Acne is a common skin condition that affects most people at some point in their lives, causing sore and painful spots and oily skin. Acne can appear on any part of the body, including your back. This can be very distressing for sufferers and many people want to know how to get rid of back acne.
Back acne affects more than half of people with acne, but it is possible to prevent or treat breakouts effectively.
In the post below, we’ll be looking at back acne, including different types of back acne, as well as how to get rid of back acne using medical treatments and home remedies.
For a more general guide on acne, you can visit our dedicated page that discusses what causes acne.
What is back acne?
Although some people do just get acne on their face, this common skin condition can affect any part of your body.
In particular, acne can affect the shoulders, neck, chest and more commonly, the back. Many people who have acne will experience back acne — or ‘bacne’ — too; back acne affects more than half of people with acne.
This is because the skin on our back is very thick, which means the potential for pores becoming clogged is very high.
Like your face, your back has a lot of sebaceous glands (oil glands) that secrete sebum, an oily substance. Sebum, along with dead skin cells and bacteria, can build up in the hair follicles on your back and clog them, creating different types of acne spots.
Back acne can be particularly troublesome, causing distressing breakouts, sore spots and painful pustules or cysts.
How to treat back acne
Although back acne cannot be cured, it can be controlled with back acne treatment. If you develop acne, then speaking to a pharmacist for advice is a great start.
Best products for back acne
If you have mild back acne, then you may be able to get an over-the-counter treatment. This may come in the form of a cream, lotion or gels that can help to treat your spots.
If your back acne is severe — and back acne tends to be moderate to severe — then it may need to be treated with stronger, prescription medication.
Acne medication may contain strong active ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide, a type of acid or retinoids, or be combined with antibiotics (either oral or topical) to kill the bacteria making your acne worse.
Here are some of the acne medications we offer at The Independent Pharmacy:
- Topical retinoids (Differin)
- Oral antibiotics (Tetralysal)
- Topical antibiotics (Dalacin-T, Zineryt)
- Keratolytics (Acnecide)
- Azelaic acid (Skinoren)
- Combination products (Duac, Epiduo, Treclin)
There are plenty of effective back acne products available that can help. To find out more, read our guide on the best acne treatments available.
Home remedies for back acne
Some people like to use home remedies to treat back acne.
There is no concrete clinical evidence to suggest that using these home remedies will definitely work, though some users do report that natural remedies like the ones below do help to clear up milder cases of acne.
Here are some traditional home remedies for back acne:
- Tea tree oil
- Apple cider vinegar
- Aloe vera
- Baking soda pastes
- Lemon juice
- Witch hazel
Home remedies for back acne are generally not recommended. While some of them may be low-risk treatments and unlikely to cause you any harm if you do decide to test them out (such as aloe vera or honey), some home remedies like toothpaste can irritate and damage the skin. You may even find that these traditional remedies make your back acne worse.
Your GP will recommend using medication to treat back acne rather than relying on a home remedy — there are far more effective and safer treatments available from pharmacists.
What causes back acne?
Acne occurs when your skin begins to produce too much sebum (an oily substance), which mixes with dead skin cells and blocks the tiny hair follicles found in skin, causing different types of spots. Sometimes, bacteria found in the skin can infect the area and make the condition worse.
There are a few different causes of back acne.
Like other types of acne, back acne is most commonly linked to the hormonal changes that happen during puberty, which is why many teenagers and young people will experience acne problems (although it can start at any age). These hormonal fluctuations can result in the overproduction of sebum and the blocking of pores, which is the main cause of acne (and back acne).
Other hormonal changes can lead to back acne, such as menstruation and pregnancy. Women are more likely to have adult acne than men.
Another back acne cause is genetics. Acne can run in families, so if your parents had acne, it's likely that you'll also develop it.
Certain medications — such as some antidepressants, epilepsy medications and steroid medicines — can also cause back acne to develop.
Some other lifestyle factors can contribute to acne outbreaks. For example, if you sweat excessively and don’t shower straight away (such as after the gym), then sweat that sits underneath tight-fitting clothing can mix with bacteria and dead skin cells on the skin and make acne worse or contribute to breakouts.
Stress isn’t a direct cause of back acne, but it has been suggested to be a contributing factor.
Different types of back acne
There are different types of spots caused by acne that you may find on your back:
- Blackheads: small black (or sometimes yellow) spots that develop in clogged pores. The black appearance is because the inner lining of the hair follicle is oxidised, not filled with dirt
- Whiteheads: similar to blackheads, these are spots that appear as firm white bumps on your skin
- Papules: small red bumps that may feel tender or sore
- Pustules: also called pimples, these are pus-filled papules that have a white tip in the centre and a reddened base
- Nodules: large hard lumps that form as a result of acne deep beneath the surface of the skin and can be painful
- Cysts: large pus-filled lumps that look similar to boils — the most severe type of spot caused by acne, which carries the greatest risk of causing permanent scarring
The severity of back acne can vary. Mild acne usually consists of mostly whiteheads and blackheads, perhaps with a few pustules and papules. This is known as grade 1.
Moderate acne (grade 2) is characterised by multiple pustules and papules.
Moderate to severe acne (grade 3) consists of a high number of pustules and papules, affecting the face, back and chest, as well as the presence of inflamed nodules.
Grade 4 acne is severe, with a high number of pustules and nodules that are both large and painful.
Teenage back acne
Acne is very common in teenagers and younger adults — around 80% of teenagers will experience this skin problem to some extent at some point or another during their teenage years.
This is generally down to the hormonal changes that happen around puberty. An increase in certain hormones causes your oil glands to become overactive and result in the overproduction of sebum, which is the main cause of acne. If you have more severe acne during puberty, then you are more likely to have teenage back acne.
Most people have acne on and off for a few years before their symptoms improve and the condition goes away.
Adult back acne
Acne usually starts to improve as a person gets older and generally disappears when the sufferer reaches their mid-20s. However, in some cases, acne may continue into adult life. This is, however, much more unusual.
This could be due to a number of different factors, such as genetics, stress, side effects of certain medications, or hormonal changes (such as menstruation or pregnancy).
If you’re a woman and you’ve suddenly developed back acne as an adult, see your GP. They may want to run some tests and ask about any other symptoms that may suggest a hormonal imbalance. This could be indicative of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Upper back acne
Many people with back acne find that acne on the upper back and shoulders is a problem.
There are a few reasons why upper back acne is more common. Skin or hair care products (such as shampoo or suncream) can clog up pores, contributing to acne flare-ups if left in contact with the skin for extended periods of time.
Upper back acne can also be caused or exacerbated by sweating, or not showering promptly after a gym session. This causes sweat and dirt to gather on your skin and irritate it, as well as creating a breeding ground for bacteria.
Upper back acne is easier to reach, which means that some people may pick or squeeze their spots, making acne worse.
Lower back acne
Lower back acne is more unusual than acne on the upper back, but it is still a problem for some.
Tight clothing mixed with friction and sweat can lead to the development of acne on the lower back. Anything that rubs against your back can irritate your skin, including rucksacks or gym bags. This can cause back acne to flare up.
Severe back acne
If you are someone who suffers from severe acne, then you may find that spots develop on your back as well as your face, neck and chest.
If you have severe back acne, then this means that you have grade 4 acne on your back: a high number of pustules, nodules and cysts that are both large and painful.
How to stop back acne
Unfortunately, if you’re someone who suffers from back acne, there is no cure. However, there are some lifestyle changes you can make to prevent flare-ups and stop back acne from becoming worse.
Good skin hygiene
Practising good skin hygiene is particularly important if you have back acne.
This includes regularly washing your skin, using gentle cleansers rather than harsh products that irritate your skin or make it too oily, keeping your hair clean (greasy hair can irritate upper back acne), not squeezing or picking spots and avoiding unnecessary sun exposure.
Exercise is great for you and doesn’t cause acne itself.
However, it is important to shower straight away after you exercise: not showering promptly after a gym session causes sweat and dirt to gather on your skin, mix with bacteria, and clog pores further — causing acne to worsen.
An unhealthy diet can affect our bodies in a variety of ways, including our skin. If you’re prone to back acne, certain foods (such as dairy, white bread and pasta, or fatty foods) could be triggers.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables will help to keep your skin healthy.
How to get rid of back acne scars
As we’ve mentioned above, back acne can be severe; this means it may lead to scarring. There are different types of acne scars. Fortunately, there are ways you can treat acne scars and finding out how to get rid of back acne scars is easy.
To find out more, you can visit our article on how to get rid of acne scars where we take a closer look at effective treatment options for acne scarring, including topical medical creams, cosmetic treatments and natural remedy options such as essential oils.
Acne is a common skin condition that can affect any part of your body; many people that have acne experience back acne too. This is sometimes called ‘bacne’.
This can be distressing, especially if your condition is severe, but there are ways to get rid of back acne.
The Independent Pharmacy offers a range of back acne treatments, including topical and oral treatments. You can start your free online consultation today to discuss which back acne treatment is most suitable for you.