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Back acne

Dr. Ayush PandeyMBBS,PG Diploma

May 29, 2020

May 29, 2020

Back acne
Back acne

Acne is a common skin problem. Mainly associated with adolescence, acne can actually occur at different stages of life: over 70% of Indian schoolchildren get acne, but there are also millions of cases of adult acne (acne in people aged 25 and above) in the country. Additionally, studies show that compared with men, women are more prone to adult acne.

While most of the time, acne appears on the face, it is also seen on the chest, neck, shoulders as well as the back. Indeed, any body part that has sebaceous glands that secrete oil and have hair follicles can become sites of acne breakouts.

Back acne, or bacne, is notorious for its stubborn presence as it can be difficult to get rid of. According to the National Health Service, UK, back acne appears on more than half the people with acne.

Medically known as acne vulgaris, acne can be chronic. It is an inflammatory disease of the glands that shows up on different parts of the skin in the body. Besides pimples, it can also present as papules, pustules, cysts as well as nodules.

Back acne symptoms

Also called “bacne”, which has become the colloquial term for the condition in the internet age, back acne is particularly difficult to remove because sweat and friction with clothes can keep exacerbating it. Some of the common symptoms of back acne include:

  • Closed skin pores resulting in lesions on the surface of the skin
  • Bumps and blackheads without inflammation
  • Inflamed red pimples and pustules
  • Larger nodules and cysts, in more severe cases

Back acne causes

Acne usually occurs when the pores of the skin are blocked by dead skin cells mixed with sebum. The human body produces an oil known as sebum, which is produced in the glands around the hair follicles. It is sebum that is responsible for the moisture in a person's skin and hair.

Here are some of the common causes of back acne:

  • Oily skin
  • Hormonal changes due to puberty, pregnancy and menopause
  • Acne can be a genetic skin condition that is passed on from a parent
  • Abnormal shedding of skin cells
  • Acne-causing bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes, proliferate on the body
  • Sweating, especially under clothing, can cause acne breakouts
  • Consumption of some foods is also linked to acne on the skin, such as certain carbohydrates or dairy products
  • Heat or friction on the skin is also known to cause acne breakouts
  • Certain drugs or medications can also cause acne to appear on the skin
  • Skincare products such as moisturizers, sunscreen lotions or other types of topical creams and lotions can result in clogged pores on the skin, and cause acne
  • Sometimes, back acne can occur as a result of another skin condition such as folliculitis or rosacea

Prevention of back acne

Back acne breakouts are notoriously stubborn and require a lot of time to fix. However, changes in one’s lifestyle and habits can help clear out the skin on the body, and remove the acne on the back. Here are some things to remember:

  • Do not pick pimples: Picking pimples anywhere leads to lesions that can continue to spread and leave scars on the body as a result, which can be difficult to get rid of later.
  • Hydrate yourself: Drinking plenty of fluids clears out the oil on the surface of the skin and prevents pores from becoming blocked.
  • Cleanse and exfoliate: Swap your body wash or soap with an oil-free product and use body scrubs frequently to exfoliate the back and shoulders.
  • Moisturise: Use a moisturizer and sunscreen lotion appropriate for your skin type every time you step out, regardless of the weather outside.
  • Wear loose clothing: Tight-fitted clothes can lead to sweat being trapped on the body, which results in the formation of pimples on the back and shoulders. Wear loose-fitted clothes that allow the skin to breathe and the sweat to evaporate.
  • Keep your hair off your back: Long hair running onto the shoulders and back can also result in putting oil on the skin. Prevent your hair from being in contact with the skin on the back or shoulders by tying it up high.
  • Eat well: Maintain a balanced diet that includes a lot of vegetables and fruits, as well as non-fat, non-oily foods.

Diagnosis of back acne

Over-the-counter skin care products that treat acne are usually the first line of defence, but you may be required to apply them for a sustained period of time to be able to see the results. (If you are pregnant, do not take retinol-based drugs for clearing up acne. Check with your doctor for appropriate treatments.)

If those products do not help, it is recommended that you visit a dermatologist who can get to the bottom of what has been causing your back acne in the first place.

In most cases, people are able to self-diagnose the presence of acne on the back of their bodies, and often the symptoms are mild as it is a common skin problem. However, there are other skin conditions that can be related to or appear like back acne, which only a dermatologist will be able to tell.

Doctors can usually diagnose back acne by taking a look at the lesions and pimples, but in some cases may ask to take a swab or scraping of the visible lesion in order to rule out other conditions. In the case of women, blood tests to check the levels of specific hormones are sometimes required to check for underlying factors such as pregnancy, PCOS or Cushing's syndrome.

PCOS or polycystic ovary syndrome is associated with more than normal androgens (male hormones) in the female body—this interferes with the menstrual cycle. Cushing or Cushing's syndrome is a condition in which the body produces too much cortisol (the stress hormone).

Back acne treatment

Back acne can be particularly troublesome for people who exercise or play sports regularly or are used to outdoor activities. This is because sweating due to the heat and the friction caused by the clothing one wears are among the primary causes of back acne. However, there are different treatment options available to get rid of back acne:

  • Products containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, available in common over-the-counter creams are usually enough to treat mild to moderate symptoms of back acne—these are also recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology. 
  • Tea tree oil is also known to treat a multitude of skin problems, and can be found in several kinds of lotions, creams and ointments commonly available in stores. There is some scientific evidence to suggest that tea tree oil can also kill off the excess bacteria in the body that leads to back acne breakouts.
  • Dermatologists can also recommend using topical antibiotics that can target the bacteria present on the surface of the skin, or advise taking oral medications in the case of severe breakouts.
  • While most back acne breakouts are mild to moderate, doctors may recommend the patient undergo more complex treatment or procedures in more severe cases (a majority of these therapies are used in the treatment of acne appearing on the face, though). These therapies include laser therapy, chemical peels and steroid injections.
  • In some cases, doctors also recommend the use of oral contraceptives (birth control pills) in the treatment of acne, as they control the hormone levels, but can have side effects.


  1. American Academy of Dermatology Association. [Internet] Schaumburg, IL, USA. Back acne: How to see clearer skin
  2. Kucharska A et al. Significance of diet in treated and untreated acne vulgaris. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2016 Apr; 33(2): 81–86. PMID: 27279815.
  3. George RM and Sridharan R. Factors Aggravating or Precipitating Acne in Indian Adults: A Hospital-Based Study of 110 Cases. Indian Journal of Dermatology. 2018 Jul-Aug; 63(4): 328–331. PMID: 30078878
  4. Sharma RK et al. Epidemiological patterns of acne vulgaris among adolescents in North India: A cross-sectional study and brief review of literature. Indian Journal of Paediatric Dermatology. 2017 Jun; 18(3): 196-201.
  5. Del Rosso JQ et al. Truncal Acne: A Neglected Entity. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. 2019 Dec; 18(2): 1205.
  6. Kraft J and Freiman A. Management of acne. CMAJ. 2011 Apr 19; 183(7): E430–E435. PMID: 21398228
  7. National Health Service [Internet]. UK; Acne.

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