What causes back acne: types, treatment and prevention

Back acne (aka bacne) can pop for many different reasons. Here is an overview of the most common causes of acne on your back. We also have details on the best treatment options, as well as advice on how to prevent future rashes.

Back acne occurs when pimples appear on your back. The root cause is when oils and debris mix with skin cells and bacteria. This mixture of grime can clog your pores and lead to those pesky pimples we all know and hate.

Here are some other reasons why you might have a back flare:

  • Hormones. Hormonal acne is very common. Breakouts are common during times of hormonal fluctuations such as during pregnancy, puberty, or menstruation. Keep in mind that estrogen and progesterone aren’t the only hormones to blame. A 2019 study showed that fluctuations in testosterone can also increase the severity of breakouts.
  • Genetic. There isn’t a single gene that makes a person more prone to acne. But research shows that acne is more likely to run in families. You may have a higher risk of breakouts if you have a close relative, such as a parent or sibling, who also has a history of acne.
  • Medications. Certain medications are known to trigger acne breakouts. Common culprits include oral corticosteroids, anabolic steroids, testosterone, and antidepressants (eg, amoxapine and lithium).
  • Stress. If you feel like your acne gets worse under pressure, you’re right. Studies show that stress can contribute to breakouts.
  • Diet. Diet can be a factor in the overall health of your skin and could contribute to acne. There is evidence showing that refined sugars, high glycemic index foods and dairy products are associated with higher acne rates.
  • Sweat. Exercise has many benefits for your body and mind. But all that extra sweat and oils could be clogging your pores, especially if you’re wearing tight clothes.

Here is an overview of the most common types of back acne.

Whiteheads (aka closed comedones)

These little buggers form when dead skin cells, bacteria, and oil get trapped inside a closed pore. This causes a raised white bump with a reddish or discolored border.

Blackheads (aka open comedones)

Blackheads are very similar to whiteheads, expect the pore to be open. The yucky stuff inside turns black when exposed to oxygen. They are very common on the T-zone and chin, but you can also put them on your back.


Papules occur when the pore walls break down due to inflammation. They tend to be quite painful and can cause hard, red, or discolored bumps.


The pustules may look like whiteheads, but they are usually larger and more severe.


Nodules are hard, inflamed, and usually painful pimples that form deep in the skin. They don’t have a head, but you may notice an inflamed bump on your skin. Over-the-counter (OTC) acne remedies don’t always work on nodules. Thus, you may need to ask your doctor for Rx-grade treatment.


Like nodules, cystic acne forms under the skin. It sometimes looks like a boil, but can also be a red or discolored bump filled with pus. They are very sensitive to the touch and do not always go away on their own.

Are you ready to send those pesky pimples? Here’s a rundown of the best back acne treatments for your unique skin.

  • Acne cleansers. Cleansers containing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide can reduce acne-causing bacteria. But be gentle. These products may be too harsh if you have sensitive skin. Also, try not to scrub or scratch your pimples too much while you cleanse yourself.
  • Over-the-counter treatments. Over-the-counter acne creams that contain benzoyl peroxide or adapalene gel can help zap your pimples. You can try a lotion or spot treatment depending on the severity of the rash.
  • Prescription topical treatments. Prescription creams and lotions have a higher concentration of ingredients that may help with acne. Your dermatologist can help you choose the best product for your type of bacteria.
  • Oral medications. Oral Rx medications like Isotretinoin (formerly known as Accutane) may be prescribed to treat stubborn or severe acne. Your doctor may also suggest hormonal medication if your acne is caused by hormones. for your information: Some oral acne medications are known to have side effects. So, talk to your doctor about the pros and cons before trying them.

Brilliant Public Service Announcement: We know popping pimples can be satisfying. Remember that squeezing your pimples can leave you with acne scars or dark spots. It can also increase the risk of infection.

You can’t prevent every pimple and pustule. But there are many effective techniques you can try to reduce the severity and rate of flare-ups.

1. Exfoliate

Exfoliation can help remove dead skin cells, oils, and other debris that can cause back acne. Remember, you don’t have to go wild and exfoliate until your skin hurts. A gentle body scrub or light chemical exfoliator can be great options that are gentle on the skin.

2. Keep it clean

Try showering after exercise. All that oil and sweat you produce when you work out can lead to a rash. You can opt for a body wash that has natural acne reducing abilities. Tea tree oil and volcanic ash are popular choices. Oh, and don’t forget to pat your back with a clean towel when you’re done.

3. Rinse your hair in front of you

Shampoo and conditioner that isn’t washed off your back can clog your pores. A good workaround is to tilt your head forward as you soap, rinse, repeat. Another option is to clean your back after washing your hair to make sure there’s no residue left.

4. Eat a nutritious diet

Although it can certainly play a role, diet is usually not the main cause of acne. But filling your plate with lots of nutrient-dense, flavorful names can’t hurt. Follow a low glycemic index diet could help keep your bacne at bay. Some peeps are also seeing results by reducing their dairy and sugar intake.

5. Choose the right products

Opt for non-comedogenic skincare products that are less likely to clog your pores. Your best bet might be water-based creams, cleansers, and lotions that don’t have any added oils.

Psst. Try to avoid brands that contain harsh chemicals or fragrances. These ingredients can irritate and inflame the skin.

Back acne occurs when a mixture of oils, dead skin cells, bacteria, and other debris clog the pores on your back. It’s super common and nothing to be ashamed of. You can usually treat minor bacne with cleansers and over-the-counter products. But if your pimples are stubborn or severe, your dermatologist might prescribe an oral Rx medication or a topical treatment.

About Sally Dominguez

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