You rub your hands on your shoulders and feel the bumps. Red, inflamed pimples have formed on your upper back, below your neck. You may have scars from old blemishes, or constellations of pus-filled pores, whiteheads and blackheads all the way down to your waist.
It’s the dreaded back acne or “backne.” And now that summer is here, it’s only going to get worse.
But there are things you can do to help avoid flare-ups and keep backne at bay. Believe it or not, your first line of defense is your clothing!
Acne on the back, chest or shoulders is caused by the same combination of factors that causes acne on the face: the sebaceous glands secrete oily sebum, which combines with dead skin cells and bacteria, building up in the hair follicles and clogging them. Some people are more prone to developing back acne than others. About sixty percent of people with facial acne will also develop some degree of back acne.
But acne in areas generally covered by clothing can be exacerbated by what we wear. Here are a few suggestions to help minimize acne on the body.
- Beware of tight-fitting accessories. There is a form of acne called acne mechanica, which describes breakouts caused by mechanical means– namely straps, helmets or other accessories pressing or rubbing against the skin over a period of time. The lack of air flow, pressure, heat and friction all team up to produce a rash-type breakout. Common culprits include: chin straps, headbands or hats that fit tightly across the forehead, shoulder pads, and too-tight bras.
- Stay away from synthetics. When air can’t circulate against the skin, outbreaks are likely for people prone to back acne. Synthetic fibers are notorious for suffocating skin. Acrylic, polyester, rayon, acetate, and nylon are some of the most common synthetics you’ll find on department store shelves. Better for your back acne are natural, breathable fabrics like cotton and linen.
- Watch the backpack. Ever carry a backpack all day at an amusement park or on a hike? That feeling of a hot, sweaty object pressed against your back all day long is an invitation to a back acne breakout! Musical instrument cases can do the same. Try taking off the pack whenever possible or switching from arm to arm to get the air flowing.
- Wash your bra more often. Many women don’t have a bra for every day of the week or stick to a handful of favorites, but if you are wearing your bra day after day without giving it a good wash, dirt, sweat and grime can build up and cause breakouts under your breasts and on your back. Make it a point to wash your bras on a regular basis. That goes double for sports bras, which tend to be even tighter and cover more surface area.
- Ditch the gym clothes right after the workout. Sitting around in your sweaty gym clothes after exercising can also increase your chances of backne breakouts, especially if you’re wearing a tight workout shirt. The best bet is to shower right after your Zumba class or treadmill marathon and put on something clean and dry.
- Wear a cotton undershirt. Acne mechanica is very common in athletes and soldiers, who must wear certain uniforms and carry heavy gear in hot conditions. Sports physicians will often recommend wearing an absorbent cotton undershirt underneath their clothing to keep friction and sweat to a minimum.
People with facial acne and those living in hot, humid climates are also more prone to developing back acne. If following these recommendations and using over-the-counter acne products doesn’t control your back acne, a dermatologist can help. Call our office today to set up a consultation with one of our providers, clearer skin can be just days away.