Seven Causes of Body Acne

1. What causes body acne?

Body acne can really be a nuisance.  A lot of us suffer from breakouts or zits on our body even if we don’t have acne on the face.  Similar to acne on your face, body acne is caused by clogging of pores, excessive growth of acne-triggering bacteria known as Propionibacterium acnes (P acnes ) and your body’s inflammatory response.  Body acne often flares up by heat, humidity, sweat and friction from occlusive fabric or repetitive body movements, which is why body acne is commonly seen on the upper back (where there is more oil production) and buttocks (where there is more friction). 


2. What common mistakes make body acne worse?

Using a harsh physical scrubber or brush will not “unclog” the pores or follicles.  In fact excessive exfoliation can make your body acne worse by setting up your skin for potential infection when the skin barrier is compromised.  Self-extraction or trying to squeeze your back pimples will also make it worse if the clogged pores burst under the skin. Improper extraction can lead to discoloration that can take a long time to fade or even permanent scarring.  


3. What ingredients in body products can make body acne worse? Are there products to avoid entirely if you have body acne?

Most people with body acne should not over-exfoliate with harsh scrubbers or cleansers with coarse beads.  Walnut shells or nut shells are no-no, as they can cause microscopic tears of your skin, and lead to worse inflammation or even infection.  For most people with body acne, massage oils or thick body creams can clog the pores even more, since most body products over-the-counter are not tested for comedogenicity (whether a product clogs the pores or not).  Interestingly, this doesn’t mean that you should avoid body lotion completely, in fact, a light oil free lotion can keep the skin hydrated and soft so that you don’t get over production of sebum.


4. Can clothes make acne worse? How? 

Yes! Clothes that are made of thick or non-breathable fabric or have been chemically treated (e.g. wrinkle-resistant treatment or dry cleaners) can make acne worse.  These fabrics usually are not effective at wicking away excessive sweat and oil, which then stay right on the top of our skin and can clog the pores. The chemicals used in dry cleaning or to make the fabric wrinkle resistant can also irritate the skin and clog pores.  Tight clothing is another huge factor in triggering body acne. For people who work out regularly, not changing out of their sweat-soaked tank tops or tights right away is a common mistake. Sweat combined with oil will set up your skin for breakouts by promoting bacterial overgrowth.   


5. Are there cleansing mistakes that could be contributing to body acne?  What are things not to do when you have body acne?

If you must use a body brush, make sure the bristles are not too coarse or rough, and make sure you clean the brush regularly to avoid bacterial overgrowth.  Taking too long or too hot showers can also make your body acne worse by over-stripping the natural oil of your skin, which then leads to excessive oil production as your skin tries to restore the balance.  On the other end of the spectrum, it is important to shower once a day, so that the sweat and oil don’t stay on your skin for more than 24 hours. Lastly when you wrap up a sweaty workup, try to shower or rinse off right away.  If you are in a time crunch, at least change out of your wet gym clothes into fresh ones.


6. Does food contribute to body acne? What about menstrual cycles? What foods make body acne worse? How do our periods make body acne worse?

The two known food groups that worsen acne are chocolates and skim milk, as found by multiple medical studies.  The role of high glycemic diet in acne and body acne is still controversial. However, it is better for your overall health to eat more low-glycemic food.   Internal hormonal factors such as spikes of our estrogen and progesterone with menstrual cycles, thyroid imbalance, polycystic ovary syndrome, insulin resistance also can contribute to body acne. This is why dermatologists may order a hormonal workup if a person’s body acne is not getting better to the traditional therapy or if she or he has other signs of hormonal imbalances.   Lastly watch out for iodine in food and vitamins, and hidden dairy byproducts such as whey protein in fitness supplements if you are prone to get body acne. For athletes and body-builders, illicit steroid supplements are a known cause of acne.  


7. What workout habits can make body acne worse?

Intense workouts in hot environment such as heated power yoga, Bikram and cross-fit can make your body acne worse, unless you’re very careful about showering right away and changing into clean and breathable clothing.  Workouts or fitness routines that require a lot of repetitive movements, such as rowing and cycling, can lead to prolonged friction on certain body part and thereby worsen body acne. Lastly swimming in chlorinated pools that over-dries your skin can also make your face and body acne worse.

With love, Janelle & Shasa

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