Make no mistake: Body acne is just as stubborn as facial acne. No matter if it's on your back, your chest, or your arms, body acne often proves itself to be frustrating (not to mention painful) to the person who is struggling with it. Luckily, in most cases, it can be alleviated with a few minor lifestyle tweaks and a good skincare routine consisting of potent anti-acne products. As David Lortscher, board-certified dermatologist and CEO and founder of Curology, puts it, "First, it's important to minimize the contributing factors—avoiding comedogenic soaps, washes, and moisturizers. Rinsing off right after sweating and consuming less dairy may help quite a bit. It's all about trying to identify the trigger for the body acne and addressing that." So even though it's easier said than done, try to keep an active awareness and avoidance of common acne triggers. Also try using an effective topical treatment, such as (you guessed it) an anti-acne wash.
To save you from trial and error, and even more frustration, we reached out to expert dermatologists directly (like Lortscher) to learn about the best anti-acne body washes that money can buy. To our happy surprise, almost all of the products these derms named can be found at the drugstore. Finding the best skin-clearing products and saving money? We're in.
The first product suggestion from Lortscher is this nondescript bar soap, which has antibacterial and antifungal properties, along with moisturizing ingredients and soothing oatmeal. "We recommend starting with a zinc pyrithione soap, such as Noble Formula 2% Pyrithione Zinc Bar Soap (non-vegan version is advised, as the vegan bar has cocoa butter, which can trigger breakouts in some people). Noble has a soap with argan oil, which would be a great alternative as well. Use it every other day in the shower to start, and then increase to daily as tolerated."
Both men and women can use this product, just like any and all other skincare on the market. The myth that men and women require different skincare formulations for acne is just that—a myth. "Men and women do not need different ingredients in body washes," Lortscher explains. "However, due to the influence of androgens—which, of course, men have more of—men tend to have oilier skin and so would more likely prefer a gel cleanser over a creamier wash. Or one with surfactants that 'foam' more rather than one that is 'sulfate-free.'" It's simply a matter of preference.
"Also, you may consider alternating the soap on the body with a benzoyl peroxide cleanser," Lortscher says. He recommends this one from drugstore classic brand Clean & Clear, which contains the acne-fighting ingredient along with gentle exfoliating micro beads that loosen dead skin and other icky pore-clogging material from the surface of the skin.
If you've tried a product like this on your face and felt that it was a bit too harsh or drying, don't be too quick to write it off for use on the body. "Our bodies (with the exception of the neck, underarms, and groin) can tolerate stronger ingredients than our faces do. So even if your face does not tolerate exfoliation often (or at all), your back, shoulders, and probably your mid-chest typically should," Lortscher says.
Lortscher has another benzoyl peroxide body wash suggestion—this one from Derma Topix. If you choose to go with a different benzoyl peroxide product than this one or the aforementioned Clean & Clear product, make sure to do your research first. "Do read the labels for the base (inactive) ingredients," he says. "It's best to avoid isopropyl myristate, Laureth-4, or sodium lauryl sulfate, which can worsen acne breakouts in some people."
"Another beneficial ingredient to rotate in to help unclog pores is salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid (BHA)," Lortscher says. This exfoliating ingredient helps to clear and prevent clogged pores, which results in alleviated acne outbreaks. (While we're on the topic of exfoliation, be sure to read up on the seven benefits of regular exfoliation that you didn't know you were getting.) Salicylic acid is present in another classic drugstore find—Neutrogena's Oil-Free Face Wash. Oh, and just because it says it's for your face doesn't mean it can't be used effectively on the body as well.
If you prefer to use a body wash, though, reach for this one that's also from Neutrogena. It's also recommended by Lortscher for its potent salicylic acid content. He suggests rotating out these different cleansers throughout the week to best combat breakouts. So start with the pyrithione zinc product, and then move on to the salicylic acid product. This cocktail of acne-fighting ingredients could make a significant improvement in the state of your body acne.
Lamees Hamdan is the founder and CEO of Shiffa. She says that body acne washes "typically have a stronger concentration of ingredients because the body has typically thicker skin. Another difference is the ingredients. Body acne is typically caused by hair follicles getting clogged, so you should be looking for a wash that has salicylic acid (which helps unclog the follicles)." If not salicylic acid, then go for charcoal soaps, like this all-natural one. "You can use a charcoal-based soap every day, then a stronger salicylic-based wash (or even toner) for your back and other acne-prone areas twice a week."
For a stronger salicylic acid product, Hamdan suggests using this clearing body spray from Murad. It's to your body as a anti-acne serum is to your face. After cleansing, spray over the blemished area. Salicylic acid goes to work clearing skin, while menthol cools and comforts and blue lotus purifies pores. According to Sephora reviews, it works. Take it from one customer who writes, "I love this body spray…it totally fights breakouts which have a tendency to pop up after hours in a sports bra. It's great because you can spray it upside down or any which way, targeting hard to reach areas (i.e., between the shoulder blades!). Totally excellent!"
Hamdan says there are other natural options out there if you prefer to keep your skincare routine as clean as possible. (On that note: Make sure you check out the best skincare products with 10 ingredients or fewer.) "You can also try making your own [anti-acne body product] using apple cider vinegar," she says. Simply add 10 drops of tea tree essential oil to apple cider vinegar (and witch hazel if you have it). Apply it to the blemished areas on clean skin for the best effect.
Hamdan also suggests applying a mask to body acne, using this all-natural calcium bentonite clay. "Another thing I like using (but you need someone to help you) is Aztec Healing Clay mixed to a paste with apple cider vinegar. Put it on your back, let it dry, then shower off using a clean loofah," she says. "Try doing this twice or three times a week if you can." In other words, treat your body skin like you would your face and invest in effective practices and skincare products. Your skin might thank you.
One final thing. "No treatment is a cure, so the aim should be to control acne until your body's susceptibility to have breakouts passes, which is highly variable based on an individual's hormones, genetics, and lifestyle," Lortscher explains. "That being said, besides topical treatments, women do also have the option of considering certain birth control pills, and/or an oral anti-androgen, such as spironolactone." You can learn more about birth control and acne by visiting curology.com. Be sure to also check out what dermatologists say is the best birth control for acne.
Until then, incorporate these cleansers and treatments into your shower routine to wash breakouts down the drain.