Peruse the skin care aisle at your nearest drugstore, and you’ll likely find an array of products all claiming to treat a different problem.
If you suffer from persistent acne on your chest, back, or bum, you’ve probably seen lotions and potions that claim to specifically treat body acne.
Natalia Spierings, a consultant dermatologist and author of “Skintelligent,” isn’t surprised that these products have become increasingly prevalent.
“The skin care industry is booming, and since acne vulgaris of the face and body affects many people, including
It’s easy to assume that targeted treatments are best, but do you really need separate products to treat body acne? Or will your regular acne kit suffice?
Answering that question means exploring the key differences—or lack thereof—between body acne and facial acne.
Spierings says that from a pathological or disease-process point of view, acne on the body is no different from acne on the face.
“Body acne predominantly occurs in oil-rich areas like the chest and upper back, as oil is the fuel that drives the flame of acne pimples, whether on the face or the body,” she says.
According to Hassan ElHusseini, a dermatologist at Dr. Kayle Aesthetic Clinic in Dubai, both kinds of acne are caused by the same thing.
- clogged pores
- inflammation from overactive oil glands
- excess dead skin cells
- acne-causing bacteria
ElHusseini says body acne often occurs because pores and oil glands are typically much larger than they are on the face and more easily clogged.
If you’re experiencing body acne, there may be some lifestyle factors at play too.
“Friction from your clothes can irritate your pores, sweat can provide the perfect environment for acne-causing bacteria to multiply, and hair and beauty products can leave a residue on the skin that contributes to clogs,” says ElHusseini.
So, facial acne and body acne are mostly the same. However, ElHusseini says you may have a tougher time treating the latter.
“Skin on the body is thicker and hardier than it is on the face and can therefore require a more aggressive treatment regimen,” he explains. “Not all body acne will clear up at the same pace—or respond to the same treatment either.”
ElHusseini follows a simple rule of thumb: the closer acne is to your face, the easier it is to treat.
“The acne on your chest and upper back will be easier to get rid of than on your lower back and buttocks. This is because the lower half of the body has relatively slower circulation.”
It can also be logistically difficult to apply a topical treatment to certain areas yourself.
Generally speaking, you’ll want a stronger solution when treating body acne.
For example, Spierings says that most people should be able to apply 5-10 percent benzoyl peroxide on the back with little irritation.
“The skin on the back has a thicker dermis and is less reactive or ‘sensitive’ to strong product use,” she says.
As for those products that are specifically targeted to treat body acne? Spierings says they are generally higher strength, but ultimately do the same job as regular acne treatment.
“The products marketed for body acne are often stronger, so contain more acids, like benzoyl peroxide. Other than that, the products are basically the same,” she explains.
In short, your regular products might cut it. However, persistent or severe body breakouts may require stronger, targeted products.
Now that you understand the differences between facial acne and body acne, you might be wondering what products you need in your kit and how best to use them.
Try the following tips to treat body acne and prevent future breakouts.
Use an acid-based wash
According to Spierings, it’s a long-standing myth that your cleanser needs to be oil-free to prevent and clear up breakouts.
Apply benzoyl peroxide
“The strongest topical treatment that can be bought over the counter is benzoyl peroxide 5-10 percent,” says Spierings.
She recommends applying a benzoyl peroxide gel to the affected area once or twice daily.
However, don’t use spot treatments when pimples are red and inflamed.
“At this point, the ship has sailed for treatment,” she says. “It takes on average 13 days for these pimples to settle down and no amount of spot treatment will speed up the process.”
Don’t overload the skin
“When treating body acne, you can typically combine acne treatments or use combination products without causing excessive irritation,” says ElHusseini. “However, keep in mind that skin types vary, so you should still monitor your skin while using combination treatments.”
If you’re choosing over-the-counter (OTC) products, choose one of the following active ingredients:
- benzoyl peroxide
- salicylic acid
- glycolic acid
“These cleansing agents are particularly effective for exfoliating skin and treating severe acne,” he explains.
Benzoyl peroxide is best suited for people with normal and less sensitive skin, while salicylic acid is a good choice for sensitive skin. Glycolic acid is a good choice for hyperpigmentation or signs of aging.
In Spierings’ opinion, products targeted to treat body acne can only go so far.
“Topical treatments and over-the-counter products generally don’t work for bad body acne,” she says. “Getting the correct prescribed treatment early on will prevent bad scarring and improve quality of life, so don’t delay seeking medical treatment if you need it.”
For the most part, facial acne and body acne are the same. However, you may need a tougher treatment plan for the latter.
Targeted body acne products are often of higher strength, and a routine that includes benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid may help.
If you have severe body acne, it’s best to see a dermatologist.
Victoria Stokes is a writer from the United Kingdom. When she’s not writing about her favorite topics, personal development, and well-being, she usually has her nose stuck in a good book. Victoria lists coffee, cocktails, and the color pink among some of her favorite things. Find her on Instagram.
- ElHusseini H. (2022). Personal interview.
- Spierings N. (2022). Personal interview.