An overview of body acne


Most people associate acne with the face, but breakouts can occur on other parts of the body too – most commonly the chest, back and bottom. Read on to discover the causes, and the best skincare products to treat it.

Acne is a very common skin condition experienced by most people at some point in their lives. It causes oily skin, different types of spots, and sometimes skin that feels hot and/or painful to the touch. But breakouts aren’t just a facial thing. Body acne can occur almost anywhere, although the chest, back, upper arms and bottom are some of the most common places to experience these unwanted spots. Back acne even has its own compound term: bacne.

Acne is normal, and can happen to anyone, at any age. It’s a condition that can flare up and die down at different times, depending on certain factors – and its severity can vary widely. Wherever spots occur (on the face or on the body), they can be sore, unsightly and distressing. However, a better understanding of your own skin, and its individual triggers, can be a big help in terms of minimising and managing acne breakouts.

What causes body acne?

Body acne is caused by the same key factors that cause facial acne. These are excess oil/sebum production, cell turnover, bacterial accumulation and inflammation. There are many reasons why our skin produces too much sebum, but hormones are a common culprit. This explains why teenage acne is often triggered by increased levels of testosterone, which occur during puberty. Women who suffer from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome are more prone to facial and body acne. Other hormonal changes/imbalances (such as those experienced during the menopause) can also trigger adult-onset acne.

It’s a common misconception that acne is caused by poor hygiene, dirty skin or excess bacteria. The reality is a little more complex. Bacteria can be a contributory factor, but the issue is more to do with how bacteria behave within the skin.

Body acne most commonly occurs on the back and upper half of the body (as opposed to the legs) as there are more sebaceous glands in these areas, and therefore a higher likelihood of pores becoming blocked by excess sebum. Sweat can also irritate body acne, as can tight-fitting clothing such as Lycra, sportswear and PPE. Sustained pressure or friction on the skin, combined with heat and sweat, can irritate and inflame pores, leading to a specific type of acne called acne mechanica.

The exact breakout locations for acne mechanica depend on the clothing/equipment in question. For example, cyclists might develop spots on their forehead, scalp or chin from the helmets they wear. Gymnasts might experience chest or back acne from tight-fitting synthetic leotards.

The best treatments for body acne

Treatments for severe acne should always be diagnosed and assessed by a medical professional. However, the right skincare products and skincare routine can significantly improve both mild and moderate acne. Ideally, all treatments should relate to the main factors that cause acne (i.e. excess oil/sebum production, skin cell turnover, bacterial infiltration and inflammation). That’s why gentle but thorough cleansing and exfoliation are key.



Keeping your skin clean is the most important part of any skincare routine. Twice-daily facial cleansing is a must. How often you wash the rest of you depends on how active you are. To help prevent body acne, shower as soon as possible after sweating, because the bacteria that contribute to acne breakouts thrive on sweaty skin.

Medik8 Clarifying Foam is ideal for oily and/or blemish-prone skin, and it works just as well on your body as on your face. This purifying, antibacterial cleanser gently removes oil, impurities and makeup without ‘stripping’ or irritating skin. The formula features exfoliating acids, Tea Tree Oil to detoxify, and Niacinamide to calm and condition.

Whatever you choose to wash with, rinse thoroughly after showering or bathing. Certain formulas (including shampoo and conditioner) can leave a residue on your body which can contribute to clogged pores and body acne. Dry skin carefully afterwards. Launder your clothes regularly – and don’t forget to change your bedding at least once a week.

Be a smooth operator

Regular exfoliation is a great strategy to counter acne – as long as you don’t overdo it. Chemical exfoliators, such as AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) and BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acids) break down the bonds between surface skin cells so they are shed more easily. They can be present in all sorts of skincare products (such as Medik8’s Clarifying Foam Cleanser), or take centre stage in specialist exfoliating formulas.

Exfoliate too vigorously, or too frequently, and you run the risk of increasing inflammation and irritating skin. But in moderation, exfoliation will help to reduce breakouts by keeping pores clear. Physical scrubs (as opposed to chemical exfoliators) can be very effective on larger body areas. Try Medik8’s Smooth Body Exfoliating Kit. This three-step set features Medik8’s Smooth Body Scrub, Smooth Body Mitt and Smooth Body Lotion. The scrub uses a potent complex of both chemical and mechanical exfoliators, while the mitt targets localised areas of rough, bumpy skin and blocked hair follicles. Lightweight and fast absorbing, the body lotion also incorporates a trio of exfoliants, plus Moringa Butter and Squalane to keep skin soft and smooth.

In praise of Salicylic Acid

Skincare products that contain Salicylic Acid (a BHA) are often very effective at treating moderate acne. Salicylic Acid is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. It can also penetrate deeper into the pores than AHAs can, making it especially effective at countering excess sebum and removing dead skin cells.

Medik8’s Blemish Control Pads are a great option for both facial and body acne. The pads are pre-soaked in a maximum-strength clarifying Salicylic Acid serum, to dissolve dirt and oil from deep within the pores. They are perfect for use on larger areas such as the back, chest and arms, to help decongest breakouts. The portable pad format is super portable, so these are ideal for travel – and your gym bag.


Just like Retinol, Salicylic Acid can make skin more photosensitive, so it’s important to use an SPF. Daily sunscreen – whether you have acne or not – is one of the best ways to protect your skin, keep it healthy and prevent hyperpigmentation. And never be tempted to try to ‘dry out’ acne spots with sun exposure. Aside from the damage sunburn causes, if your skin dries out it will overcompensate by producing more oil, which can re-clog pores and cause/exacerbate acne in the affected areas.

Need more in-depth guidance and advice regarding your skincare routine? why not book yourself onto one of our free 1-2-1 Virtual Consultations? These take place via Zoom, allowing you to enjoy all the benefits of an in-clinic consultation with a Skin Expert, in the comfort of your own home, at a time that suits you.

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