A Crash Course in Treating Bacne

We focus a lot on our faces and necks in the beauty community, but…we have a lot more skin to take care of.

No judgment from me if your body is neglected though because I’m pretty sure I’ll never have a full-body Glass-Cloud-Butter Skin Glow™.

man playing acoustic guitar
You know that John Mayer song “Your Body is a Wonderland”? There’s a little-known B-side track about me called “Your Body is a Wasteland.”

One thing I do focus on for my body is managing breakouts.

I get a LOT of questions about clearing up body breakouts, particularly back acne, or “bacne.” While my back may never be model-perfect, I’ve more or less figured out how to keep it and my other problem areas as clear as possible.

Today I shall impart this wisdom unto you, dear reader.

What Causes Bacne?

Knowing what causes the problem is the first step towards fixing it.

As with face acne, there are factors like hormones, genetics, stress and diet that can contribute to breakouts. However, there are a few things that can cause bacne that you might not have considered since they don’t apply to face breakouts.

  1. Hair products

    Conditioners are the number one culprit of back breakouts, especially if you have long or thick hair. Conditioning and styling products are often full of ingredients that are great for your hair but super pore clogging if they sit on your skin.

  2. Tight clothing

    Friction from bra straps, tight waistbands or fitted shirts can be irritating enough to cause breakouts on your back, butt or thighs. I’m not saying I’ll ever stop wearing leggings, but…I am saying that it’s not a big mystery to me when I suddenly have bumps on my lower back, either. Sacrifices must sometimes be made, friends.

  3. Sweating

    For most of us, sweating is inevitable. One day I’ll be rich enough to Botox all of the sweat glands in my body and I’ll just permanently live in AC or wallow in expensive mud to cool off. Until then, I must suffer. Anyways, sweat sitting against your skin is a recipe for rashes and bacne, especially if you’re also wearing tight clothes. That’s why fitness experts always say to peel off your gym clothes ASAP after a workout!

Other things like dirty hair, infrequently changing your sheets and not washing your back well can also obviously cause problems, but those things are usually covered when you’re dealing with face acne.

How Can I Get Rid of Bacne?

In a lot of cases, you can use the same strategies for your body that you would for your face. Application is a little trickier in some spots, but overall, skin is skin.

posing skeleton
“Hey girl, guess who’s got two thumbs and no bacne? THIS GUY!”

However, I will say that body skin is often thicker and more resilient than the delicate neck-up skin, so you can sometimes pull out the big guns with less risk.

Step 1 – Change how you condition

You don’t really even have to change that much, but keeping conditioning products far away from your skin is a HUGE help towards clearing up bacne.

There are two things you can do. You can even do both, if you’re so inclined.

The first trick is to thoroughly wash your back after rinsing your conditioner out. Yes, do this even if you’ve already washed your back one time. Trust me.

The second solution is to flip your hair upside-down and rinse the conditioner out that way. It keeps the conditioner off of your scalp AND your skin, which some people may prefer. If you do any variation of the curly girl hair method, this is also a good way to go right into scrunching product into your hair.

Step 2 – Exfoliate! Keep exfoliating!

Here’s my HOT TAKE on body exfoliation: Even if you have sensitive skin, I still think you should do some kind of physical scrubbing. Nothing wild or crazy, but even just using a soft dry brushing technique can really help.

*Obviously YMMV with this, and you know your skin better than I do.* Ignore my opinion if your skin just can’t handle scrubbing.

Otherwise, I suggest scrubbing down your body at least once a week. My skin cells like to stubbornly hang around forever, so I actually exfoliate 2-3x per week. I like to use generic apricot scrub (YES I SAID IT, I can hear you judgmentally clutching your pearls!) and a long-handled brush or loofah.

Step 3 – Throw acid on yourself

Sounds dramatic, right?

You’ll have to experiment with different types and strengths of acids to figure out which work best for your skin, but I find that a regular schedule of slapping acid onto as much body skin as I can reach is super helpful for clearing out my pores, sloughing off dead skin and fading PIH from old breakouts.

I like red box Stridex because it’s a cheap and effective BHA. I also really love The Ordinary’s 30% AHA/2% BHA peel. It’s blood red and terrifyingly awesome. It’s also dirt cheap so I don’t feel guilty about slathering my back, butt and thighs in it once a week. I also recommend the orange Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash; it’s low-pH and has salicylic acid! I can use it almost daily without my body skin feeling irritated or too stripped.

Tips For Body Breakouts

  • Spray bottles are your best friend. Unless you’re a contortionist, just grab yourself some spray bottles from your local drugstore or beauty supply. Anything liquid can be decanted in and sprayed across the hard-to-reach areas on your back.
  • Get a lotion applicator. I used to laugh at those long-handled lotion applicator brushes in the soap aisle. Now I love them. They’re not meant to absorb thicker products like creams and lotions, so they’re great for spreading product evenly.
  • Layer like it’s your face. I’m not saying to use your $80 Sulwhasoo serum on your whole body. I am saying that body skin can get dehydrated and have crappy moisture barrier problems too, which leaves the skin wide open to any ol’ acne-causing bacterium that rolls by. So invest in a cheap hydrating toner and spray a nice layer underneath your moisturizer.
  • Pay attention to your period. For me, the state of my back ebbs and flows with the hormonal tides. This is why my back may never be totally clear and radiant. I’ve accepted this and just do the best I can. That said, pay attention to your own cycle and see if your breakouts coincide with your period. If so, you can try to head off the worst of it with extra care the week or so before.


Bacne sucks, and it seems hard to treat because you can’t reach or see your back that well.

The good news is that these are easy obstacles to overcome, and the OTHER good news is that none of the fixes I outlined are expensive, time-consuming or super inconvenient.

So, to recap:

  • Bacne can be caused by all the usual suspects but ALSO by tight fabrics, sweaty clothes or hair products.
  • Simple fixes like extra exfoliation and changing how you condition/style your hair can make a big difference.
  • You can decant acne-fighting skincare into spray bottles, and creams can be spread on with a long-handled lotion brush.
  • Don’t skimp out on hydrating your body skin. Just because it’s thicker than facial skin doesn’t mean it’s immune to moisture barrier issues or water loss.
  • Your breakouts might be partially hormonal. If so, c’est la vie. Head it off as best you can and take a deep, calming breath. Nobody thinks your skin looks as bad as you do. Promise. <3

Do you deal with body breakouts or bacne? Let’s talk about it! Do you have questions or suggestions? Leave a comment and let me know!

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