Back Acne: Remedies for Unseen Acne

friction acne

Friction acne is the most common type of back acne.

Blackheads and pimples on the back are a common problem, but people who have them may not even know that they are there. And if you do discover that you have back acne when you look in a mirror, or, worse, your best friends or worst enemies let you know about it, it is very hard to treat.

While it is a challenge to treat back acne, it is still possible to clear up common acne on your back with relative ease—if you just know how. This article will tell you everything you need to know about getting rid of back acne for good.


  • Back acne is a problem for active people who perspire a lot, and for people who can reach to wash their backs.
  • The most common kind of back acne is friction acne, which causes blemishes to accumulate where tight clothing or uniforms accumulate sweat.
  • There are also a number of relatively rare causes of back acne, some of which are caused by health treatments.
  • Benzoyl peroxide gel gets rid of back acne, but it has to stay in contact with the skin for at least 5 minutes to do any good.
  • Exposed Skin Care’s Clearing Tonic also helps treat back acne when oily skin is a problem.

What Causes Back Acne?

The most common cause of the kind of back acne that pops up as blackheads and solitary pimples is a condition known as acne mechanica. This kind of acne is also sometimes referred to as friction acne. Tight-fitting blouses, shirts, jerseys, brassieres, or shoulder pads trap sweat and dirt on the skin. Over a period of a few hours, they grind dirt and oily films into pores, and the constant exposure to sweat causes the skin to shrivel and, at least in the top layer, die. Dead skin cells get stuck in pores that form blackheads and pimples. This form of back acne most commonly occurs in younger, active people.

Another cause of back acne is old age. Some older people just aren’t able to shower and bathe as often as they like, and they can’t reach around to cleanse the back. Stubborn blackheads are more likely than pimples in senile acne.

Other, rarer forms of back acne result from:

  • Acne conglobata. This form of acne causes pimples to “burrow” connections to each other on the face, back, and chest. Most common in men with hereditary hormone imbalances, it always requires medical treatment.
  • Acne fulminans. Excessive use of testosterone replacement in men can cause a combination of joint damage and severe acne on the back and trunk. This form of acne also always requires medical treatment.
  • Acupuncture. Sometimes pimples form in pores next to the sites where acupuncture needles are used repeatedly. This problem presupposes that your acupuncturist is sufficiently skilled to place the same needle in the same site over and over again—which is needed for the acupuncture to work. If you notice pimples on your back after acupuncture, speak with your acupuncturist about treating different points on your body.
  • Antidepressants. The older tricyclic antidepressants can cause profuse breakouts of pimples and blackheads primarily on the back, but also on the chest, neck, ears, and face. These antidepressants are most commonly used in North America, Europe, and Australia to treat the complications of diabetes rather than depression. Don’t stop taking your medication without speaking with your physician, but know that discontinuing the medication will probably allow your skin to heal.
  • Hair care products. Pomades, mousse, volumizers, conditioners, and shampoo can cause acne both on the forehead and on the back of the neck and the back if the hair and surrounding skin are not thoroughly rinsed after application. Ponytails and braids can transfer oil to the skin of the back that can clog pores and cause back acne. Always be sure to rinse your skin thoroughly.

Preventing Back Acne

The way to prevent the most common form of back acne is simple: Always take a shower when you get sweaty. Scientists have tracked shower habits and rates of back acne and found that it is not necessary to cleanse the skin immediately after a high-perspiration activity. Up to four hours later is OK. When you do shower, be sure to use warm water, not hot, to keep from drying out your skin, and try to use a shower mitt to exfoliate your skin while you are in the shower. Limit showers to 5 minutes to prevent additional wrinkling of your skin.

It also helps to avoid constrictive clothing. The less time you spend “strapped in,” the fewer problems you will have with back acne.

What about back acne in the elderly? An old-timey back brush is an easy way for older persons to take care of this problem on their own. It is not necessary to “scrub acne away.” Just make sure all of your back gets some attention when you shower. When you wash your hair, make sure both back and forehead get a good rinse.

Treating Back Acne

Treating back acne is a little trickier. If you have pimples on your back, the best treatment is:

  • 5% or stronger benzoyl peroxide gel
  • Made with “finely milled” particles of benzoyl peroxide that
  • Stays in contact with your skin for at least 5 minutes.

A 5% benzoyl peroxide gel may be too irritating for your face, but it may be just right for your back. Products that are made with tiny particles of benzoyl peroxide actually get inside pores, killing bacteria and loosening dead skin. But you need to plan ahead so that the product can stay on your skin for at least 5 minutes and preferably longer.

Benzoyl peroxide gel should be applied across your back after your shower and towel off but before your skin gets completely dry. You should not just slap the gel on your back and put on your clothes, because the gel releases hydrogen peroxide. This both kills bacteria and bleaches hair and clothing. It only takes 5 minutes to kill up 98% of acne bacteria on your back, although keeping the gel on your back up to 15 minutes will kill even more.

Once the gel has had a chance to do its work, rinse your back again to make sure you get all of the product off.

What can you do if you can’t reach your back? If there is no one in your life who can apply the product for you, try an easy-reach lotion applicator. Several brands should be available on Amazon or at your local drugstore. And if oily skin is a problem on your back, try Exposed Skin Care’s Clearing Tonic (also applied with a stretch-over lotion applicator if necessary) to break up matted skin that clog pores and cause blackheads and pimples.

{ 3 comments... read them below or add one }

    Does this work for chest too ?

    Good question. We actually have a separate article on how to treat chest acne.

    Does this apply for benzoyl peroxide creams as well as gels? I am just about to begin using a 5% cream and am worried about dressing and sleeping with it on as I don’t want to ruin my clothes and bedding due to bleaching. If I could wake up early, shower, apply the cream, and shower again 15 mins later, then get dressed without worrying about its bleaching effect and knowing that it is still working at almost 100%, I would be seriously happy!

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