I went most of my life without any breakouts on my back or chest. While watching my brother's personal period of cystic body acne in high school, admittedly, I thought to myself, Thank goodness that's not me. But little did I know at the time that I'd later meet the same fate: during my first summer living in New York, my back was smattered with breakouts.
A few years prior to having these new residents on my body, I ironically was finally able to clear the deep acne lesions on my face, so having back acne was an upsetting 10 steps back after taking three steps forward. My newly built-up confidence was quickly shattered by the fresh red dots, which happened to occur right near my shoulder blades and out toward my shoulders—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 they're fed up with a medical blunder: I Googled it. As it turns out, getting acne from something that rubs up against your skin is very much a thing, and it's called acne mechanica. That's a less cringe-worthy term than bacne, but it was off-putting nonetheless.
"Tight clothing mixed with friction and excess moisture, such as sweat, can lead to the development of acne," says Dr. Jeremy Fenton of Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC. "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." In my case, this was a perfect explanation for my new breakouts: the super-hot NYC summer weather was causing me to sweat, and, coupled with rubbing bra straps, was leading to a smattering of acne lesions.
"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." It's as simple as just trying to avoid friction.
So who's likely to get friction acne? According to celebrity dermatologist Dr. Ronald Moy, those with a general 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.
Keep scrolling to shop some of the best back acne-clearing products.