Before we begin discussing this topic, let’s get a couple of things out of the way. The first thing is this: We know talking about acne isn’t fun. In fact, it can sometimes be a little uncomfortable. When acne is found on your, um, derrière, the discussion can take a turn for rather embarrassing territory. However, despite all that, it’s definitely worth talking about. Not only is—what we will now refer to as butt acne—way more common than you think, but there are also easy steps you can take to fix it.
That’s why we asked dermatologist David Lortscher, MD, of Curology to give us the lowdown. He offered some expert advice so that you can feel comfortable wearing the cheekiest of bathing suit bottoms all summer long. Keep reading to learn why these frustrating acne flare-ups happen and what you can do to fix them.
According to Lortscher, “The causes of bottom acne are very similar to that of other acne on the rest of the body as well as the face. A mixture of genetics, normal hormonal fluctuations, stress, diet, and other lifestyle choices can all contribute.” He also notes that restrictive athletic clothing and consequent friction can be factors. “We often see acne in women that occurs along the line of a sports bra or otherwise.” It’s bad news for yoga pant devotees, but it’s good news for anyone suffering from acne flare-ups—simply change out of athletic fabrics.
He’s quick to note, though, that sweating from exercise doesn’t cause acne. “The eccrine glands produce sweat, and the sebaceous glands produce sebum—so revving up the sweat glands does not turn on the oil glands involved in acne breakouts,” he says. Just be sure to rinse off as quickly as possible after a sweaty workout, since “the moisture produced may encourage acne as bacteria proliferate.”
So the first step in clearing butt acne is the same as clearing facial acne. Keep the area clean and dry, and ensure you're eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. If it sticks around, there are other options, including “hormonal manipulations” (like birth control), and oral antibiotics.
As it turns out, exfoliation is key. Even for your butt. “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. As for his recommended products? Try Neutrogena Body Clear Body Wash ($27), or Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash ($9). Otherwise, reach for any product formulated with salicylic acid, which “provides exfoliation that helps to prevent and treat blocked pores, and it may help diminish some types of superficial hyperpigmentation.”
Another star ingredient for decreasing acne is benzoyl peroxide. “Benzoyl peroxide washes can be beneficial despite the brief contact with skin,” Lortscher says. Just be careful, and maybe patch-test first. "I’d advise being careful with products containing benzoyl peroxide—some people are allergic to this active ingredient—you’ll know if you’re one of them, as an itchy rash will result every time you use it." If your skin doesn’t react, you’re in the clear (figuratively and literally). Lortscher recommends Clean & Clear Advantage 3-in-1 Exfoliating Cleanser ($6).
He also likes Noble Formula 2% Pyrithione Zinc Bar Soap ($13). “Use it every other day in the shower to start, and then increase to daily as tolerated,” he advises.
If you’re unsure whether or not a product will clog pores, check it on cosDNA. “Pull up and run the ingredient list through the ‘Analyze Cosmetics’ section of their website,” Lortscher says. “Once you click Analyze, look in the ‘acne’ column—if there are any 3s, 4s, or 5s, consider stopping the use of this product.” It’s a good resource for learning more about the products you use.
It is possible, however, that butt acne isn't actually acne. It could be a disease called hidradenitis suppurativa or HS. “HS is a complex disease process that can mimic acne, and it has been called inverse acne—but it is not acne, he says. Characterized by recurrent boil-like lumps (abscesses), difficult-to-heal open wounds and scarring, it commonly occurs in the groin, bottom, the underarms (axillae) and under the breasts.” So please take note: Always (again, always) see a dermatologist if you’re unsure—it never hurts to get a medical professional’s advice.
Next up, see which products dermatologists say are the best face washes for acne.
Opening Image: Urban Outfitters