Original Illustration by Haobin Ye
Call me a masochist, but despite having a back that's frequently smattered with breakouts, I willingly chose a backless dress for my upcoming wedding. I can already feel your judgment and furrowed brows through the screen as I type this, but hear me out: I was determined to clear it up, come hell or high water. And not only for my nuptials and the (very expensive) wedding photos, but for every day following. I often forego delicate tank tops and shoulder-baring shirts, embarrassed by the glaring acne scars and bumps on my back, but acne is treatable, so I didn't have to hide in my own skin. I was bound and determined.
A while back, wellness editor Victoria Hoff told me that Stacked Skincare's TCA Body Peel had cleared up her body breakouts, so I got my hands on a bottle. To be honest, I let it collect dust on my shelf at first, discouraged by the application process (it comes with a fan brush and dish, which felt a bit more… involved and was superseded by my laziness). But thinking back to Hoff's rave reviews, I recently dug the bottle out of my collection and opted to use a Shiseido cotton pad instead (which made things much easier). On contact, it's quite tingly and delivers a slight burning sensation but nothing unmanageable. After a few swipes along the affected area, it dried within seconds, the tingling wore off, and I went to sleep with dreams of having less "texture" the next morning.
Now, I know that bacne is an emotionally debilitating topic for many, and I wouldn't over-sensationalize the results of a treatment, so here goes: This peel is scary-good. The morning after I applied it, my back was noticeably clearer and the hyperpigmentation from scarring had faded considerably. The next few days were when the real magic happened, though. By day four, upon checking my back in the bathroom mirror, I had to do a double take: My breakouts were almost completely gone. I could've cried happy tears in that moment. Finally, a solution.
Another remedy that's helped is limiting my bra wear. I know this sounds strange, but one of the main sources of my back blemishes is something called acne mechanica, where sweat and oil mixed with friction causes the skin to break out. In the summertime, my breakouts are mostly centralized to my shoulder blades and upper back, right where my bra straps rub. I get this isn't a feasible workaround for full-chested girls (on a good day, mine resembles that of a 15-year-old boy's), so a strapless bra or a backless silicone bra will work too.
While Stacked's body peel has been the clear winner in my search for back-clearing products, I've found some worthy runners-up too.
I love spritzing this salicylic acid spray onto my skin after working out for a quick defense against blemishes. The exfoliating nature of SA drives deep into pores to clear out congestion and continues to work hard long after you spritz.
Another exfoliator, retinol works to "unglue" sticky dead cells clogging your pores.
Pre-soaked pads make the application process even easier. These pads are filled with 2% salicylic acid and 10% glycolic acid to deeply exfoliate and turn over new cells.
Another glycolic and salicylic dynamic duo, this body wash rinses away acne without any unnecessary additives like parabens or phthalates.
This gentle bar wicks away congested pores without irritating the skin.
Green tea is a natural antimicrobial capable of killing acne-causing bacteria. Lather this soothing lotion onto your back and let it soothe redness while reducing the size of breakouts.
While originally formulated for keratosis pilaris, this peel employs both chemical and physical exfoliation to deep-sweep clogged pores and leave skin smooth and even.
Formulated with French pink clay, a natural medium used to draw out impurities, this bar soap is also a lovely sensorial experience with notes of geranium and blood orange.
Slough away breakout-causing toxins and bacteria with this SA-rich wash also formulated with natural antiseptics like balm mint, eucalyptus, and tea tree.
Up next, check out the $17 acne treatment celebrities keep raving about on Instagram.