To put it simply, breakouts suck. The words, “I’m so happy to have a pimple” have never been uttered. And with good reason. A honking zit on your face– no matter how small or how easily it can be covered up can take a real hit on confidence. The same goes for breakouts on other places like the back. The only saving grace? Bacne is a little bit easier to conceal under clothes than an inflamed zinger on say your nose or chin.
The bad news? People who experience one are likely to experience the other, too. “It is estimated that 50% of people with facial acne also have pimples on the back and/or chest,” explains Joshua Zeichner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist. “Only about 10% of people have acne on the back or chest, but not on the face.”
So, if you’re already treating breakouts on your face, you can easily use some of the same products to treat backne. But, if you’re using a pricey topical on your moneymaker, it’s understandable that you’d want a cheaper alternative for the rest of your body—we’ve got your back.
Paula's Choice Weightless Body Treatment 2% BHA
The brand is known for its BHA Liquid Exfoliant for the face with the same 2% salicylic acid, which has impressive pore-clearing properties. Similarly, this body version will help to remove layers of built-up skin that can be the culprit of causing body breakouts. The featherweight lotion sinks right into skin and leaves behind a silky, exfoliated feel. The formula also taps Vitamin E along with chamomile and green tea for soothing hydration. A potent formula such as this one does come with an equally strong scent. It’s not a fragrance, but users described it as weird, however it dissipates quickly after you rub it in.
Price at Time of Publish: $29
Active Ingredient: Salicylic Acid, Vitamin E, Chamomile and Green Tea | Size: 7 oz. | Byrdie Clean: Yes
The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution
Single active ingredient
It’s not technically for the body
It can be difficult to apply to the back
This no-frills serum, which is technically meant for the face, is as straightforward as it comes. Salicylic acid is oil soluble, meaning it can penetrate deep within the pore, allowing it to dislodge dirt and oil, therefore treating and preventing breakouts. Because of its budget-friendly price point, you can feel a little less bad by coating it on a larger area like your back. Just remember, it’s smart to follow it with a hydrating lotion so skin doesn’t become too dry or irritated.
Price at Time of Publish: $7
Active Ingredient: Salicylic Acid | Size: 30 ml | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Body Lotion for Back Acne
CeraVe SA Lotion for Rough & Bumpy Skin
It exfoliates in a nourishing way
It can be hard to find
It’s basic, not a luxe experience
It’s easy to throw lots of actives at acneic skin in hopes of clearing pores and drying out blemishes, but with the disappearance comes the zapping of moisture in the skin (aka major dryness and maybe even peeling). In addition to dry skin being a not-so-pretty side effect, it can also cause skin to produce even more oil and therefore acne, which you definitely don’t want. Enter: this best of both worlds lotion that contains acne-clearing salicylic acid, but with moisture barrier protecting ceramides to ensure smoother, hydrated skin after use.
Price at Time of Publish: $16
Active Ingredient: Salicylic Acid and Ceramides | Size: 8 oz. | Byrdie Clean: No
Differin Clearing Body Spray
Doesn’t feel greasy
It’s easy to spray, but can get allover if you’re not careful
This spray applicator has your back, literally. Similar to that of an SPF sprayer that allows you to cover your whole body (without enlisting the help of others), this mist will allow you to coat your problem area with ease. The formula contains 2 percent salicylic acid to nix breakouts, 3 percent glycolic acid, and 2.5 percent witch hazel to exfoliate and reduce oil. Use as needed up to three times daily.
Price at Time of Publish: $15
Active Ingredient: Salicylic Acid and Glycolic Acid | Size: 6 oz. | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Body Wash
PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash
Its high amount of BP
Produces a nice lather
It could be irritating to those with sensitive skin
This potent two-fer can be used on the face and body. The maximum strength formula packs 10 percent benzoyl peroxide (BP), which is known for its acne-treating and preventing powers. As the antimicrobial wash lathers to whisk away dirt and oil, it’s also helping to unclog pores. Because it’s a cleanser and will be washed away, it’s important to have such a high level of an active ingredient so that it can work harder for the shorter time it’s on skin.
“Generally I recommend low concentrations of benzoyl peroxide when it comes to leave-on products,” says Dr. Zeichner, “however, when it comes to cleansers, the higher the concentration of the active the better to maximize the chances of the active ingredient penetrating into the skin with short contact times.”
Price at Time of Publish: $9.50
Active Ingredient: Benzoyl Peroxide | Size: 5.5 oz. | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Back Acne Patch
Rael XL Spot Control Cover
Clear appearance for undetectable wear
It keeps the area clean
Placing the patch can be difficult without help
Pimple patches have become insanely popular because of their practically invisible look, which allows you to stick ’em on and ultimately forget about them until it’s time to remove them. This oversized version is perfect for slapping on larger areas of cluster breakouts like the back. They’re great for preventing picking and irritation, but also for keeping the area clean. Remove after 4-8 hours once that patch turns white; that means it has done its job of absorbing oil and pus—gross, but satisfying. You’ll notice a flatter, less irritated pimple(s).
Price at Time of Publish: $13
Active Ingredient: Hydrocolloid | Size: 6-count | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Post-Acne Marks
Gold Bond Age Renew Retinol Overnight Lotion
Isn’t drying or irritating
Retinol is sun sensitive
Retinol is the gold standard in anti-aging because it helps boost skin cell turnover allowing for a smoother, more even complexion. It wasn’t until recently that the ingredient—typically reserved for use on the face—started being recommended as a retinol body lotion for the neck down, too. For back acne sufferers in particular, this moisturizing formula can help heal and diminish discoloration after a breakout. Just note that retinol can make skin sensitive to the sun, be sure to lather up with SPF 30 or higher while using this formula.
Price at Time of Publish: $15
Active Ingredient: Retinol, Peptides | Size: 7 oz. | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Body Scrub
Pacifica Acne Warrior Body Scrub
Has soothing ingredients
Offers physical exfoliation
Not great for already irritated skin
Chemical exfoliation is great, but sometimes dead skin build-up needs a little extra nudge in the form of physical exfoliation and this scrub offers both. In terms of soothing, the exfoliant pairs cucumber and aloe, which help to reduce swelling or inflammation and moisturize skin. A body scrub is a great preventative step, keeping skin clear of buildup and excess oil, but may be too harsh for bodies with active breakouts.
Price at Time of Publish: $16
Active Ingredient: Witch Hazel, Salicylic Acid | Size: 6 oz. | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Neutrogena Rapid Clear Treatment Pads
Good for travel and on-the-go use
Budget-friendly price point
They’re not technically meant for use on the body
The rounds are on the smaller side
One of the leading causes for body breakouts is trapped sweat, so derms always recommend changing out of wet clothes after exercising. When you’re on the go, that’s not always doable, so that’s where these sal acid-soaked rounds come in. Toss a few into a Ziploc and keep them in your gym bag (or even in your purse for everyday sweaty situations) and swipe after your workout. The formula is also clinically proven to reduce pimple size, swelling, and redness in just eight hours, so you’ll get treatment and prevention benefits with use.
Price at Time of Publish: $8.50
Active Ingredient: Salicylic Acid | Size: 60 count | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Soft Services Clearing Clay
It takes the place of three different products
Higher price point
It has a strong smell of sulfur
This multitasking formula takes a unique approach to treating body breakouts by using sulfur, most often found in facial spot treatments. Sulfur is antibacterial and antifungal, which is great for treating back acne that is often caused by trapped oil, sweat, and bacteria. The clay paste can be used in the shower as a wash, applied as a deep-penetrating mask for a longer period of time, or as a spot treatment. We like this as a mask for bacne spots, but be warned it does have a strong sulfur, stinky eggs stench.
Price at Time of Publish: $28
Active Ingredient: Sulfur | Size: 8 oz. | Byrdie Clean: Yes
When it comes to the best products for back acne, it all comes down to what format will work best for you. A lotion, like Paula's Choice Weightless Body Treatment 2% BHA, can be applied daily as part of your moisturizing routine and acts like a leave-on treatment. Whereas Soft Services Clearing Clay is a spot treatment meant to be rinsed off. If you live alone or your acne is in a hard to reach spot, then a spray, such as Differin’s Clearing Body Spray is your best bet.
Meet the Expert
- Joshua Zeichner, MD, is the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology and an Associate Professor of Dermatology at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. He is also the co-founder of Jori, a skincare line formulated specifically for adult acne.
What to Look for in a Back Acne Product
Some of the best ingredients to look for when it comes to acne are acids—alpha hydroxy acids (glycolic acid) and beta hydroxy acids (salicylic acid) work on different layers of the skin to clear away dead skin cells, excess oil, and keep pores clean. Salicylic acid is often recommended by dermatologists for treating acne, it can be found in The Ordinary’s 2% Salicylic Acid Solution. This can help to heal current breakouts as well as prevent future ones. Benzoyl peroxide is another tried and tested formula, found in Panoxyl Foaming Wash with 10% Benzoyl Peroxide. It is an antiseptic that works to reduce the amount of bacteria on the skin in order to fight acne. These ingredients come in different percentages depending on your skin’s sensitivity. A pimple patch can also be useful to draw out the pus inside of the head of a pimple—we recommend Rael XL Spot Control Cover.
Now that you understand what ingredients can fight breakouts, you get to consider the formula that best suits your needs. You can choose from leave-ons, such as lotions or treatments, or rinse-off formulas, like body washes or spot treatments. You should also consider how often you want to apply: lower concentrations may be applied daily as part of your regular skincare routine, while higher concentrations or more targeted treatments may only need to be applied a few times per week. Treating acne can be difficult, but adhering to your chosen method is key.
How do you get rid of back acne?
The biggest culprit of back acne is bacteria, so it’s super important to keep skin clean and in fabrics that won’t trap sweat and bacteria (this is why derms warn against sitting in sweaty gym clothes all day). In addition to doing your best to prevent backne with lifestyle changes, you should incorporate acne-specific cleansers and treatment products like a benzoyl peroxide wash and salicylic acid spray. Keeping a mist or treatment pads, like Neutrogena Rapid Clear Treatment Pads, with you on-the-go is a great way to keep skin clear and prevent a build-up of dirt and oil.
What's the difference between salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide?
“Benzoyl peroxide works by lowering levels of acne-causing bacteria to reduce skin inflammation,” says Dr. Zeichner, “it also helps open up the pimples themselves.” As for salicylic acid, it’s a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that removes excess oil and dead skin cells to keep pores clear—it also has a drying effect on pimples. Essentially both can target the root—or pore—cause of acne, but they go about it in different ways.
Why Trust Byrdie
Byrdie contributor Lisa DeSantis is a beauty journalist with ten years of experience in the industry. She is a self-proclaimed "guinea pig" when it comes to testing beauty products and treatments, which has helped her determine the best of the best. From the above, she has personally tried Paula’s Choice, The Ordinary, CeraVe, Differin, Rael, and Gold Bond.