so you can make sure the area’s totally covered even if you don't have someone around to help you.

Apply Yeast-Killing Dandruff Shampoo
Selsun Blue Moisturizing with Aloe Dandruff Shampoo
Now 20% off

For the record, there’s no such thing as “fungal acne.” What you might have is actually a type of folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicle), which is related to acne but a little different. “I do think that folliculitis is a much more common condition than acne is,” Dr. Hartman says. “And if you’re going to have folliculitis, you’re more likely to have it on the trunk than you are on the face.” The cause of your folliculitis could be yeast, fungus, or bacteria, so you’ll want to see a doctor to determine the best treatment for your specific situation. For example, if you’re experiencing Malassezia folliculitis, which is caused by yeast, board-certified dermatologist Christine Choi Kim previously told Cosmo that it could be improved with a dandruff shampoo containing zinc pyrithione or selenium sulfide.

18 Take Oral Medication
close up of pink medicines over white background
rath phl chiy thwil / EyeEmGetty Images

Back acne can be more resistant to treatment than on the face (probs because the skin is thicker, and topical medications aren’t able to reach deep enough), so Dr. Maiman says more often it requires prescription acne medications to be treated effectively.
If your bacne is more severe, Dr. Hartman says oral medication, such as Accutane or antibiotics, is the quickest way to clear things up. “Oral medications work best for back acne because it tends to be in the deeper layers of skin than facial acne and because it is difficult to really stick to a routine of cream application on the back,” Dr. Rabach explains. Consult your doctor to determine which medication might help your situation.

19 Try In-Office Treatments
empty doctor's office
bojanstoryGetty Images

Sometimes in-office treatments are seen as a last resort, but usually, they’re the fastest and most effective. For bacne, board-certified dermatologist Bruce Katz, MD, of JUVA Skin and Laser Center, recommends Cell FX, which uses a technology called nano pulse stimulation to injure the sebaceous glands to the point where they stop producing oil, and as a result, clears acne. Dr. Green also loves HydraFacials for body acne, which exfoliate dead skin cells and hydrate the skin. From laser treatments, like Fraxel, to microdermabrasion, you’ve got a lot of treatment options, and your derm can let you know exactly which would be the best—and faster—way for you to get rid of your back acne.

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