Treating Shoulder Acne: Your Best Options

Acne breakouts on your shoulders are usually not the easy-to-treat mild to moderate form of common acne known as acne vulgaris. Sometimes shoulder acne is just a reaction to tight-fitting clothes or shoulder pads, but often shoulder acne is a sign of a much more serious form of this common skin condition. Shoulder acne can be especially severe because the pores on the shoulders are large and pimples can grow especially large.

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Summary:

  • Acne on the shoulders is almost never the mild to moderate common form of acne known as acne vulgaris.
  • Acne mechanica can occur on the shoulders when clothes are too tight or when you don’t take a shower after you work out.
  • Steroid acne causes breakouts on the shoulders after steroid injections.
  • Yeast infections can cause a plaque-like acne on the skin.
  • Common medications can cause shoulder acne, including some medications used to treat acne on your face.
  • The best ways to treat shoulder acne on your own are to be sure to shower after exercising, to exfoliate your skin with a shower mitt, to use an acne-fighting body wash whenever possible, and to avoid additional irritation to your skin.

Acne Mechanica on the Shoulders

The easy-to-treat form of shoulder acne is a condition known as acne mechanica. In this form of shoulder acne, the initial cause of irritation to the skin is the accumulation of sweat underneath shoulder pads, brassiere straps, or tight-fighting clothing. The skin responds to irritation by creating more sebum. The oily sebum builds up in pores that become clogged, resulting in whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples.

It is important to distinguish this form of shoulder acne from folliculitis, which occurs in hair follicles, especially after shaving the shoulders. It can also occur after use of a hot tub or wearing a wet suit. Folliculitis is more likely to be painful than acne, and is caused by a different microorganism. Folliculitis causes raised swellings with a yellow center, and acne does not. Consulting a doctor is usually necessary for treatment of folliculitis.

The treatment for acne mechanica on the shoulders is uncomplicated. All that is necessary is to stop the accumulation of sweat on the skin. This can mean placing cloth over shoulder pads or buying a better-fitting brassiere.

The best acne product for treating breakouts on the shoulders is benzoyl peroxide. Since the skin on the shoulders is tough and thick, benzoyl peroxide is less likely to cause inflammation or irritation, and more likely to kill the acne bacteria in pores. Just don’t begin benzoyl peroxide treatment before changing the wardrobe malfunction that is keeping the skin of the shoulders irritated.

Steroid Acne on the Shoulders

Steroid acne is inflammation of the skin that occurs after injection of steroids. Both prescription and illegal steroid drugs can cause steroid acne. The greatest number of pimples and papules occur on the shoulders, but there are also breakouts on the torso, buttocks, hands, and feet, with less involvement of the face. Steroid acne usually clears up when steroid use is discontinued.

Pustular Eruptions on the Shoulders

Certain antibiotics may cause the breakout of pimples and pustules primarily on the shoulders, but also elsewhere on the trunk and, to a lesser extent, on the face. Penicillin antibiotics are most likely to have this effect, but pustular eruptions on the shoulders can also be caused by the antibiotics doxycyline and co-trimoxazole, which are antibiotics that are sometimes used to treat acne on the face, as well as the drugs chloramphenicol, itraconazole, hydroxychloroquine, mercury, lithium, isoniazid, and olanzapine. This form of acne also usually clears up when the medication causing it is discontinued.

Swimming Pool Acne

Swallowing water when swimming in a chlorinated pool can cause a form of chloracne, which can pop out months of years after the the event. Taking iodine supplements or eating sushi sometimes triggers the outbreak. Pimples will be worst on the shoulders but can occur anywhere on the body.

Yeast Infections of the Shoulders

A form of yeast known as Malassezia furfur, which was previously named Pityrosporum ovale, can grow on the shoulders and cause an acne-like skin break out. It usually accumulates under shoulder pads or shoulder straps. The surface of the skin may be covered with pimples at first, but they appear to grow together in to a single, itchy plaque. Anti-fungal treatment gets rid of this condition.

Acne Conglobata of the Shoulders

Acne conglobata is an especially severe form of acne in which large, red lesions burrow and connect to each other. Usually occurring in men aged 18 to 30, acne conglobata affects shoulders, back, torso, and face. It is usually a genetic condition, but it can also be triggered by use of injected bodybuilding steroids. Acne conglobata can also affect the joints and kidneys.

Getitng acne conglobata under control usually requires a combination of steroid drugs and antibiotics. Repairing skin damage caused by acne conglobata is not something that can be done with moisturizers, exfoliants, and peels. Laser resurfacing may help. Emotional support of men who have this severe form of acne is essential to their recovery.

What Can Be Done About Shoulder Acne?

The most important thing to do for shoulder acne is to stop anything that is causing it. If the problem is acne mechanica, then it is necessary to stop wearing tight clothes. If the problem is steroid acne, then steroid injections have to be discontinued.

Most of the treatments that work for acne on the face, such as antibiotics, tea tree oil, Retin-A, topical tretinoin, Accutane, Tazorac, Differin, cleansers, moisturizers, exfoliants, and skin peels, usually have very little effect on shoulder acne.

And of all the various forms of shoulder acne, only acne mechanica can be treated without seeing a doctor. Fortunately, acne mechanica is the most common form of shoulder acne. Here’s what you can do.

  1. Take a shower immediately after you finish your workout. Oils and sweat can build up in your pores during exercise. If you are trying clear up any kind of shoulder acne, you need to cleanse the skin immediately after a hot and sweaty workout.
  2. Exfoliate the skin of your shoulders with a shower mitt while you shower. Don’t rub so hard your skin turns red, and don’t use the shower mitt on other parts of your body.
  3. Use a body wash with ingredients that fight acne, such as Clinique Acne Solution or Oxy Body Wash. You should not use these products on your face, but they can helpful disinfecting the skin of your shoulders. Limit exposure of your skin to the sun if you use any body wash that contains benzoyl peroxide, which can increase your risk of sunburn.
  4. Steer clear of detergent soaps like Ivory and abrasive soaps like Lava, as well as anything that contains fiber (polyethylene beads are OK). Your shoulder acne will clear up faster if you avoid anything that causes irritation to your skin, such as alcohol-based skin rubs, capsaicin creams for muscle pain, cologne, and clothes treated with fabric softener or dried in a drier with static control sheets.

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