Last Updated on October 2nd, 2019
Acne breakouts on your shoulders are usually not the easy-to-treat mild to moderate form of common acne known as acne vulgaris.
Here’s how to combat shoulder and back acne:
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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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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 skin2 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 by wearing a wetsuit. 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 is inflammation of the skin that occurs after injection of steroids3. 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.
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 doxycycline and co-trimoxazole, which are antibiotics that are sometimes used to treat acne4 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.
Swallowing water when swimming in a chlorinated pool can cause a form of chloracne, which can pop out months of years after 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 body5.
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 out6. 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 into a single, itchy plaque. Anti-fungal treatment gets rid of this condition.
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 the use of injected bodybuilding steroids7. Acne conglobata can also affect the joints and kidneys.
Getting 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.
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.
If you have a few dollars to spend and feel motivated to do something about your shoulder acne today, we highly recommend you take a closer look at the Exposed Body Acne Kit. Their products are spa-quality, effective, and competitively priced. Plus, they also offer what is probably the best guarantee we have ever seen.
To be your most trusted ally in your pursuit of clear, healthy skin.