Why do we get back acne?
Acne outbreaks occur when there is excessive sebum production or accumulation of dead skin cells, leading to blockage of hair follicles. This, in turn, creates an environment for the growth of bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes. The presence of these bacteria triggers an immune response, causing inflammation and the formation of pimples.
Various factors contribute to the development of acne. Genetic factors and certain medications, such as antidepressants, can be involved. Hormonal imbalances, sweat, and stress are also known to play a role. Back acne, specifically, can be caused by friction, tight clothing, or pressure from bags or backpack straps.
Research has suggested that diet may also impact acne formation. Specifically, carbohydrates that raise blood sugar levels, known as high glycemic index foods (e.g., white bread, sweets, and cereals), have been associated with acne. To address back acne, it is advisable to reduce consumption of high glycemic index foods and incorporate low glycemic index foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and minimally processed grains.
It's important to note that trying multiple acne treatments simultaneously can potentially lead to new acne outbreaks. It typically takes around four weeks for acne products to show their effectiveness, so patience is key. Avoid overstimulating your skin during the treatment process.
Types of back acne
Back acne and acne scars can be broadly classified into the following types.
Whiteheads: A type of mild acne. They are small bumps that have accumulated keratin and sebum.
Blackheads: A type of mild acne. Blackheads are caused by the oxidation of keratin and melanin in clogged pores that have opened up.
Papules: Tiny red bumps less than 1 cm in diameter.
Pustules: Red bumps. The difference between papules and pustules is that the latter are filled with pus or other fluid.
Nodular acne: painless, lumpy, hard pimple. It is red, black, large, and deep under the skin.
Cysts: One of the most severe acne
Keratosis pilaris: Sometimes called “chicken skin.” It is formed when dead skin cells get stuck in hair follicles. They appear mainly on the arms and upper thighs.
Hypertrophic scars: The most common type of back acne scar
Keloid scars: scar tissue that has become shiny and smoother
Atrophic scars: Scars that appear sunken or pitted.
How can we prevent back acne?
Below is a list of tips to prevent back acne.
Eat a healthy diet
Wear loose-fitting clothes
When sweating, keep hair away from the back
Avoid shampoo and conditioner running down the back.
Use oil-free and non-comedogenic sunscreens daily
Take a shower as soon as possible after exercising or sweating.
Use scrubs or clay masks regularly containing salicylic acid to remove excess dirt, bacteria, dead skin cells, and oil from the skin
Drink plenty of water to keep skin hydrated
Avoid touching the back carelessly
Moisturize the skin with non-comedogenic and fragrance-free products
At-home back acne treatments
Next, we will introduce over-the-counter drugs and cosmetics that you can use for acne treatment.
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)
AHAs remove dead skin cells and prevent clogged pores. It also improves acne scars, skin discoloration, and roughness by exfoliating the top layer of the skin.
Some studies suggest that lactic acid is effective for pigmentation and acne scars. Many cosmetics contain lactic acid, making it one of the easiest to find in any drugstores.
Salicylic acid is said to unclog pores and exfoliate. It can be highly irritating to the skin, so we recommend using it only on one part of the skin, not the entire body.
Improves acne by killing bacteria in pores.
When to see a doctor
Do you have severe back acne that you can't treat with over-the-counter medications and cosmetics? Consult a specialist. Prescription medications are more effective than over-the-counter products. Also, the dermatologist may propose procedures like laser treatments.
Feel free to consult a doctor or dermatologist if you have recurring acne, painful acne deep within the skin, or when you feel stress because of back acne. Even if the acne is mild, regular visits to your dermatologist can help you detect changes in your skin.
Below is a list of prescription medications that your dermatologist may provide.
Birth control pills (suppress hormonal fluctuations and improve acne)
Steroids (low dose)
Schedule a consultation today and start your acne recovery journey today.
For those suffering severe back acne
You also can improve back acne and acne scars with professional treatment. Below is a list of procedures you can try at dermatologists or acne clinic. Click here for more information about acne treatments.
Blue light therapy
Drainage: The doctor makes an incision and drains the cyst.
Steroid injection: Injecting corticosteroids into the cyst to reduce its size and pain.
Chemical peels: Strong chemical peels containing hydroxyl acids such as glycolic acid and salicylic acid are most effective for acne. You can improve acne scars by around 90% with a single treatment. Effective for all types of acne.
Pulsed-dye laser treatment: Effective for pigment disorders and keloid scars.
Cryotherapy: By significantly lowering the skin temperature, make the scar die and peel off. It is effective for deep hypertrophic scars.
Back acne can range in severity and impact from person to person, and it can have varying levels of discomfort and emotional impact. If you have tried making lifestyle changes to address back acne but haven't seen improvement, it is advisable to seek professional help by consulting a dermatologist. They can provide you with specialized guidance and treatment options tailored to your specific situation. By consulting a dermatologist, you can find a suitable solution for your back acne and experience a positive transformation, leading to improved confidence and well-being.
This blog post was medically reviewed by Dr Summer Zhang.