As if back acne wasn't already a foul term, society had to go and combine the two words to create a taunting moniker for the condition: bacne. Saying it makes me shudder, but having it—that's another story.
I went most of my life without any breakouts on my back or chest. Watching my brother's personal plague with body acne in high school, I thought to myself, Thank goodness that's not me. But little did I know I was jinxing myself, and during my first summer living in New York, bacne hit me like a ton of bricks.
For the previous few years, after nearly a decade of breakouts, my face had finally been clear, so back acne felt like an embarrassing and upsetting 10 steps back (so to speak) after three steps forward. My newly built-up confidence was shattered by the fresh red dots, which happened to occur right near my shoulder blades and out toward my shouders—you know, the area that cute summer tops leave uncovered. So as much as Manhattan felt like a hellish inferno in the middle of summer, I'd wear tops that covered up my back and shoulders so that no one could see what I was hiding underneath. I didn't even want to wear my swimsuit at the beach. It was miserable.
But then I had a bit of an aha moment. The acne was happening right around the area where my bra straps rested on my back, so I did what anyone desperate for answers does when she's fed up with a beauty blunder: I googled it. As it turns out, getting acne from something that rubs up against your skin is very much so a thing, and it's called acne mechanica. Not as cringe-worthy as bacne, but off-putting nonetheless.
"Tight clothing mixed with friction and excess moisture, such as sweat, can lead to the development of acne. The combination of friction, heat, and covered skin may result in the development of a form of acne called acne mechanica. The friction can irritate the skin and disrupt the surface, which can clog the pores with dead skin cells and lead to inflammation," says Dr. Jeremy Fenton of Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC. In my case, this is a perfect explanation, since the super-hot NYC summer weather was causing me to sweat, which, coupled with rubbing bra straps, led to a spattering of breakouts.
"The most important treatment is to avoid leaving moist clothing pressed against the skin for long periods of time and to promptly remove clothing and shower immediately after exercise," says Dr. Jessica Weiser. (For me, switching out my bras every other day or opting for strapless bras from time to time really helped too.) "Gently exfoliating the skin two to three times a week can help encourage skin turnover and decrease comedone [blemish] formation."
So who's likely to get friction acne? According to celebrity dermatologist Dr. Ronald Moy, those with a susceptibility to acne: "Anyone who is prone to body acne is more likely to develop friction acne." He suggests applying medications that unclog pores to the affected area like topical retinoids, glycolic acid, and salicylic acid.
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