Last Updated on July 31st, 2019
According to the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, around 45% of people with acne also experience acne on their chest1, which means there are quite a few people out there looking for solutions on how to get rid of chest acne. If you’ve tried using your acne treatment products, you might have discovered that they don’t seem to work as well with chest acne. This article will explain why that is, describe some different reasons for chest acne, answer some frequently asked questions, and, most importantly, provide tips on how to get rid of chest acne.
Article Table of Contents
In some ways, facial and chest acne are similar: both are caused by a combination of oil and dead skin buildup, acne-causing bacteria, and inflammation. But your skin sheds dead skin cells faster than your chest, meaning exfoliation is more important for facial skin care, and your chest has larger pores, meaning it is usually more vulnerable to bacteria. The biggest difference between how to improve facial acne and how to get rid of chest acne depends on the thickness of your skin in both areas.
Skin is made up of three main layers: the deepest is the hypodermis, or the subcutaneous layer; the middle layer is called the dermis, and the thin top layer is the epidermis.
The overall thickness of these layers is significantly thinner on your face, making it more sensitive. This is why you should use a gentle skin care system, like Exposed Skincare. This 3-step skin care routine cleanses, treats, and moisturizes your skin with the perfect combination of benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and soothing natural products—for your face that is.
For your chest, you’ll want to try an acne treatment with a higher concentration, like Exposed Skincare’s full body acne treatment.
Unlike their facial skin care line, Exposed Skincare’s body acne treatment serum contains 3.5% benzoyl peroxide, making it stronger and more effective on your chest acne. It also comes with a cleansing body wash that contains 0.5% salicylic acid and a cloth that helps exfoliate your skin. Exposed Skincare is a great option for treating chest acne, but this article contains even more tips for how to get rid of chest acne.
Sports can sometimes lead to sports-induced acne, or acne mechanica, on the chest. This is typically caused by friction2 and the trapping of heat and sweat beneath sportswear/equipment that is too tight, like football pads, sports bras, or simply tight uniforms. Tight sportswear can rub against the skin, causing irritation, and when skin is irritated, it tends to produce more natural oils, or sebum. This sebum can clog pores all on its own, but when you are exercising or playing sports, the heat and sweat contribute to the excess sebum to create more acne.
To improve chest acne caused by sports or exercise, wear more loosely fit clothing if possible. Sometimes, though, uniforms cannot be adjusted, and sports bras need to be tight to be effective. In those cases, make sure you wash the sportswear after each use to prevent the buildup of acne-causing bacteria, and shower right after physical activity. It can also help to use a loufa or exfoliating body wash on the affected areas, but make sure you also use an anti-inflammatory agent afterwards, like aloe vera.
Although they aren’t sure why, some studies show3 that people with an African or Asian heritage are more likely to seek solutions on how to get rid of chest acne. These skin types appear to be more prone to a condition known as dermatitis, which is typically caused by friction and causes the skin to become irritated and inflamed. This can then cause the skin to produce more sebum which can clog pores and produce acne.
One potential explanation for this increased sensitivity might be the clothes you’re wearing. If you previously lived in Japan and only started developing chest acne after moving to the US, you could be allergic to formaldehyde. This isn’t a problem in Japan because the standard amount of formaldehyde allowed in clothing is very low there. However, this amount is much higher in the US. You may have always had this allergy, but were never exposed to enough formaldehyde to be made aware of it until you moved to the US. If you think this is the case, you can find a variety of formaldehyde-free (sometimes called “non-toxic”) clothing online.
Before the beginning of your period, you may notice additional acne on or around the breasts, due to an influx of hormones. In the premenstrual stage of your cycle, the body creates more androgens, including testosterone and progesterone, both of which can increase the production of sebum. This can clog pores and lead to increased acne anywhere on the body, but it may be more likely to affect your breasts because of another side effect of menstrual hormones: swelling.
These hormones can cause your breasts to swell, making your bra fit a little tighter than usual. This tightness creates friction and traps heat and sweat, all of which can lead to clogged pores and increased acne.
One solution for how to get rid of chest acne caused by your menstrual cycle is the use of oral contraceptives. Oral contraceptives even out hormones, which could help with the sebum production and breast swelling that can contribute to chest acne. Premenstrual chest acne may also benefit from some of the solutions for how to get rid of chest acne in general.
Some people are surprised that they can get chest acne from shaving just their face, but when shaving cream drips down the neck all the way to the chest, it can cause skin irritation due to the hair trimmings, facial bacteria, and chemicals in the shaving cream. The irritation can cause skin to produce more sebum, which can clog pores and lead to acne, and the facial bacteria that causes acne can travel down to the chest and cause acne there as well.
One way to avoid getting chest acne after shaving is to use a shaving cream that has as few chemicals in it as possible. No fragrances, no moisturizers, you just need something to protect your skin from the razor. All of those additives can irritate the skin of your chest and cause more acne. In addition to using the plainest shaving cream you can find, it helps if you rinse your chest right after shaving, when you rinse your neck.
An alternative option would be to buy a shaving gel instead of cream and shave in the shower. The gel is generally better for sensitive skin and doesn’t contain the pore-clogging chemicals typically present in shaving creams. Shaving in the shower also ensures that the hair trimmings are thoroughly washed away instead of getting stuck in your chest pores.
If you shave your chest, similar advice applies: avoid extra chemicals in shaving cream, or use shaving gel, and shave in the shower and be sure to rinse thoroughly. Another important way you can prevent acne is always using a sharp razor. More serious chest acne can develop if you use a dull razor; rather than cleanly cutting the hair, a dull razor will often push the hair back into the hair follicle so it grows inward, and the skin will grow over it and form red bumps. This is typically called razor burn and is not a type of acne, but it can lead to a very serious form of acne4, especially in Hispanic, black, or African American men, called acne keloidals nuchae (AKN).
AKN is a chronic inflammatory condition where the immune system attacks the hair follicle, resulting in raised, keloid-like acne. If your razor burn looks more like large bumps or raised scars, you should see a dermatologist. They can provide antibiotics, prescription acne medication, or even surgical removal of the keloids.
Your chest acne probably won’t respond to the acne treatment products you use on your face because the skin on your face is so much more delicate than that on your chest. Chest acne typically needs products that can get through thicker skin to cleanse the whole pore, meaning it has to be stronger than something you would use on your face.
However, you want to be cautious of jumping to something much stronger right away. A good rule of thumb is to use your facial treatments on your chest for 6 weeks. Then if there’s no improvement, check the active ingredient concentration on each of your products, and purchase other face washes or serums that have a slightly higher concentration. Repeat the 6 week trial and continue upping the active ingredient if you still don’t see results.
If you find yourself using products with a 5% concentration and your acne still isn’t improving, you might want to speak with a dermatologist to develop a plan for how to get rid of chest acne.
A cleansing facewash (applied most easily in the shower) can help exfoliate your skin to clear out excess dead skin cells or sebum that may be causing chest acne.
An acne treatment cream containing active ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or glycolic acid can limit sebum production leading to chest acne. If you have facial acne, you likely already have an acne treatment cream or ointment, but just like with the facewash, if it is gentle enough for your face, it probably isn’t strong enough for your chest.
Note: if you have acne around your nipples or areolas, do not use highly concentrated acne treatments. This acne is likely caused by bacteria that benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid won’t treat very well. Instead, look to the next recommended treatment below.
Tea tree oil is one of the best treatments if you have acne around your nipple or areola. Tea tree oil is good at fighting bacteria5, making it an ideal product for nipple or areola acne that is typically caused by bacteria rather than heightened sebum production, like much of other chest acne.
Note: tea tree oil can affect sex hormones in teenagers; most notably, it can cause enlarged breast tissue in teenage boys, so it is generally not recommended to treat teenage chest acne.
Acne conglobata is a relatively rare, extreme form of acne that can cause significant scarring. Acne in general is caused primarily by bacteria, causing minor infections that result in blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples. With acne conglobata, this infection becomes much more severe. The infection burrows deeper into the skin, creating cystic acne, keloid-like scars, and pimples that fill with pus even after draining.
Steroids, oral antibiotics, and retinoids like isotretinoin have all been shown as possible treatments6 for acne conglobata. These treatment regimens often last 20 weeks or longer, and once the acne has subsided, surgical improvement of scarring is available. Seeking treatment early can prevent some of the more severe scarring.
Does sweating worsen chest acne?
Although sweat can contribute to chest acne if sportswear is too tight or not washed regularly, sweat itself may improve acne, according to Acne.org.
Sweat contains a substance called dermcidin, which is antimicrobial and helps reduce bacteria on the skin, including P. acnes, the bacteria that is largely responsible for acne. A study published7 in Acto Dermato-Venereologica found that people with acne tend to produce less dermcidin naturally. Breaking a sweat while exercising generates more dermcidin, which then fights acne-causing bacteria and could help clear skin.
This is just one study though, so if you notice that sweat makes your chest acne worse, follow the other guidelines in this article on how to get rid of chest acne.
I’m already pushing my budget by paying for effective, but expensive, facial acne treatments; are there any budget-friendly, do-it-yourself tips for how to get rid of chest acne?
It is always important to do your research before trying out home treatment, but there are definitely some DIY options that can be effective answers to how to get rid of chest acne. Two favorites are a honey and cinnamon mixture and aloe vera.
If you’re looking for a home remedy to treat stubborn acne around your nipple or areola, a cinnamon and honey mixture could help. Both cinnamon and honey have anti-microbial properties8, and since breast acne is typically caused by bacteria, these products can help. Simply mix a teaspoon of honey with a teaspoon of cinnamon, mix until it forms a paste, apply to the affected area, then let it sit for 15 minutes before rinsing gently.
A good DIY option for chest acne caused by irritation (shaving, sports, etc.) is aloe vera. Aloe vera is soothing and anti-inflammatory, which can help with the irritation and resulting excess sebum production that may be causing your chest acne.
I don’t like to wear sunscreen because it clogs my pores, but I have such fair skin. How do I keep from burning without breaking out?
Your chest is especially susceptible to clogged pores because they are typically bigger than facial pores, so it’s understandable to have increased chest acne due to sunscreen. But protecting your skin from sun damage is important for all skin types, and especially important for treating acne. Many acne treatments can make your skin extra sensitive to the sun, and the way your skin gets dried out when it burns can make acne that much harder to treat.
To prevent sunscreen-induced breakouts, make sure you check the label for words like “non-pore-clogging,” “non-comedogenic,” or “oil-free” before buying sunscreen.
My facial acne cleared up years ago, so why do I still have chest acne?
Facial acne and chest acne differ in a few key ways, such as pore size and skin thickness, but one main reason you might still have chest acne after clearing up facial acne is because of clothing. If you typically wear clothes that touch your chest, the friction or chemicals used in your laundry detergent could generate irritation which encourages your skin to produce more sebum. When the clothing keeps rubbing against the skin, the excess sebum gets trapped and can clog pores.
Using a fabric softener or switching to a laundry detergent with as few chemicals as possible could help, along with wearing looser clothing or using an acne facewash on your chest while in the shower.
How do I cover up my chest acne/scars or hyperpigmentation from chest acne?
It’s important to know that if you have chest acne, you aren’t alone. Like this article says at the beginning, nearly 45% of people with acne also have chest acne.
That being said, sometimes clearer skin can make us feel more confident, and it can be hard to enjoy special occasions if we’re worrying about our blemishes. When it comes to covering up chest acne, or scars/hyperpigmentation from chest acne, you’ll want to take a different tactic than you use to cover up facial acne/acne scars. The main reason for this is how much you touch things with your chest, compared to how much you touch things with your face. If you use a powdery foundation on your chest, it may come off on your clothes, your sheets, or other people, if you hug them. This can lead to damaged clothing or potential embarrassment, so it’s important to find a product that won’t rub off. This eliminates most facial cover ups.
A popular option for covering chest acne is tanning lotion. Unlike most makeups, many tanning lotions do not rub off on clothing if allowed to set for the proper amount of time, and tanning lotions are often made to even out skin tone, which can be very helpful with covering up darkened acne scars. While these products have been made largely for fair-skinned people in the past, more and more brands are coming out with a variety of darker shades. Just like with sunscreen, make sure any product you choose to cover your chest acne is “non-pore-clogging” or “non-comedogenic;” trying to cover acne with pore-clogging products will only make the acne worse9.
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