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The Causes and Cures of Back Acne

What is back acne?  Acne is described as an eruptive skin condition.  It is caused by bacteria growing in oil trapped within glands found at the bottom of hair follicles.  This bacteria in turn, irritates the skin, giving rise to blackheads, whiteheads, pimples and/or cysts.

Back acne is typically the caused by the same triggers as facial acne – skin becomes oily, pores get blocked, “bacne” develops - although as the skin on the back is generally thicker, tougher and contains larger pores than facial skin, back acne can be more challenging to treat and overcome.   It should be noted that bodily acne can also occur on other parts of the body – chiefly the chest and buttocks. 

Often, tight-fitting synthetic clothing and excessive sweating are blamed for body / back acne, but it is possible that these two ingredients merely exacerbate existing conditions.  Environmental factors, as well as stress and hormonal fluctuations or imbalances can also influence outbreaks or onset of body acne.  Some authorities also suggest that genetics may play a part in susceptibility its development.  Like acne generally, back acne often develops during puberty.

How can back acne be treated?  Given that the causes underlying back acne are the same as those behind facial acne, it is unremarkable that the same type of treatment is effective for both types. 

The golden rule in treating back acne is to understand what it is that causes the condition in the first place, and eliminate those causes.

Generally, any product or method that further irritates inflamed skin (such as by scrubbing, rubbing, pinching or squeezing) should be avoided as this will only make the problem worse.  Keeping the affected skin as clean as possible (by gentle cleaning methods and products) will help to inhibit further bacterial growth.  Frequent washing may be necessary if the sufferer perspires heavily to ensure that sweat doesn’t block the pores, although if this is the case, a non-oily moisturiser may be necessary to balance the skin’s protective mantle.  Commercial “soap” or similar concoctions can be very drying to the skin which can lead to distressing it further.  Cleansers that are labelled “gentle”, “mild” or “non-drying” (provided they do not contain soap or similar drying compounds – lists of offending ingredients are readily available on the internet) are preferred alternatives when treating acne.

The cleansing routine followed should involve treatment with benzoyl peroxide (up to a strength of 10% dilution) to kill off bacteria as far as possible.  Note - Benzoyl peroxide may irritate the skin for an initial period, although the skin will readily adapt, and irritation should be relatively minor, subsiding after a period of approximately two weeks.  If irritation is severe or longer lasting, an alternative treatment should be sought.  Topical creams are also available over the counter, or in more stubborn cases, prescription preparations are available after consultation with your doctor.  In extreme cases, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics to clear up back acne.  However it is unlikely that this avenue would be followed unless more conventional methods had been unsuccessful.

Whatever brand or method of treatment is followed, the best advice is to take care not to inflame areas already affected by back acne.  Always use a clean towel for drying (and make it a rule not to rub – rather press or dab dry), and allow skin to dry well after showering before dressing.  Overly hot showers should also be avoided as the heat can irritate skin.  Overheating can also trigger production of oils, especially if the skin is still “steaming” when re-clothed.  Cotton or linen clothing (not too tight-fitting) is recommended in preference to synthetics as these fibres allow skin to breathe, and helping to keep pores unblocked. 

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