If you’ve ever dealt with acne, you probably know that a blemish can appear anywhere, from your face to your back to your chest. Body acne—basically, any pimple not on the face—is typically caused by clogged pores (more on that later). Of course, knowing what causes body acne and how to get rid of body acne are two very different things—the truth is, achieving clear skin takes work.
While there (sadly) is no one-size-fits-all guaranteed way to get rid of acne on your body for good, there are things you can do to help manage it. Having a dedicated skincare routine is your first line of defense against stubborn breakouts, whether they are on your face or your back. Ahead, we share some things you should know about body acne, including a body care routine with our product recommendations for managing this skin concern, so your skin looks and feels it’s very best.
What Causes Body Acne?
Acne comes in many different forms, such as whiteheads and blackheads, but research shows it is frequently caused by clogged pores. Other causes and contributors include excess oil production, bacteria, and hormonal imbalances. Breakouts tend to occur where you produce the most oil, which is why you commonly see acne on the face, back, shoulders, and chest—these areas have the most active oil glands.
The most common subtypes of acne are the blackheads and whiteheads we already mentioned, as well as pimples. Blackheads typically develop when pores get clogged with oil and dead skin cells, and then that buildup is exposed to air, causing it to oxidize and turn a dark brown-to-black color. Whiteheads develop similarly but without the oxidation. Finally, pimples develop when oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria get stuck inside a pore and cause it to become inflamed or infected. These types of acne develop in the same manner, whether you have body breakouts or pimples on your face.
Thankfully, lots of acne can be managed by maintaining a dedicated skincare routine. Keep reading to learn about which products to incorporate into your routine to help keep your skin looking clear.
Tip #1: Keep Skin Clean With a Gentle Body Wash
Whether you have chest acne or forehead pimples, clearer skin often starts with keeping your pores clean of trapped oil and skin cells, as studies indicate these are the main causes of breakouts. The first step in your daily body care routine should be to wash thoroughly with a gentle cleanser specifically formulated for the skin on your body, like Bath and Shower Liquid Body Cleanser, which is suitable for all skin types. The foaming wash gently yet effectively cleans the skin and helps to maintain moisture, leaving skin feeling clean and comfortable.
When you hop in the shower, after washing and conditioning your hair, apply a generous amount of the body wash to your skin with clean hands or a loofah. Cleanse your entire body, making sure to focus on breakout-prone areas like the back and chest, and rinse thoroughly. Showering once per day is generally sufficient, but if you exercise, swim, or sweat, it’s a good idea to quickly shower off after, as trapped sweat, dirt, and oil could lead to clogged pores.
Kiehl’s Expert Tip: When the temperature dips in the winter, there’s nothing like a steaming hot shower, but research indicates super-hot water can dry out your skin. Instead of cranking the temp to scalding, try taking warm showers whenever possible to keep heat-related damage at bay.
Tip #2: Exfoliate To Remove Dead Skin Cells
The skin is the largest organ in the human body, and science shows it is constantly working to keep you safe from environmental stressors and protect your vital organs from the outside world. After a skin cell dies, it sheds: Data indicates humans shed approximately 200,000,000 skin cells every hour.I Most slough off naturally (and eventually form dust bunnies under the bed), but sometimes, dead cells can get stuck on the surface of the skin. When this happens, the dead skin cells can mix with oil and dirt and lead to clogged pores, which can cause blemishes to form.I Exfoliating can help the shedding process along, therefore minimizing the likelihood of developing clogged pores and pimples on the body.
A couple of times a week, consider using a Gently Exfoliating Body Scrub to help remove dead surface skin cells without over-drying the skin. Massage the scrub onto damp skin using your fingertips, taking care to avoid delicate areas such as the face and neck, and rinse thoroughly to ensure no residue remains. For men, (who, researchers note, often have thicker skin than womenI), we recommend "Ultimate Man" Body Scrub Soap, which exfoliates the skin and helps to alleviate roughness, even on tougher areas like the elbows and heels.
Kiehl’s Expert Tip: How often you can safely exfoliate depends entirely on your skin type. Tougher, drier areas, such as the elbows, knees, and heels, can typically handle more frequent exfoliation. For delicate skin, such as on the stomach and chest, stick to exfoliating once or twice per week, adjusting the frequency if necessary.
Tip #3: Use a Daily Body Moisturizer to Keep Skin Hydrated
It may seem counterintuitive to use a body butter or lotion if your skin is producing excess oil and causing acne on your body, but moisture is crucial for healthy-looking skin. Research suggests having dry skin can actually leave you more susceptible to acne, as irritated skin is less able to repair and protect itself than skin with a healthy moisture barrier.I To help keep your skin hydrated, apply a lightweight, non-greasy moisturizer every day after showering.
Kiehl’s Expert Tip: Not all dry skin is created equal. Check out our article, Is Your Skin Dry or Dehydrated? to learn about the differences between dry and dehydrated skin.
Tip #4: Treat Active Breakouts With a Spot Treatment
Even if you do everything right, the reality is, you’re probably still going to get back acne or a pimple on your chest every now and then. When that happens, reach for a spot treatment designed to treat active breakouts, such as our Breakout Control Targeted Acne Spot Treatment. This formula, which features 10% sulfur, helps reduce the appearance of the blemishes that do pop up and helps prevent new breakouts from forming. Simply dab a small amount of the spot treatment onto clean skin one to three times per day as needed.
Kiehl’s Expert Tip: Some spot treatments can dry out the skin. If you start experiencing dryness or peeling, reduce the frequency of applications.
Tip # 5: Don’t Pick at Your Breakouts
Try to avoid squeezing, picking at, or popping the pimples on your body—or in any spot, for that matter—as that can make the breakout worse and could lead to acne scars. In general, you should avoid touching acne as much as possible, as oils and bacteria from your fingers can penetrate the already-damaged skin around the breakout and make it worse.I If touching the pimple is unavoidable, make sure to wash your hands with soap before and after to avoid transferring bacteria to other parts of your body.
Kiehl’s Expert Tip: If you’re getting facial acne as well, our Routine for Acne-Prone Skin may help keep those blemishes at bay.
Tip #6: Consult a Dermatologist for Professional Advice
Ultimately, there are no absolutes when it comes to skincare. If you’re suffering from recurrent body breakouts and topical acne treatments aren’t helping as much as you’d like them to, consult a dermatologist for professional help. A dermatologist will help you figure out why you’re getting acne and may give you prescription-strength medication to help manage your breakouts.
Now that you’ve learned more about body breakouts and how to address them, read up on our recommended Healthy Skin Habits to keep your skin looking and feeling great from head to toe.
I. Rahrovan, S et al. "Male versus female skin: What dermatologists and cosmeticians should know." International Journal of Women’s Dermatology Vol. 4,3 122-130. 22 Jun. 2018, doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2018.03.002