Acne on the Back

Acne is a common skin disorder that affects people of all ages across continents. As more people are getting affected, scientists are trying to find newer and more effective treatment for acne. While it is true that most types of acne affect the face, other parts of the body like the back, chest, neck and hands can also get affected.

Acne on the back is very common and difficult to treat since the skin on the back is tough.  Back acne (sometimes called bacne) also affects the upper arms and buttocks. Acne vulgaris of the back is the medical term for back acne. Back acne is as irritating as acne that occurs on the face. The skin on the back encounters different types of clothing throughout the day and night, irritating the skin and making back acne more difficult to cure than outbreaks on the face.

Causes of Back Acne

Just like other parts of the body, acne on the back is caused when there is excessive secretion of sebum – the oily substance secreted by the sebaceous glands. Sebum is actually beneficial to the skin for it lubricates the skin, keeps in glowing and waterproof. However, excessive sebum secretion clogs hair follicles. Clogged pores do not provide an exit route for flaky skin and these combine on the surface to form whiteheads or blackheads. When P.acnes (bacteria), attacks these clogged pores, we develop inflamed acne like pimples, pustules, papules or nodules. 

There are several reasons why acne occurs on the back:

  • If your parents suffer from back acne, chances are that your genes will make you predisposed to developing back acne. Hence, back acne could be hereditary.
  • During puberty, pregnancy and menopause women suffer from hormonal imbalance causing an excessive production of the male hormone androgen. This in turn increases production of sebum causing acne outbreaks.
  • Carrying heavy backpacks regularly causes abrasions on the back and shoulders
  • Some types of clothing can irritate the skin on the back
  • Excessive sun and heat also aggravate back acne
  • Rain or sweat after exercising can also be irritants

When backpacks or tight clothing cause back acne, it is called ‘acne mechanica’. This is a form of acne that is caused due to heat aggravation and constant and repetitive friction and pressure on the skin. This irritation causes inflammatory response by the skin resulting in an acne outbreak.

Treatment of back acne

Home Remedies for acne on the back

Dermatologists always advise prevention is better than cure especially for acne on the back. Follow regular cleansing routines using mild soaps and wash the affected area 2-3 times a day. Use a cleanser like glycolic acid that works well for it removes excessive oil without drying out skin.   Wash hair thoroughly removing all traces of hair shampoo and conditioner. Do not squeeze or prick your back acne lesions.

back acne

OTC products for acne on the back

Many over-the-counter (OTC) creams and gels can control mild back acne outbreaks. These products include resorcinol, benzoyl peroxide, sulfur and salicylic acid.   These medications reduce oil production, control flaking and clogging of skin cells and kill bacteria.

Prescription medications

If home remedies and OTC products do not cure back acne, a visit to the dermatologist will be needed. Dermatologists will prescribe oral antibiotics or topical antibiotics such as gels, lotions or creams. These will kill bacteria that cause back acne. Retinoids, isotretinoin or birth control pills could be prescribed for severe back acne. All these medications are powerful and produce side-effects. Hence, they must be taken only under strict medical supervision.

Laser Treatment for back acne

Blue and red light laser treatment can control outbreak of back acne. These reach deeper into the skin and kill the root cause of acne without affecting the surface of the skin. Laser therapy kills the oil glands that produce the excessive oil, therefore destroying back acne treatmentsbacteria. 

Alternative Treatments for Back Acne

Many people opt for alternative herbal or homeopathic treatment for acne since conventional allopathic medications may not work. Another concern is that allopathic medications can cause skin irritations, birth defects and patients could develop resistance to certain antibiotics.

However, alternative treatments do not need to be thoroughly tested before they are sold commercially. Hence, discuss treatment plans with your dermatologist before trying any alternative treatments for back acne.

Herbal Therapy for acne on the back

  • Manuka honey is extracted from manuka bush found in New Zealand. It has wound-healing and antibacterial properties and it halts production of free radicals, therefore helping in the treatment of acne.
  • Tea Tree Oil is extracted from a tree found in Australia. For many years, tea tree oil as a water-based gel has been promoted as an excellent treatment for acne. While it has the same effect as benzoyl peroxide, it does not have any of the side effects, making it a safer alternative. It is meant only as a topical medication and not for oral ingestion.
  • Tannins are got when you boil 5-10g of extract from white oak, witch hazel or English walnut trees and mixed in one cup water and applied. Tannins posses natural astringent benefits that help in the cure of acne.
  • Fruit acids have natural properties that can clear dead skin. Such fruit acids are malic, tartaric, glycolic, citric, gluconolactone and gluconic acids.
  • Vitex is an extract from a whole fruit and is an oral acne treatment. It benefits premenstrual acne as it reduces estrogen levels and increases progesterone levels. It cannot be taken by pregnant and breastfeeding women.
  • Brewer’s yeast controls acne as it has antimicrobial properties.
  • Calendula or marigold flowers are dried, steeped like tea in hot water and then applied on the skin as a face wash. This is effective for these flowers contain anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.
  • Burdock or cleavers can be made into tincture using a combination of water and alcohol. This cleansing solution could help acne.

Aromatherapy using essential oils such as chamomile, bergamot, lavender or juniper can be mixed with warm water and used to wash affected areas.

Homeopathy: Specific remedies will be suggested by the homeopath that will be tailor made to suit each individual. Common acne prescriptions use sulfur, hepar sulphuris calcareum and kali bromatum.

Hydrotherapy remedies for acne include rubbing the body with a cold and wet wash cloth and applying ice to the sores.

Detoxification and special diets have been promoted as alternative treatments for acne. Detoxification eliminates waste and toxins, therefore cleansing the body.

Prevention of back acne

If genetics or hormonal fluctuations cause back acne there is nothing you can do to prevent it. Since we know some of the causes of acne on the back, we can adopt measures to prevent its recurrence. If you find that carrying a backpack has been the cause of back acne or if the acne on your back flares up every time you carry your backpack, switch over to a hand bag or shoulder bag for awhile until symptoms improve.

If certain types of clothing irritate your back, experiment with different materials. Try materials that are light and airy. These allow better circulation of air on the affected area and absorb excessive sweat. Cotton clothes are the best especially in warm climates for they are non-abrasive. Excessive sun is an irritant so keep out of the sun or use an umbrella. Keep your back dry and aired. If you are out in the rain, wear protective clothing. If you exercise a lot, shower once you finish, therefore washing off sweat quickly. 

Certain medications that contain steroids, androgens and lithium increase the chances of contracting acne. Do not use oil-based cosmetics since your skin already secretes excessive oil. Use cosmetics that are non-comodogenic to prevent blackheads.   Simple preventive measures can control back acne outbreaks.