I have some acne on my shoulders and upper back. Is this because I work out? How can I get rid of it while continuing to exercise?
Body acne is not uncommon, especially in the summer. Between jumping into chlorinated pools, lying on salty, sandy beaches, and sweating on the sidewalk, it's surprising that we make it to September without more skin problems.
The acne that occurs on the body happens for the same reason we get acne on our faces. Pores get clogged, our oil glands produce sebum, and the combination allows bacteria to proliferate, creating inflammation. Aside from areas without sebaceous glands (like your lips), acne can occur anywhere on the body.
Even if you are not normally prone to acne, your body may be exhibiting "acne mechanica," a term used to describe blemishes that result from pressure, friction, and heat. The strap on your sports bra may be irritating your skin or spending an hour playing beach volleyball in a spandex bathing suit may be to blame. It's a common sports-related condition that can be combated with typical acne treatments and you won't have to give up on working out.
First, make sure that you wear loose cotton clothing as much as possible. Cotton wicks away moisture and keeping the fabric loose will reduce the amount of friction on your skin. Next, make sure you shower immediately after working up a sweat or getting out of the pool or ocean.
In the shower, avoid using soap to clean your skin. Soaps can over-dry your skin, causing more irritation and aggravating any existing acne. Use a mild cleanser like Cetaphil's non-soap Gentle Cleansing Bar. It contains no detergents and won't be overly harsh on your skin. Avoid using body washes that contain salicylic acid or other anti-acne ingredients as well. These ingredients perform best when they are applied to skin, not washed off in the shower.
After getting out of the shower, dry off with a clean towel. When skin is completely dry, apply a salicylic acid formula to affected areas. For ease of application, opt for a spray formula such as MD Formulations Vit-A-Plus Body Clearing Complex Spray, which contains a 5% concentration of both lactic acid and salicylic acid. If you choose a gel formula such as Peter Thomas Roth AHA/BHA Acne Clearing Gel, use it with a Body Buddy Lotion Applicator, a strip of vinyl that helps you reach the tough, easy-to-miss spots in the middle of your upper back.
If some of the spots are prominent, apply a 2.5% benzoyl peroxide cream and allow it to dry. While benzoyl peroxide is available in 5% and 10% formulas, studies have shown that the 2.5% formulas are equally effective without as much irritation.
Remember to stay out of the sun or use a gentle sunscreen. Tanning may seem to reduce the appearance of acne, but sun damage usually makes it worse in the long run by causing irritation and dryness. If chemical sunscreens tend to make your acne worse, opt for a physical sunblock that contains titanium dioxide like Burt's Bees Chemical-Free Sunscreen SPF 30.