5 Ways to Combat Workout-Related Back Acne

by Carla Henderson

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If you suffer from acne, you’re in good company. In fact, it’s the most common skin condition in the U.S. and affects an estimated 50 million Americans each year, per the American Academy of Dermatology. We most commonly associate having acne as having pimples on the face, but this pesky condition is unfortunately not restricted to one area of the body. One study published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology , which analyzed 965 patients, found that an overwhelming amount experienced acne on other areas of their body, with 74 percent of patients exhibiting symptoms on their back. 

Also known as “bacne,” these types of breakouts tend to form after exercising.

“During a workout, sweat and oil are secreted from the pores, which mixes with bacteria and dead skin cells,” explains Dendy Engelman, M.D., cosmetic dermatologist and Mohs surgeon at Shafer Clinic in New York City. “The situation is exacerbated when sweaty clothes are left on for too long, as this causes friction and makes breakouts more likely.”

Another potential culprit of bacne is not washing your back area as well as you do the rest of your body, especially your face. It’s true that the back is a hard-to-reach area, but not cleansing it efficiently, as well as neglecting to exfoliate or moisturize it, can cause acne to crop up, according to Engelman.

The good news is that acne on your back, like on other areas of your body, is highly treatable. Here, dermatologists share their best recommendations to combat back acne caused by working out. 

1. Add an Acne Cleanser to Your Shower Routine

If you don’t already keep an acne cleanser in your shower, you might want to start doing so. Because acne breakouts on the back also can relate to oil buildup as well as inflammation and bacteria, Marisa Garshick , M.D., dermatologist at Medical Dermatology Cosmetic Surgery in New York City, recommends using a medicated cleanser containing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide a few times per week to prevent and treat subsequent breakouts. “If the ingredients are causing the skin on the back to be irritated, it is OK to skip a day or two and then start using the cleanser again,” she adds. 

2. Stick to Moisture-Wicking Fabrics

Because sweat is one of the main culprits that can cause back acne, Erum Ilyas , M.D., dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, recommends opting for moisture-wicking fabrics that pull sweat away from your skin. “This can help create an environment where yeast and bacteria triggers for body breakouts are under better control,” she says.

3. Clean Your Skin Right After a Workout

You might not always have time to take a shower after a workout, but Engelman recommends at least rinsing your body to rid your back of sweat. “Sitting in your sweaty clothes for too long after a workout is one of the worst things you can do, as the wetness of your clothes mixed with the oil and sweat buildup will only exacerbate the problem by rubbing more sweat, oil and bacteria into pores,” she says. If you don’t have access to a shower, she recommends at least changing into clean, dry clothes.

4. Exfoliate Regularly

Exfoliating can go a long way toward combatting back acne.” The buildup of dead skin cells, sweat, bacteria and oil sit on the skin and have the potential to cause breakouts,” Engelman explains. “By exfoliating, you are clearing away this buildup, cleansing the skin and promoting a healthier skin barrier.” Since your back is a hard-to-reach area, she recommends getting a long-handle back exfoliator brush . “This tool will allow you to reach tough areas and give your back the cleanse it so desperately needs after a good workout ,” she adds.

5. Use an Anti-Fungal or Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

After a strenuous workout, sweat and heat can promote an overgrowth of a skin yeast called Malassezia, explains Rina Allawh , M.D., dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology, which can clog skin pores and trigger an inflammatory skin response, causing painful pimples and cysts. “This type of back acne is typically small pinpoint pimples that appear roughly the same size,” she says. She recommends opting for an anti-fungal and/or anti-dandruff shampoo that contains sulfur, selenium and/or zinc as a body wash to treat and prevent this type of acne.