What you need to do to get rid of back acne

Spoiler: It's even harder to treat than facial acne

Beauty Crew Contributing Editor / June 03 2024

Acne isn't picky. It will gladly rear its ugly head on any part of your body, like your back, shoulders and chest. And those who regularly suffer from facial acne are particularly susceptible to body acne. Life can be cruel like that.

Here's the thing to remember though; while frustrating, back acne is super common. Even celebs deal with it. In fact, Maddie Ziegler recently took to Instagram to ask for advice on the issue: "I have had back acne for over two years. It's a bacterial/yeast problem. I do all the things and it doesn't go away and I'm VERY insecure about it," she shared via an Instagram Story before requesting treatment recommendations.

But before you can learn how to remove back acne, you first need to understand the difference between body acne and facial acne. Here's what you need to know...

What causes pimples on the back and shoulders?
“Acne on the back is caused by the same combination of factors that cause facial acne,” says founder of Paula’s Choice Skincare, Paula Begoun. “A proliferation of the specific type of bacteria known as P. acnes, the build-up of dead skin cells, debris and oil in the pore lining, and excess oil. Just as with facial acne, hormones also influence acne on the back,” explains Begoun. So essentially, what causes back acne is the same as what causes facial acne. In that case, you must already know how to get rid of bacne, since it’s just like regular acne, right? Not quite. 

“Although the causes are the same, facial acne tends to be more varied: you get a mix of pimples, pustules and papules in various sizes and in different areas of the face. In contrast, body acne tends to involve larger, more swollen and painful blemishes that are rooted more deeply in the pore lining,” shares Begoun. Read: big pimples on your back that really hurt! “These larger breakouts can occur on the face, too, but they tend to be the norm for bacne,” adds Begoun.

Thanks to their large size and deep nature, Begoun notes back acne is often more stubborn to treat than facial acne. “However, that doesn’t mean you need different ingredients to get your back in the clear.” You just need more potent formulas. Note: Potent doesn’t mean harsh. Stay away from anything too drying or irritating.

So what are the best treatments for back acne? Add these steps to your beauty routine.

GOOD TO KNOW: Once you know how to get rid of back acne, you’ll also know how to get rid of shoulder acne because the same steps apply.


Make a clean start

Back acne removal begins in the shower. “As with any type of acne, begin with an over-the-counter skin care routine that includes a gentle, water-soluble body wash,” says Begoun. Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser ($15.99 at Chemist Warehouse), AKA everyone's favourite pharmacy cleanser, is a great body wash for back acne. And heck, if you can get your hands on a body-blemish-busting-specific cleanser then even more power to you! The Booty Co’s Clarifying Booty Cleanser ($38.99 at Priceline) will also work wonders on back breakouts too; win win really. And follow Kendall Jenner’s trick: always use your body wash after you wash your hair to ensure you properly remove all shampoo and conditioner residue as it can block your pores and lead to breakouts.


Use a chemical exfoliant

Removing those built-up dead skin cells is essential for clearing clogged pores, but rather than abrasive physical scrubs that may inflame your bacne, use a chemical exfoliant instead. Left on the skin to work their magic, they work by dissolving the ‘glue’ that bonds dead skin cells together. Begoun recommends a leave-on exfoliant that contains two per cent salicylic acid. Give Medik8 Blemish Control Pads ($59 at Adore Beauty) a go – they can be used on your face as well as over your back, shoulders, chest and upper arms.

Medik8 Blemish Control Pads


Apply a spot treatment

Just like pimples on your face, spot treatments will help heal flare-ups. Begoun suggests a topical disinfectant medicated with 2.5 per cent or five per cent benzoyl peroxide, such as Paula's Choice CLEAR Extra Strength Daily Skin-Clearing Treatment ($29 at Paula's Choice). Not only will it be busy banishing bacteria below and above the skin's surface but it also aids in reducing the pesky redness that acne always brings along with it.

For cystic acne on the back, chat to a dermatologist for their advice on how to clear bacne. An oral antibiotic may be necessary to treat this more-severe version of acne. If left untreated – or squeezed! –, you could end up with back acne scars.


Seek professional advice

“If this routine doesn’t improve back acne after a few weeks of twice-daily application, the next step is to talk to your health care provider (or, even better, dermatologist) about how to clear bacne with topical and/or oral prescription options to use alongside your over-the-counter anti-acne routine. Body acne can be extra stubborn, so oftentimes combination therapy is needed to get things under control,” advises Begoun.

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Main image credit: Getty

Chelsea is BEAUTYcrew’s Contributing Editor. She has a sweet spot for anything that claims to make skin glow and won’t leave the house without a slick of mascara. Chelsea has 10 years of experience as a beauty editor and her words can be found on BEAUTYcrew, Women’s Health, Daily Addict, The Joye and Primped.