Back Acne & Chest Acne: Will They Ruin Your Summer?

Cynthia Bailey, MD|April 22, 2010
  • chest acne and back acne: skin care tips to wear summer cloths Strappy sun dresses, tank tops and bathing suits are part of summer. Is your skin ready for you to wear what you want, or do you have to wear clothes that hide pimples on your back and chest?
  • Tune up your skin for summer's clothes with some simple tweaks to your skin care.

A lot of people have acne on their back and chest, but you don't see it because they cover it up with clothes. There's also not a lot of advice out there for treating back and chest acne which means that I see many of these folks in my dermatology practice. Most of my back and chest acne patients have the type of acne called pityrosporum folliculitis. This type of acne is caused by a different acne germ than the more common form of acne called acne vulgaris, and it needs different treatment in order to improve. Pityrosporum folliculitis is caused by a yeast called pityrosporum. To treat it, you need to use medicines and skin care practices that get rid of this yeast and most regular acne treatments don't.

Here’s the 5 step plan I give my dermatology patients to treat their back and chest acne:

  1. Wash the back and chest skin with medicated products that specifically treat this type of acne. Products need to kill yeast and unclog the pores. I developed my Back Acne Kit in order to makes this step easy for my patients. It has one cleanser with 2% zinc pyrithione to kill yeast and another with 10% benzoyl peroxide to unclog pores. The cleansers are applied with an exfoliating cloth to help the medicines penetrate into the skin. There are some tricks to using these two medicines and the kit comes with complete instructions.
  2. Keep the back and chest skin as sweat and oil free as possible. The yeast germ that causes this type of acne feeds on oil and sweat. Showering at least once a day with the medicated cleansers is important, but so is showering as soon as possible after workouts or any other sweaty activities. If it’s not possible to shower immediately after sweating, I recommend, at least degrease the skin with rubbing alcohol and changing into a clean dry shirt.
  3. Special skin treatments such as ‘back facials’ and light skin peels can really help. These are done in the dermatologist’s office or by aestheticians. I usually recommend they be done every month until the skin clears up.
  4. Diet matters with back and chest acne. The yeast thrives on sugar rich oily skin. Eating low carb, low fat foods puts the yeast on a starvation diet. My Alkaline Mediterranean diet is perfect for people with back acne; it provides you with nutritionally rich foods while closing the restaurant to the yeast.
  5. As an absolute last resort, a little careful sun exposure often helps this type of acne. Sun exposure is highly controversial, and I only recommend it to my patients with severe back and chest acne who aren't improving enough in spite of doing everything I’ve already mentioned-AND who have a big event where they need clear skin (like prom, a wedding etc.) Then, and only then a little mid day sun unfortunately can help clear back and chest acne in a pinch. Sun works because it suppresses the skin’s immune cells that are fighting the yeast in the pimples. 5 minutes of mid day sun, without a sun burn, can sometimes help heal the pimples pretty fast. Sun of course causes permanent damage to the skin in the form of freckles, wrinkles and skin cancers. The damage can never be reversed, so sun is of course a last resort and only done for the short period of time before the event. Tanning beds are an absolute no-no and should never be used.

Photo Attribution: / CC BY 2.0

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