Was anyone else totally deceived about the whole idea that acne only happens in your teen years? Well guess what, The American Girl’s Guide to Puberty — here I am, 24 years old and acne is still a dark cloud over the storm that I call my life. The worst part is it’s not just pesky face pimples and nose blackheads. I’ve learned how to control face acne (or at least cover it up) by now. The part of adulthood I did not sign up for? Body acne — the dreaded breakouts over the body, most commonly found on the chest, back, or butt (or as I lovingly refer to as chestne, backne, and buttne… for the sake of time, of course!).
While body acne can be the same as face acne (clogged and irritated pores), it’s most commonly not acne at all, but actually something called folliculitis, which is an infection of the hair follicle. However, clogged pores and folliculitis can often be treated with the same methods, plus a few different tips and tricks. After all, we’re shattering glass ceilings, climbing corporate ladders, and living fulfilling lives – the last thing we need to worry about is a back pimple or butt breakout. Here’s how to banish body breakouts once and for all:
Avoid body washes and lotions with fragrance
Of course we all want to smell good, so I’ll give you the bad news first: the fragrance in scented body washes and lotions (especially when it’s artificial) can cause skin irritation that leads to breakouts. Here’s the good news: there are many natural and fragrance-free options out there that will moisturize just as well as your go-to french vanilla lotion or citrus-scented body wash. Look for “fragrance-free” on the bottle, or pick all-natural options that use essential oils for smell. You can also make your own lotion by combining coconut oil or shea butter (super moisturizing and will not clog pores) with an essential oil (tea tree oil helps with inflammation!).
Cleanse the right way
If you have super oily skin, using an active wash (like one with glycolic or salicylic acid) that’s not too harsh will likely clear up any body breakouts. However, you can’t just quickly rub a dime size amount all over under the shower like you would with other washes. These active ingredients take time to sink in, so for best results, coat the areas that need to be treated and wait a couple minutes for the acne-fighting ingredients to work their magic. Spend a few minutes letting it sink in while shaving your legs, scrubing your face, or singing the bridge of “Shallow” until you nail it — I don’t judge your in-shower ritual! If your breakouts are more irritated and/or come with dry skin or itchiness, using a gentle, fragrance-free body wash with tea tree oil or aloe will calm irritations.
Slough away dead skin cells
The skin on the body is much thicker and more durable than the skin on the face. Dead skin cells can often build up over our body from dryness, products like faux tanner (guilty!), and being exposed to less exfoliation than the skin on our face (I mean, do you wash your body every night with a Clarisonic brush and apply an acid treatment?). The dry skin can not only clog pores and cause breakouts, but can actually prevent active ingredients in washes from going deep enough. Try an acne-fighting body scrub before you wash, or dry brush your whole body before hopping in the shower (bonus: it boosts circulation!). If your breakouts are more prone to irritation and redness, cleanse with your normal cleanser and a body puff once a week.
Shower after a sweaty workout (or at least change clothes)
Sweat is mostly water – alone, it will not break you out (and there’s no need to avoid your favorite intense pilates class or heated gym session!). However, if sweat sits around for too long (on your skin or on your clothes), the bacteria that naturally lives on your skin mixed with bacteria from sweat is what clogs pores and causes irritation – lovely, isn’t it? It’s often why the skin on your butt (tight leggings) and chest area (*cough cough* boob sweat) is most prone to breakouts. Shower as soon as possible after a sweat session (or a particularly hot day). If a shower immediately after is not an option (i.e. rushing to work or a long day at the beach), at least change into clean clothes and carry body wipes for acne-prone areas post-sweat.
Try the occasional treatment
It’s 2019, and it’s not too extra to put a mask on your butt or a pimple patch on your chest acne. Sometimes stress, PMS, or excess sweat lingering for too long (curse you, hot yoga!) will cause a massive breakout or pesky pimple that a wash and scrub just cannot get under control. This means it’s time to call in the big guns — have larger-sized pimple patches on hand for chest or back pimples, and treat yourself to a treatment meant for body acne like a clay mask or body sheet mask to treat or prevent acne once every couple weeks.
You can also try applying spot treatments, but be warned – the ingredients in many spot treatments can cause fabrics to bleach, so let it fully sink in before putting on clothes and laying in your sheets, or for extra safety, wear a pair of shorts and a T-shirt you don’t care about getting bleached (yes, I do have a pair of cheap pajama shorts specifically for butt breakouts).
Examine your diet
By now you probably know that the foods you eat can either cause or cure acne and irritation, and that goes for your body breakouts too. Unfortunately, there’s no magical acne-clearing diet that works for everyone, but there are two common irritants that can cause acne and inflammation: sugar and dairy. Try cutting out dairy or watching your sugar intake to see if it clears chronic breakouts, and stick to organic foods that don’t contain hormones and antibiotics (any added hormones can change hormones in the body).
Also play around with food intolerances – I once read that gluten intolerances can show up as butt acne, and since limiting gluten, that dreaded butt acne has seriously cleared up (thank god for that, right!?). Also load up on leafy greens, berries, and orange produce like carrots or sweet potatoes for good-for-you antioxidants that can help clear up skin.
Pay attention to what your breakouts are telling you
Like other signs of inflammation and irritation, breakouts can often be signs of imbalance in the body. You might have heard of face mapping, or a holistic method of understanding the cause of acne that comes from Ayurveda and ancient Chinese Medicine. Well there’s also such thing as body mapping, which claims that breakouts have different causes based on the area of the body. For example, shoulder acne might mean stress, chest acne might mean digestive issues, and back acne might mean problems with the nervous system. If you’re cleaning properly, body mapping might be worth looking into as the source of your body acne. Talk to your doctor about reducing stress, checking for hormone imbalances, or easing digestive issues.