Struggling With Back Acne? Your Workouts Could Be to Blame, but These Tips Can Help

If you hit the gym regularly, you know that breakouts can be as much a part of an active lifestyle as those muscle gains. Particularly common? "Bacne," the painful bumps that can crop up on your back and make wearing things like tanks and swimsuits unnerving. "If you're prone to acne, you might experience breakouts on the face, chest, or back, and even all of these areas at the same time," Rajani Katta, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and author of Glow: The Dermatologist's Guide to a Whole Foods, Younger Skin Diet, told POPSUGAR. While hormones and genetics play a role, there are some steps you can take to get your workout-driven breakouts under control.

What Causes Bacne?

"Acne on the back is caused by the same factors that lead to breakouts on the face," Joshua Zeichner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, told POPSUGAR. "Skin cells sit together and block the follicles, leading to an accumulation of oil and an overgrowth of acne-causing bacteria. This collectively leads to inflammation within the pores, which is what we call acne."

Unfortunately, a good sweat session can make that more likely. "Sweat itself is not associated with acne," Dr. Zeichner explained. "However, when you experience heavy sweating, you're usually exercising and wearing tight-fitting clothing against your skin. This may trap dirt and oil and promote inflammation, leading to acne breakouts."

To make matters worse, it can be difficult to care for your skin in those hard-to-reach places. "The back is challenging to treat because it is a large surface area and may be difficult to reach by yourself," Dr. Katta said.

How to Prevent Bacne While Working Out

The good news is there are many ways to keep your skin clear. Here are several strategies, straight from the doctors:

  • Choose the right workout clothes. "Look for moisture-wicking performance fabrics," Dr. Zeichner said.
  • Take off sweaty clothes ASAP. "The sweat and bacteria can act to clog pores and make you more prone to breakouts on the back," Dr. Katta said. "Some of my patients also experience breakouts when they're wearing heavy backpacks, and sweating underneath, for long periods of time."
  • Shower immediately after your workout. Taking a quick shower helps to remove sweat, dirt, and oil from the skin. "If you can't get to the shower, you can use cleansing towelettes to wash yourself down," Dr. Zeichner suggested.
  • Try a cleanser containing salicylic acid. "Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that helps remove excess oil and exfoliate dead cells from the surface of the skin to keep your pores clear," Dr. Zeichner explained. Many brands offer cleansers specifically designed for the rest of the body. You might also invest in a bath sponge with a longer handle to scrub those hard-to-reach areas.
  • Slather on benzoyl peroxide. "If you develop red, angry breakouts, apply a leave-on product that contains benzoyl peroxide," Dr. Zeichner said. "Benzoyl peroxide lowers levels of acne-causing bacteria to treat pimples you have and prevent new ones from developing."
  • See your dermatologist. "Since acne on the back can leave permanent scarring, it's important to see your dermatologist to discuss effective treatments if these measures aren't working," Dr. Katta said.