We know talking about acne can sometimes be a little uncomfortable. When acne is found on your, um, derrière, the discussion can take a turn for rather embarrassing territory. But it's seriously nothing to be ashamed about. Not only is butt acne way more common than you think, but there are also easy steps you can take to fix it.
Body acne is way less openly discussed than acne on the face, but it's no less of an annoyance. Butt acne can be uncomfortable, and might prevent you from sporting that cute bathing suit come summertime. Not that it should—it's totally normal, and the chances are high that no one will ever notice but you. Still, if you're regularly getting pimples in the same area, you're probably wondering what's causing it and how to get rid of your butt acne. We asked two dermatologists to give us the lowdown and they offered up some expert advice so that you can feel comfortable wearing the cheekiest of bathing suit bottoms all summer long. Read on to understand the causes of butt acne and how to get rid of it once and for all.
Meet the Expert
Types of Butt Acne
- Closed comedonal: Doyle describes these as "small skin-colored bumps."
- Open comedonal: "Dark brown/black bumps with an opening to the surface of the skin," says Doyle.
- Pustules: "Pus-filled bumps."
- Papules: "Small, red, swollen bumps."
- Cysts: "Larger, deeper bumps that can become red, angry and inflamed that sometimes drain material."
Most acne flare-ups will consist of two or more of these different types.
What Causes Butt Acne?
According to David Lortscher, MD, “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.” Let's break each of these causes down in order to find out how to best prevent butt acne from happening in the first place.
- Genetics: Some people are simply more prone to acne flare-ups than others. In other words, if you're susceptible to acne, there's not much you can do to change that other than keeping your skin clean, your mind and body healthy, and your vanity stocked with effective skincare products.
- Stress: It's no secret that stress can cause acne. As such, the best holistic acne remedy is anything that helps you balance your mood, calm your frazzled nerves, and relax.
- Diet: Certain foods have been shown to spike acne flare-ups, such as sugar and skim milk.
- Hormonal fluctuations: Hormonal acne is notoriously tricky, but with certain tailored remedies, and "hormonal manipulations" like birth control, it can be sorted out.
- Restrictive clothing: Tight clothing, and the friction it causes on the skin, can lead to breakouts: "We often see acne in women that occurs along the line of a sports bra or otherwise," Lortscher says.
- Perspiration: Sweating from exercise doesn't cause acne. However, letting sweat sit on your skin for long periods of time without washing it off can, since the high-moisture environment encourages icky bacteria to thrive.
Use a Salicylic Acid Wash
This is a safe-for-skin acid that exfoliates on a cellular level by dissolving the 'glue' that holds skin dead cells together. It also penetrates deep into the pores to clear away clogging impurities (other exfoliating acids only work on the surface of the skin). "[Salicylic acid] provides exfoliation that helps to prevent and treat blocked pores, and it may help diminish some types of superficial hyperpigmentation," Lortscher explains.
“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." He recommends using exfoliating washes formulated with salicylic acid, such as Neutrogena Body Clear Body Wash ($26), or Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash ($11). These washes offer an easy way to treat acne-afflicted skin with salicylic acid. Simply lather up and rinse off. "I like the La Roche Posay Effaclar Dermatological Acne System," Doyle says. "This comes with a wash that you can use in the shower. After you get out, you can use the Clarifying Solution ($18), which contains salicylic and glycolic acid."
Apply Benzoyl Peroxide
Another star ingredient for decreasing acne is benzoyl peroxide: “Benzoyl peroxide washes can be beneficial, despite the brief contact with skin,” Lortscher says. Just take it easy, and maybe do a 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 a soap like 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.
Wear Breathable Clothes
When you combine tight clothing with synthetic athletic fabric, it creates an even stronger possibility for butt acne to appear due to the fact that athletic fabrics aren't as breathable as other fabrics, such as cotton. Doyle recommends wearing "light, cotton attire that is breathable." She also cautions against sitting for prolonged periods of time.
Rinse Off After a Sweat Session
Lortscher explains, “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. However, “the moisture produced may encourage acne as it lets bacteria proliferate.” Take a quick rinse after a sweaty workout session to avoid leaving perspiration on your skin for too long.
Invest in an LED Device
They don't just look cool, they actually work. LED light therapy can be used to alleviate a number of skin ailments, including acne. Doyle recommends the Eterno LED Device specifically. "The Eterno LED Device is an FDA cleared device that uses NASA LED red lights to penetrate deep into the skin and can be used to massage the topical into the area, increasing the penetration and thus, the benefit of the topical treatment," she says. "The red light component helps to reduce inflammation (redness and swelling), which also improves the appearance of the skin."
Overhaul Your Diet
While studies have not found conclusive evidence that certain foods cause acne, plenty of experts do suggest a connection between what you eat and what your skin looks like. As previously mentioned, foods high in sugar and dairy content are often linked to breakouts. Focus instead on eating leafy greens, fruits, and other non-processed foods to keep breakouts at bay. To jumpstart a diet change-up, try this anti-acne diet for a week.
Avoid Pore-Clogging Products
It's also a good rule of thumb to avoid using any heavy pore-clogging lotions or body washes. 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.
Practice Mindful Relaxation
Stress can be a major factor when it comes to acne flare-ups. Use self-care as a tool to see if boosting your mental and emotional health will also boost your skin's health. Incorporate meditation (Headspace is a great app with free and premium options for $12.99 per month) or yoga into your daily or weekly routine.
Make Sure it Really is Acne
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," says Lortscher. "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.
Try Prescription Acne Medication
If your skin doesn't respond to any of the treatments listed above, it may be time to consult a dermatologist for a topical prescription. These are stronger than store-bought products, which is useful, considering "the skin here is a bit thicker than facial skin." Because of this, Doyle says butt acne can be unresponsive to traditional store-bought products that might work on facial acne.
Interestingly enough, if your butt acne is caused by bacteria that are proliferating due to the moisture provided by excess sweating, Doyle would address it directly with a prescription-strength medication, like Qbrexza. It's an effective remedy for Hyperhidrosis (otherwise known as chronic sweating). By reducing sweat, you'll reduce moisture, which will reduce acne-causing bacteria.
Cleveland Clinic. Acne: diagnosis and tests. Updated September 1, 2020.
Cleveland Clinic. Acne. Updated September 1, 2020.
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