How to Get Rid of Back Acne

We had the experts spill all their genius tips and tricks so you can show off your gorgeous backless dress on your wedding day.
by Christa Joanna Lee
  1. bride in lace fringe low back wedding dress
    B&G Photography

    They say that the only things certain in life are death and taxes, but we're also positive there isn't a single bride out there who wants to deal with back acne leading up to (and especially on) their wedding day. If this season's runways were your inspiration, chances are your wedding dress is as gorgeous from the back as it is in the front with of-the-moment styles like a flirty cutout, sheer panel or a completely plunging backless statement. And as excited as you are to celebrate the special occasion, backless wedding dresses can be a source of anxiety if you're battling with back acne. While there isn't a miracle beauty wand that can make bacne disappear overnight, read on below for expert advice from the pros on how to get rid of back acne over time.

  2. What Causes Back Acne, Anyway?

    In order to treat a skin condition, it's helpful to learn the source of it. Bacne is similar to facial acne in the way overactive oil glands, hormones, genetics, stress and diet can cause breakouts. “Your skin on your back, however, is obviously harder to reach and therefore probably doesn't receive as much attention and care as the rest of your body," says New York City dermatologist Dr. Hadley King. “Some people are inherently prone to back breakouts, but it can also be exacerbated by amping up your workouts as you're gearing up for the big day," she says. Even though a gym session is great for keeping your body and mind healthy, the increase of sweat and oil on your back creates a pore-clogged New York City environment that acne loves. “Stress also plays a major role," adds dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman. Late nights figuring out your wedding budget can release cortisol, which is a stress hormone in your body that causes the glands under your skin to produce more oil. There are plenty of other sneaky bacne triggers, too: “Brides-to-be often want to look their best, and experiment with new hair masks, self-tanners and other products that contain oils, which can clog the pores on your back," says Dr. Jaliman. Bacne is a bit of a double-edged sword: “though the skin on your back is physically harder to manage than your face, it can handle more aggressive treatment since it's less sensitive and more resilient," says Dr. Jaliman.

    To really understand what causes back acne, it helps to learn the four main contributing factors: excess oil production, clogged hair follicles, bacteria and hormones. You can get acne anywhere you have a hair follicle, but you’re more likely to see whiteheads and blackheads in areas that have the most oil glands. Your back and shoulders are among the most oil-prone areas on your body, so it’s no surprise that acne occurs there. 

    Back acne treatments can help control for a lot of the most common contributing factors, but genetics also play a significant role. If your parents suffer from acne, you’re more likely to see impurities on your own skin. Of course, certain factors can increase the severity of acne – in addition to stress, certain medications can cause acne to worsen.

    How Diet and Hygiene Contribute to Back Acne

    You’ve probably heard that greasy foods can cause acne breakouts. While being around excessive amounts of oil can increase acne on your back, you’d have to be working as a fry cook to see such results. The Mayo Clinic says that eating greasy food has little to no effect on acne. Before you reach for your favorite snacks, though, keep this bit of trivia in mind: carbohydrates can worsen acne. 

    Hygiene can also play a role in the development of back acne, but not in the way you might expect. To understand what causes back acne, it helps to know that dirty and clean skin is equally prone to pimples. Oil, not dirt, causes acne. Scrub too frequently and your skin may develop more oil to compensate. Ignore your hygiene at your own risk, though – oils will still build up and cause more back acne to break out. It’s all about finding a happy medium for your skin.

  3. Back Acne Treatment

    Your acne-blasting game plan truly depends on the type of bacne you're dealing with: if you have cysts, which are painful zits that bubble underneath the skin's surface, you want to see a dermatologist for a quick-acting cortisone shot, oral antibiotic or a stronger topical treatment. On the other hand, “pustules, which are the type of blackheads and whiteheads where the infection works its way up to the surface of the skin, can definitely be treated at home," says Dr. Jaliman. “The best way to get rid of milder back acne is by starting on a smart combination of over-the-counter salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide products as early as possible," she says. Whether you're planning on tackling your bacne on your own or you want some know-how before heading over to your doctor's office, here's what you should consider:

    For an Over-the-Counter Regimen

    Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are both common acne-fighting ingredients found in many over-the-counter treatments. “I like mixing several products with each ingredient because they work in different ways," says Dr. Jaliman. “Just like you would combine cardio with weight training to get leaner, you'd use both salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide to fight off acne," she says. Salicylic acid is considered a beta hydroxy acid, which is great for exfoliating and removing dead skin cells on the surface and reducing redness. Benzoyl peroxide is a powerful antibacterial ingredient that gets deep inside the pore to kill the bacteria causing acne. While it's safe for your skin, it's known to bleach clothing and other fabrics.

  4. Back Acne Body Washes

    Back acne body washes

    1. “This cleanser is meant for your face, but it's great for the back, too, especially if you're starting on a new routine and want to experiment with what works," says Dr. King. It's gentle enough to use daily, but it has the highest concentration of benzoyl peroxide (10%) that you can get over the counter so it's really effective.

    Clean & Clear Continuous Control Acne Cleanser, $5.39, drugstore.com

    2. This creamy wash containing 3.5% benzoyl peroxide can be used as an everyday cleanser or as an occasional mask. Spread on a thin layer over your back (use a soft wash cloth if it's hard to reach) and leave it on for five minutes to deeply penetrate each the blemish.

    Neutrogena Clear Pore Cleanser & Mask, $6.79, soap.com

    3. The thick consistency of this wash helps it cling onto excess dirt and oil to gently unclog pores. The 4% benzoyl peroxide formula is mild enough to use two or three times a day, but if you're prone to dry skin, start with one application and gradually work your way up.

    PanOxyl Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Creamy Wash, $11.99, walgreens.com

  5. Back Acne Body Moisturizers

    back acne body moisturizers

    Since acne medications can be drying, it's important to properly moisturize the affected area. “Those with acneic skin might have issues with certain lotions and creams clogging their pores even further, so look for ones that are labeled 'oil-free' and 'non comedogenic,'" says Dr. King. Since it's difficult to apply touch-up spot treatments to your back acne especially during the work day, use a lotion incorporating salicylic acid in the morning to not only instantly combat dryness, but help heal back blemishes throughout the day.

    1. This lotion is like the gift that keeps on giving: the antimicrobial formula kills bacteria in your pores while it intensely hydrates your skin. Plus, we love how the lightweight consistency dries quickly and feels comfortable underneath your clothes. “If your skin is super sensitive, avoid layering a new salicylic acid product with other skin care at the same time," says Dr. King.

    Philosophy Clear Days Ahead Oil-Free Salicylic Acne Treatment & Moisturizer, $39, sephora.com

    2. This non-greasy lotion uses 0.5% salicylic acid to effectively treat body acne. It helps get existing back acne under control, but also works to prevent new ones from popping up in the future, too.

    Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Control Moisturizer, $6.79, drugstore.com

    3. This silky lotion controls excess sebum production while packing your skin with moisture and good-for-you ingredients. The lower pH level (the ideal range is 3-4) works with your skin to properly function as an exfoliant without drying it out.

    Paula's Choice Weightless Body Treatment With 2% BHA, $25, paulaschoice.com

  6. Exfoliator Products

    back acne exfoliator products

    Two or three times a week, swap out your body acne wash for an exfoliator. “Exfoliation is key to help slough off dead skin cells from getting trapped in your pores. Plus, it increases circulation and encourages cell turnover," says Dr. Jaliman. “Just avoid scrubbing too vigorously or you'll over dry your skin. It's so important not to strip skin of its natural oils because your body tries to compensate by producing more oil, which causes breakouts." It can be a vicious cycle, but you can help avoid it with these gentle exfoliators that do the job.

    1. This wash contains round, smooth beads, which is ideal for those with extremely sensitive or sun-damaged skin. The bubbly formula is infused with antioxidants like vitamin C and a 2% salicylic treatment so it continues working long after you wash it off. We're also obsessed with the refreshing pink grapefruit scent, which helps us start the day on a cheery note.

    Neutrogena Body Clear Body Wash in Pink Grapefruit, $7.99, neutrogena.com

    2. This scrub contains a skin-clearing trifecta: pulverized olive, fig and date seeds (which sheds dead skin cells), papaya enzymes (which stimulates cell turnover) and rice bran (known to hydrate and smooth skin). “You can use an exfoliating scrub on its own, or for an even deeper clean, try pairing it with a Clarisonic on a gentle speed," says Dr. Jaliman.

    Dermalogica Exfoliating Body Scrub, $36, dermalogica.com

    3. The slightly irregular shape of tiny walnut particles are a great advantage to this scrub. “Since the skin on your back is tougher than your face, you can opt for a slightly more heavy-duty exfoliator like this one that's made specifically for the body," says Dr. Jaliman.

    St. Ives Blemish Control Apricot Scrub, $5.29, drugstore.com

  7. Acne Treatments

    acne treatment products

    Most of the real acne-healing magic happens overnight. “Getting a good amount of sleep and keeping your stress levels low really helps prevent back acne from flaring up," says Dr. Graf. Keep your bedroom air temperature relatively cool so you don't sweat in your sleep. “If you have long hair, try to sleep with your hair up so any potential pore-clogging products you're using on your strands don't brush up against your back," she says. You want to wear loose cotton clothing at night, which not only absorbs moisture better, but also gives your back acne some room to breathe and lets these easy-to-use bacne treatments work their powers while you sleep.

    1. Obviously, the major issue of getting rid of back acne is that the area is difficult to reach. If your fiancé isn't able to help rub on a lotion, this clarifying spray with salicylic acid solves the issue with a 360 degree nozzle that you can even spritz upside down. It's also made with menthol, which helps cool and comfort irritated skin—particularly rejuvenating after a tough workout.

    Murad Clarifying Body Spray, $40, sephora.com

    2. This handy salicylic spray also sprays on in any direction and you'll appreciate its quick-drying powers so you don't have to wait too long before tossing on your clothes. The travel-friendly size is great for maintaining your regimen during your honeymoon, too.

    Glytone Back Acne Spray, $19, dermstore.com

    3. This beta hydroxy acid spray has a smaller concentration of salicylic acid (about 0.5%) but is made of a unique mix of other ingredients like sodium chlorite that are particularly good at breaking apart bacteria for an extended period of time.

    Glo Therapeutics Back Acne Treatment, $33.50, gloprofessional.com

    With an at-home program, you want to give it at least a month before you start seeing results. “You can absolutely treat acne with products from the drugstore or department store, but you won't see an acne-clearing phenomenon happen overnight," says dermatologist Dr. Jeannette Graf, an assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. “You have to be proactive about seeing it through for at least four to five weeks, and if you're not finding any improvement, it's time to make an appointment with a derm."

    Prescription Acne Treatments

    If you have recurring acne, cystic acne or you're experiencing dark marks and scars, make an appointment with your dermatologist. A doctor can assess the severity of your situation and pinpoint the issue so you're not wasting time on time or money on over-the-counter products that aren't strong enough. “Your dermatologist will be able to figure out the best method of treatment, whether it's a low-dose antibiotic, a change of birth control pills, a more powerful topical cream or a cortisone shot," says Dr. Jaliman.

    Many of these treatments will also take about a month for you to really start seeing results, but a cortisone shot will show immediate improvement—useful if you feel a stress pimple rearing its ugly head a few days before your wedding. “The best part is that your doctor can usually can administer a steroid shot the same day that you call because the procedure is very quick," says Dr. Graf.

    If the issue still doesn't subside, have a conversation with your dermatologist about other long-term prescription drug options like Aczone, Accutane or spironolactone for hormonal acne, says Dr. Graf.

    For the DIY-er

    We'd be lying if we said we haven't tried home bacne remedies like toothpaste as an acne spot treatment and a lemon to lighten dark marks. But especially in the months leading up to your wedding, now isn't the time to be particularly experimental with incorporating homemade or kitchen ingredients into your routine. “There isn't much scientific backing with the success of food-grade products used topically," says Dr. Graf. “I'd recommend sticking to a healthy, balanced diet, and avoid dairy, which has hormones that are known to irritate sensitive skin. When you digest food, the acids in your stomach gets rid of any toxins, but if you apply it topically, you're exposing the blemish to invisible chemicals and bacteria," she says. A gentle sugar or salt scrub made with olive oil can be a great homemade exfoliator, but beyond that it's worth the investment of purchasing skin care products with ingredients that are proven to be effective on bacne.

  8. How to Get Rid of Back Acne Scars

    back acne scar products

    As if getting rid of your back acne wasn't stressful enough, a whole new problem emerges: acne scars. They develop when inflammation from deep cysts and blemishes damages the collagen in your skin. “Healthy tissue is replaced by scar tissue, which is why there can be indentations, redness and uneven texture," says Dr. King. Although the short-term solution comes from the help of a really great concealer (try: Amazing Cosmetics Full Cover Concealer, $42, sephora.com), the best way to get rid of acne in the long term will take some patience and diligently incorporating a lightening cream in your daily beauty regimen. For hyper-pigmented scars that aren't set too deep, slather on these lotions and potions:

    1. The thought of applying oil anywhere near your bacne used to send us running for the hills, but it's actually your secret weapon when it comes to recuperating acne scars. It keeps skin hydrated and supple to make the healing process go faster, and vitamin E improves the scar's texture.

    Bio-Oil Scar Treatment, $9.19, drugstore.com

    2. This chemical peel kit comes with an ampoule of ointment that you dispense on the pad to gently exfoliate your back and reveal younger looking tissue. The glycolic and salicylic acid combo dissolves dull tissue so it helps make your other skincare products sink in better and work more effectively, too.

    Peter Thomas Roth 40% Triple Acid Peel, $88, sephora.com

    3. While your skin's naturally repairing itself overnight, a smart combo of peptides, collagen and antioxidants in this cream help speed up the process of acne wounds. Use it once a night for two months on fresh bacne marks, or three to six months on old scars.

    Mederma PM Intensive Overnight Scar Cream, $34.99, walgreens.com

  9. Sunscreen Products

    back acne sunscreen prodcuts

    As beauty editors, we've listened to more lectures about sunscreen from derms than we ever did in school, but it's especially important when you have acne-prone skin. “Sun exposure makes scarring worse,” advises Dr. Graf. “And sunlight can even penetrate through your clothes so it's essential to wear it at all times.” However, finding a sunscreen that doesn't cause body acne felt almost impossible—until now. The latest options on the market are more innovative and acne-friendly than ever:

    1. Unlike heavy, thick creams or greasy lotions, this derm-approved favorite is oil-free and extremely lightweight so it won't clog your pores. This broad-spectrum formula penetrates the skin instead of sitting on the surface meaning that once you apply it on, you won't even notice it was there.

    Elta MD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46, $32, dermstore.com

    2. This oil-free sunscreen spray makes it easier to get trickier places like the center of your back and shoulders. The fast-absorbing formula also feeds skin a healthy dose of Vitamin C and stays sweat- and water-resistant for up to 80 minutes—perfect for a long run outdoors.

    Supergoop SPF 30 Sunscreen Mist with Vitamin C, $19, dermstore.com

    3. This hands-free self-dispensing powder sunscreen makes it easy to dust on UVA/UVB protection without feeling sticky. The mineral formula is great for acne-prone skin and the slight tint masks scars and blemishes at the same time.

    Colorescience Sunforgettable Mineral Sunscreen Brush SPF 30, $57, https://www.colorescience.com/category/sunforgettable

    While retinoids, like Retin-A, are often associated with anti-aging, they also are an effective on acne scars as well, but you'll need to get a prescription from your dermatologist. It's a super powerful formula, so you might notice some immediate peeling and irritation. Try using it every other day until your skin gets used to a daily application. “Blue light therapy can also aid in the healing of acne scars because of the way it stimulates healthy collagen production,” says Dr. Jaliman. It's worth pursuing if over-the-counter options aren't working for you.

    How to Prevent Back Acne in the Future

    Genetics and hormones are usually the source for acne, but stress very much plays a big role. “Wedding planning is certainly stressful and it's important to remember to take breaks from planning every so often to focus on yourself and relax. To help prevent back acne flair ups from happening in the future, try stress-reduction techniques like yoga or pilates—something that makes you happy,” says Dr. King. "Staying hydrated, getting plenty of rest and having an effective acne beauty regimen in place well in advance of your wedding day will help you feel gorgeous and confident when you walk down the aisle in that backless gown," says Dr. Graf.​

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