When you think of acne, you will probably think of spots and pustules on your face. However, this is not the only place where acne can appear, and it can actually affect any area of the body that has hair follicles or oil secreting glands. These areas include the chest, shoulders, and back.
'Bacne', as back acne is colloquially known, affects as many as 60% of people, but it is not something that is talked about. Whereas facial acne (which affects up to 95% of people aged between 11 and 30) is obvious and cannot be hidden, back acne is easy to hide away and therefore can be forgotten about for the most part, or at least not dealt with. However, this ‘out of sigh, out of mind’ mindset regarding back acne is not helpful; there are ways that back acne can be treated, and the sooner you start using them the better.
What Causes back acne?
Just like your face, your back has many sebaceous glands. These glands secrete an oily substance called sebum which helps to ensure the hair and skin remain properly moisturised. It is made up of fatty free acids, triglycerides, squalene, cholesterol, cholesterol esters, and wax esters. It is an invaluable part of the body.
However, when sebum rises to the surface of the skin, it mixes with lipids, sweat, and all kinds of debris from the surrounding environment. When this happens, the oil starts to block the pores of the skin and the hair follicles on your body. When the hair follicles become too clogged up, it becomes an acne lesion.
Different Types of Back Acne
The term ‘back acne’ actually covers a wide range of different looking spots and marks. Although they are all caused by blocked follicles and pores, the reasons they emerge differently are varied.
- Whiteheads are the most common type of back acne. Rather than erupting, the blocked follicle remains closed, and therefore resembles a white bump on the skin.
- Conversely, when a follicle opens up, it forms a blackhead. The reason the head of the spot tuns black is because the sebum is reacting with the air – it is nothing to do with dirt, and you cannot ‘scrub’ a blackhead ‘clean’.
- If the acne you are experience is sore and looks like small pink bumps, you have papules.
- Another term for a pustule is a pimple, which you may have heard of before. As the original name suggests, these are filled with pus, so they look white or yellow, and the base is red.
- Cysts are also pus filled, but they are much larger than pustules, and they are extremely painful. If treated in the wrong way, or if they are picked or scratched, they can leave scars.
- Sometimes acne lesions don’t make it to the surface of the skin, and those that form deeper down are called nodules. These feel like hard bumps, and they are rather large and painful.
How To Treat Back Acne
As with most medical conditions, it is best to try to prevent back acne in the first place, and although this is not always possible, there are some measures you can take that might help.
To start with, check the leaflets and labels of any medication you might be taking. Some drugs can list the development of acne as a side effect. If that is the case, then it is best to speak to a healthcare professional about any alternative medication that you might be able to take. Remember, though, as uncomfortable as you might find back acne, if the medication is doing you good otherwise, it might be something that you choose to live with, in order to feel better in every other aspect of your life.
Oil based skin care products can also be an issue, as adding more oil to already oil skin can cause your follicles to become blocked more easily. Search for oil-free products including moisturisers and sun protection. Check the labels of anything you are intending to use; if it claims to be non-comedogenic it means that it won’t cause blackheads, for example.
Pressure on your back, from carrying a bag or sports equipment, can cause your hair follicles to become blocked as well. If you carry equipment or a backpack for long periods, try to reduce this.
Good skin care is another way of reducing acne (and not just back acne, but wherever you happen to have it). Regularly use a gentle cleanser to wash yourself and always take a shower after any form of exercise, particularly if you have sweat.
If you still find you have back acne, there are over the counter treatments that can help. These will include ingredients such as sulphur, resorcinol, salicylic acid, and benzoyl peroxide.
If none of the above has helped you, you will need to seek advice from a dermatologist. They will be able to prescribe medication to reduce and even remove any signs of back acne.