For many of us, acne begins at puberty and continues into adulthood. As we get older, zits tend to become less common but that's not to say that they go away completely. Even when our faces remain pretty clear, it's incredibly common for zits to pop up on other parts of our bodies– especially along our shoulders and back.
This type of acne, that we lovingly refer to as "bacne," is similar to the facial acne that haunted your teenage years in the sense that it's caused by pores getting clogged and bacteria is often to blame. However, the causes of bacne in adults are typically different from pubescent facial acne. Instead of raging hormones causing (to put it scientifically) our skin to have a panic attack, bacne is typically a byproduct of stress, irritation, and dirt.
Luckily, bacne is totally treatable. Here's our advice for reducing the frequency of breakouts, and shortening the lifespan of a breakout when it does occur.
One of the best things you can do for your skin, in general, is to exfoliate a few times each week. Exfoliating removes dead skin cells and bacteria– two of the main causes of acne– from the surface of your skin. As a result, it leaves your skin feeling softer and smoother while removing acne-causing build-up from your skin.
There are a variety of products you can use to exfoliate yourself but we recommend purchasing a scrubber like the one shown here, which you can find on Amazon. Using a scrubbing cloth like this one has many benefits. Perhaps most importantly, the length of the scrubber and its handles make it easy to clean your entire back. Even if you have moderate mobility limitations in your shoulders or arms, it's fairly easy to scrub even the hard-to-reach places. Plus, this type of scrubber is machine washable (meaning you don't have to worry about replacing it frequently to avoid bacteria build-up). Using a washable scrubbing cloth like this ensures that you don't need to use exfoliating scrubs that rely on plastic microbeads, which are horrible for the environment.
Use a Salicylic Acid-based Product
Most acne cleansers are made with a base of either salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. In general, you should use whichever you know will work best with your skin– we just prefer salicylic acid and recommend that you start there if you don't know which your body will respond to best.
Salicylic acid is a cleansing agent that can help to kill off acne-causing bacteria in your pores. If you already have existing acne, using a salicylic acid-based product in conjunction with exfoliation will help to kill off the bacteria in your zits and speed up your body's process of healing your zits. While benzoyl peroxide does the same thing, we prefer salicylic acid since it's less likely to bleach your towels or clothing if you still have some on your skin when you get out of the shower. Plus, several popular and effective cleansers use salicylic acid which you can find for a decent price at your local drug store.
A third option, if you prefer to go more natural, would be to use a tea tree-based body scrub. Tea tree oil is also a fantastic antibacterial and anti-fungal cleanser.
Work from the Inside Out
While the previously listed treatments are topical, keep in mind that acne is occurring within the skin. Like most other medical conditions, you can treat acne internally as well.
First and foremost, make sure you are staying adequately hydrated. While some folks like to treat drinking more water as if it were a cure-all for any and every ailment that comes up, there is some glimmer of truth amongst the hype and hyperbole. Your skin is an organ, and your organs require adequate hydration to operate at their best. When you're hydrated, your skin is going to be able to more easily maintain its elasticity and serve as a strong outer barrier for your body. While lotions and moisturizing products can help to keep your skin hydrated, the truest and most-effective means is ensuring that you're drinking enough water.
Secondly, cut back on the amount of processed foods, refined sugars, and dairy that you're eating. The food that you're eating fuels all of your bodily processes, including your those of your skin. These kinds of food have been shown to correlate with increased acne and sebaceous oil production. As a general rule of thumb, if you would categorize a food as junk food or indulgent, there's a good chance it's not going to be great for your skin. Enjoying these snacks in moderation can do wonders to help prevent breakouts on your shoulders, chest, and back. Speaking on a personal level, when I cut dairy out of my diet, I noticed a very rapid improvement in my skin, especially on my back.
Finally, consider adding probiotics to the supplements and vitamins you take daily. Some recent research suggests that increasing good bacteria in your gut can aid in your body's ability to prevent zits from occurring. Your gut is essentially your body's second brain, and having a healthy digestive system has been shown to have a dramatic impact on both your immune system and mood. Folks with inflammatory skin conditions, such as rosacea or eczema, are more likely to have flare-ups when their guts are out of whack; similarly, inflammation that can contribute to acne is more likely to occur when your gut isn't at its best. Your digestive track's influence on your mood is also important since stress in an incredibly common cause of acne in adults.
Consider Talking with Your Doctor
If you have persistent breakouts that are difficult to clear up, or if you're noticing cystic acne forming on your body, consider having a chat with your doctor or a dermatologist about it.
Though acne may make us think of teenagers and viral pimple-popping videos on YouTube, it's still a medical condition. If you knew that recurring bumps were forming along any of your other organs, wouldn't you be running to your doctor to discuss treatment? Your skin is an organ, and its health can be assessed and treated by a medical professional.
Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic, like doxycycline, to target the acne-causing bacteria in your skin. For cystic or severe acne, a more powerful treatment like Accutane may be required. Ultimately, your doctor will be able to advise on what would work best for your particular condition.
Avoid Picking or Popping
This one may be disappointing. There's something very satisfying about popping a zit that has been bugging you for a while. Even the gross, deep-under-the-skin ones that burst and splatter on your mirror have a grotesque appeal to them.
And yet, most professionals advise against squeezing on your zits at home. Doing so likely means you're putting your hands or unclean instruments on your acne-prone areas, which can introduce additional dirt and bacteria to the area. This means that while you may be getting one zit out of your skin, you're leaving a layer of oil, dirt, and bacteria on the same area; it's a recipe for forming new zits. On top of that, squeezing and picking at your skin can result in scarring since it can be quite damaging to the area around your zits.
Wash your Sheets and Towels
There's a good chance you need to be doing this more anyway! Your bed sheets and towels can quickly become filled with dead skin, bacteria, dirt, sweat, pet hair, pollutants, and everything else that comes off of your body. When you're laying in dirty sheets, you're pressing your skin up against all the ingredients needed to cause acne. Because of this, you should be washing your sheets and your towels at least once a week if you're able to do so. If you sweat a lot at night or let your pets sleep in the bed with you, you may even need to consider washing your sheets more frequently.
Clear Skin is On its Way!
If there's anything you take away from this article, let it be this: acne is normal and nothing to be embarrassed about, but if you want to decrease the amount of acne on your back and shoulders, following this advice can help with that.
Additionally, if you have any tips that have helped you with bodily acne in the past, be sure to share it in the comments below!