Acne can pop up on the face, chest, scalp and back — the latter popularly called bacne. Bacne, in particular, occurs because friction from clothing combined with dead skin cells, bacteria and sebum (oil) can "inflame pores" and lead to pimples, explained board-certified dermatologist Howard Sobel, MD — it doesn’t help anything that clothes cover a "dense collection" of sweat glands on the back.
SKIP AHEAD Best bacne treatments
While bacne looks similar to acne on the face, back acne tends to be "more severe" than face acne, said board-certified dermatologist Imran Aslam, MD. Since back skin is often thicker than face skin, its pores and hair follicles are typically larger, too, so congestion can lead to inflammation and possibly infection more rapidly and sizably. Given the similarities between back acne and face acne, board-certified dermatopathologist Gretchen Frieling, MD, advised using the two below anti-acne ingredients:
- Salicylic acid: This unclogs pores, prevents product buildup and dissolves oil — in our guide to blackhead treatments, board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD, guided us through its uses.
- Benzoyl peroxide: This "destroys" P.acne, which is an acne-causing bacteria, noted board-certified dermatologist Debora Jaliman, MD.
Best bacne products
Bacne products are available at Shopping reader favorite retailers like Amazon, Walmart, Target and more. To help you narrow in on highly rated skin care products, we gathered five expert-recommended picks that range from body washes to face cleansers.
Sobel recommended this "really gentle" body cleanser because it helps hydrate, exfoliate and calm "inflamed skin." In our guide to preventing razor burns, board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, MD, also suggested showering with this body wash before shaving your skin. Dove claims this pH-balanced body wash is mild enough for daily use and the bottle is made from 100 percent recycled plastic. It received a 4.7-star average rating from more than 2,220 reviews on Amazon.
Jaliman highlighted this non-comedogenic body wash is made from a combination of salicylic acid and hydrating ceramides. It is also free of parabens and fragrances, making it gentle enough for those with sensitive skin. This CeraVe product boasts a 4.5-star average rating from more nearly 12,200 reviews on Amazon.
Jaliman also recommended this "great" body wash because it contains anti-acne salicylic acid and “very soothing” aloe vera. Neutrogena claims its body wash is dermatologist-tested and doesn't leave behind any potential residue. It received a 4.1-star average rating from more than 500 reviews on Target. The brand also makes a pink grapefruit-inspired acne body wash that is infused with vitamin C.
Sobel called this a "great" option for those dealing with irritation or sensitive skin because it combines hydrating ingredients like glycerin and sunflower seed oil. Despite its thick consistency, Cetaphil claims this body cream is non-comedogenic, meaning it won't cause breakouts. The brand also asserts its Moisturizing Cream is dermatologist-tested and hypoallergenic. Cetaphil's Moisturizing Creams boasts a 4.2-star average rating from more than 11,710 reviews on Target.
To help treat body acne, Aslam advised cleansing your back with this face wash. Panoxyl’s cleanser is made with benzoyl peroxide, which helps lower levels of acne-causing bacteria. It was also recently featured in our guide to the best acne face washes where it earned recommendations from two other doctors. Panoxyl's face cleanser boasts a 4.6-star average rating from more than 15,100 reviews on Amazon.
Is it bad to pick at back acne?
Picking at acne anywhere on your body or face isn’t advised because it can lead to an increased risk of infection by pushing bacteria deeper into the skin, cautioned Aslam. Additionally, squeezing your pimples can lead to more breakouts or acne scars.
If you’re still tempted to prod at your body acne, you can take a page from our guide to teen acne and opt for an acne spot treatment such as Differin Gel or pimple patches like the popular Hero Cosmetics Invisible Mighty Patch. You can also book an appointment with your local board-certified dermatologist and ask them to evaluate your bacne and they can decide if your pimples should be popped or not.
Bacne myths, debunked
We asked a dermatologist to clarify a few common misconceptions about bacne.
- The sun will not cure bacne, said Aslam. In fact, sun exposure can cause more damage to the skin and make it easier for blemishes to form. Beyond wearing sunscreen, you can sport UPF clothing and hats as well as avoid the sun when its rays are at their strongest: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- Soaps are not created equally and you shouldn’t pick just any product to treat bacne, because “some may be excessively drying and harsh for the skin,” Aslam said. It’s best to stick to washes made with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to fight bacne and follow up with a light lotion made with hydrating ingredients like ceramides and glycerin to help restore moisture.
- Bacne will not clear on its own — like with all anti-acne skin care routines, you’ll likely see results within two months of starting new products. Most people dealing with bacne will typically respond well to over-the-counter products, but when they have “cases of deep inflammation” on the back, it “often warrants using systemic therapies such as oral antibiotics or isotretinoin,” said Aslam.
CORRECTION (Sept. 29, 2021, 5:40 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the medical specialty of Gretchen Frieling, MD. She is a dermatopathologist, not a dermatologist.