Back to the Basics: Crucial Tips for Preventing Back Acne


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Acne is a widespread problem affecting millions of people world-wide. It occurs when pores or hair follicles in the skin are blocked, usually due to excess sebum production or to dead cells that are retained on the skin’s surface when they would normally slough off. When a pore becomes blocked, sebum and natural bacteria are trapped within the pore and prevented from coming to the surface of the skin. While many experts remain unsure of bacteria’s actual role in creating inflammation, it is generally agreed that bacterial action within the pore triggers an immune system reaction, causing the redness and discomfort associated with acne.

When you hear the word “acne, " most people picture blackheads, pimples, and pustules on the face. But acne doesn’t stop at the jaw line. In fact, the greatest concentrations of sebaceous glands are found not only on the face, but also on the chest, back, and upper outer arms, too. A person's back has thousands more sebaceous glands than their face, so it is no wonder that back acne can be a problem! Despite the many acne treatment products on the market, controlling back acne can be an entirely different story than treating acne on one’s face. So what’s the scoop?

There are several differences between back and face acne that one should be aware of when trying to treat an acne problem. For starters, the skin on the back is one of the thickest on your body, so you can afford to be less gentle when treating it. Also, less is understood about back acne than facial acne. While the severity of facial acne can be related to genetics or food allergies, this isn't the case with back acne. Furthermore, back acne is not generally worsened by mental or emotional stress.

Prevention is one step to consider when suffering from back acne; stopping a problem before it starts is the best and easiest acne plan! Clothing especially can play a large role in causing breakouts on the back by trapping perspiration and bacteria close to the skin. By choosing to wear loose, light clothing, sweat is then limited which can reduce the likelihood of back acne developing. Also, certain materials can irritate the skin, regardless of the activity level of the wearer. For instance, lycra doesn't breathe very well, allowing sweat and bacteria to collect on the skin and remain there; also, wool is a very rough material that can irritate existing acne and make the problem worse. Laundry detergents and fabric softeners can aggravate the skin and complicate acne. Finally, backpacks can cause and trap sweat or rub against your skin, and may need to be traded for a shoulder-bag or handle-bag if back acne is a problem.

Despite all these tips on acne prevention, there is no denying that preventing back acne can be harder than it seems; there will almost always be some form of clothing or material touching your back, whether it be a shirt or bed sheets or padding on the back of a chair. For this reason, acne treatment is still very important when one is trying to get rid of back acne. One positive thing about back acne is that it can be treated using fairly strong products, since back skin is thought to be less prone to irritation than skin elsewhere. For instance, 10% benzoyl peroxide is much too strong for the sensitive skin on the face, but could be a more appropriate strength for acne treatment on the back. If the type of back acne is particularly inflammatory and painful, a variety of methods may be used to target the problem, including antibiotics, cortisone shots, and topical retinoids.

Some of the same general rules apply to skin care for back acne as for facial acne. It is recommended that you keep the back clean using a salicylic or glycolic acid cleanser, and exfoliate away dead skin with a long-handled scrub brush. The specific acne-prone areas can then be treated with over-the-counter or prescribed medicine. Some dermatologists also recommend that you drink plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated, and eat fairly healthy foods. While there is no definitive proof that food can trigger back acne, eating well can't hurt! Back acne isn’t fun, but it can often be controlled to a large degree, so don't be afraid to go to your doctor to learn about different methods of acne treatment for problem areas on your back.

Author C. L. Jackson wishes the topic of acne was simply an academic interest . . . but unfortunately that’s not the case! You'll find much more information on this topic at the author's website


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