Try a retinoid. Retinoids, particularly adapalene, are another great OTC option for treating acne. They work by speeding up the skin’s natural cell turnover process, which helps unclog pores and resolve acne more quickly. “Retinoids not only treat the acne you have today, they also change the way the cells turn over, reducing your development of acne tomorrow,” Heidi Waldorf, M.D., the director of laser and cosmetic dermatology at the Mount Sinai Hospital, tells SELF. These are especially effective when used alongside benzoyl peroxide, the AAD says. To make sure you don’t miss a spot when applying topical creams and gels, Waldorf recommends using an applicator like the L’applique to help you reach those hard-to-get-to areas.
Products to try:
- Differin Gel, $15, Amazon
- La Roche Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel 0.1%, $30, Amazon
- Acne Free Adapalene Gel 0.1%, $12, Amazon
Salicylic acid might work too. This classic acne-fighting ingredient works as a chemical exfoliant, breaking down dead skin cells and getting deep into pores to clear them out. It’s a common ingredient in spot treatments, but those might be hard to use on your back. “Salicylic acid is attracted to the oil in the sebaceous glands, and once there, it helps to loosen the sticky cells and oil to clear clogged hair follicles,” Dr. Waldorf says.
Products to try:
- Neutrogena Body Clear Body Wash, $7, Target
- Murad Acne Body Wash, $44, Murad
- Dermaologica Clearing Skin Wash, $62, Ulta
Develop good workout habits. Working out and sweating can contribute to body acne, so it’s important to be mindful when you’re engaging in those activities. The AAD recommends opting for looser fitting clothes made of sweat-wicking fabric or cotton to avoid sweat accumulating next to your skin. It’s also important to change out of sweaty workout clothes as soon as possible and to wash them after every use.
Be gentle with your skin. If your skin has acne, it will require a gentle touch. That means using a gentle body wash or cleanser—not a harsh scrub. It also means avoiding the very tempting urge to pick your acne as much as possible.
Wear sunscreen. Sun exposure can actually worsen acne and cause post-acne dark spots to become darker. Although wearing sunscreen is always important, it’s especially important if you’re trying to manage back acne. Look for products that are non-comedogenic and oil-free, which means they won’t contribute to clogged pores.
Products to try:
- EltaMD UV Lotion Broad-Spectrum SPF 30, $36, Dermstore
- Hawaiian Tropic Sheer Touch Lotion Sunscreen SPF 50, $19, Amazon
- Clinique Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Mineral Sunscreen For Body, $32, Sephora
Avoid anything that rubs your skin. The friction caused by a backpack or or shoulder bag can worsen acne, especially if you’re also sweaty. If you can, hold your purse in your hand or rest the strap on your arm.
Take care when washing your hair. The way you wash your hair can have an impact on bacne. While the oils in hair treatments might be good for nourishing your strands, they can be bad news for the skin on your back. That’s why Debbie Palmer, D.O., tells SELF that you should rinse conditioner off to the side instead of letting it run down your back. Also, try waiting until you’ve completed all of your hair treatments before washing your body. That way you can wash off any oily residue, clearing the way for your acne treatments to do their thing.
When should you see a dermatologist for back acne?
You can probably treat mild to moderate back acne at home with over-the-counter options. But if your acne is more severe, meaning you have deep, painful cysts, you should see a dermatologist for help. They may prescribe stronger medications, like prescription retinoids, that can help clear your acne.
If you’re not sure if your acne is actually acne, you should also see your dermatologist. There are other skin conditions, including “fungal acne,” that can look a lot like regular acne but that require more specialized treatments.
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