Acne on any part of the body is a nuisance, and mastering a new routine to target it can be a challenge. But chest acne can be particularly bothersome—especially when humidity, sweat, and thick sunscreens clog pores and exacerbate the problem.
Fortunately, there are ways to prevent it and avoid it, once it begins plaguing you. To get the answers for the best ways to treat chest acne, we reached out to dermatologists Kristina Goldenberg, MD, of Goldenberg Dermatology in New York City and Aanand Geria, of Geria Dermatology in New Jersey.
Meet the Expert
- Aanand Geria, MD is a board-certified dermatologist based in Verona, New Jersey.
- Kristina Goldenberg, MD, is a dermatologist at Goldenberg Dermatology in New York City. She is trained in both medical and cosmetic dermatology, specializing in areas such as acne, psoriasis, botox injections, and laser surgery.
Types of Chest Acne
- Papules: Inflammatory lesions often described as red bumps that are sitting superficially on the skin.
- Pustules: Similar to papules, these are the same red bumps that are filled with pus, which is usually white or yellow in color (this is the type of lesion that a lot of us try to "pop").
- Cysts: Inflammatory lesions that are sitting in the deeper layers of the skin and are often tender to the touch. These lesions can linger for a long time and can often cause scarring. This scarring can present as keloids, which are firm nodules in the skin or craters in the skin.
- Open comedones: Clogged hair follicles that are open and which appear black in color, also known as blackheads.
- Closed comedones: Clogged pores which close and appear white or yellowish, also known as whiteheads.
Causes of Chest Acne
- Genetic makeup: Like all acne, chest acne may be a result of genetics, including a hereditary tendency for excess oil production or dead skin cells.
- Hormonal imbalance: Hormonal imbalance, such as an increase in testosterone from anabolic steroid use, can result in increased oil production, which in turn can cause chest acne.
- Excessive sweating: Whether you've just finished a vigorous workout or the summer heat is in full swing, excessive sweating, and neglecting to cleanse that sweat from your skin accordingly, may lead to clogged pores, which can result in unwanted breakouts.
- Diet: A high glycemic diet, including foods such as potatoes, white rice, and sugary foods, can lead to chest acne. This type of diet may increase blood sugar, which in turn causes your body to produce excess sebum, leading to breakouts.
- Tight clothing: What you wear can also influence breakouts. Tight, fitted clothing may be a cause of chest acne by trapping excess sweat and bacteria on your skin, resulting in clogged pores and acne.
- Overwashing: According to Geria, while it is important to keep your face clean to remove excess oil, dirt, and sweat, "over-washing can strip the skin of its natural sebum and cause it to produce even more oil to rebalance the skin. This can lead to more breakouts and worsen acne. Additionally, avoiding certain products like facial scrubs, astringents, and masks is vital, as they can irritate the skin and worsen acne."
Shower After You Sweat
"There are many ways to minimize chest acne," assures Goldenberg. "For those who exercise or play sports, I recommend showering soon after the workout is complete." So while it might be tempting to continue on with your day—running errands or meeting friends for brunch after a good sweat sesh—going unwashed, especially in already humid summer months, will wreak havoc on your skin. Even if you plan to skip washing your hair, do yourself and your skin a favor by indulging in a quick body shower. "When sweat sits on the skin for a long period of time, it clogs pores and causes acne to develop," Goldenberg explains. "Therefore, rinsing after a workout will lead to significant improvement."
"There are several ways to help treat acne on the chest," notes Geria. "The first precaution is to shower daily; this helps remove elements that block pores, such as bacteria, dead skin cells, dirt, and oil." Geria also advises using "an acne-fighting body wash that contains salicylic acid," which "helps eliminate acne by drying it out." We like Murad's Acne Body Wash ($48).
Avoid a High-Glycemic Diet
You are what you eat, and certain foods may have a way of triggering hormonal imbalances and breakouts. Goldenberg says to remember to avoid a high-glycemic diet. Like we touched on earlier, high-glycemic foods include sugar, flour, rice, bread, many breakfast bowls of cereal, and even certain fruits (bananas, grapes, and watermelon are among them). Sugar is something you may want to try reducing in your diet anyway for good health, so cutting it from your foods as a way to combat chest acne is an added bonus.
Use an Anti-Bacterial Soap
For mild cases of chest acne, Goldenberg advises using "antibacterial soap, such as benzoyl peroxide 5 percent wash or PanOxyl ($10) in the shower followed by Clindamycin lotion right after." She notes that a thin layer of an oil-free moisturizer should be used on a daily basis. Yes, even those with acne need to moisturize! For moderate to severe cases, speak to your doctor about oral antibiotics or even isotretinoin.
Turn to AHAs or Glycolic Acids
Alpha hydroxy and glycolic acids both help to increase skin turnover, exfoliating dead skin and reducing breakouts along the way. Start your acne treatment in the shower with Cane + Austin's Face & Body Glycolic Acid Scrub ($42), which contains 10 percent glycolic acid and 0.5 percent salicylic acid to smooth bumps while cleansing your skin. In addition to helping with acne, it also promotes glowing skin.
People are obsessed with Mario Badescu's A.H.A Botanical Body Soap ($8) and for good reason. The AHAs promise to slough away dead skin cells and leave your skin feeling soft and clean with every use.
Add Bleach to Your Bath
This method may sound intense, but Goldenberg recommends it as an at-home remedy. "Fill a bathtub with water and pour a cap of Clorox bleach," she instructs. "Sit in the water for about 20 minutes two times a week." This soak "will help kill off bacteria that may be contributing to the development of chest acne." Keep your soak from five to 10 minutes to avoid over-drying your skin, and follow with a light moisturizer to replenish hydration. Always check with your dermatologist before attempting this on your own.
Start Treatment Early and Be Consistent
Finally, early and consistent treatment may be the key to success (and avoidance of scars) when working to get rid of chest acne. The chest area can be prone to scarring, and "starting treatment early is key in preventing scarring," notes Goldenberg. "It is important to remember that without consistency in a skincare routine, acne will linger and the chances of scarring will rise." Set a daily reminder if you need to!
Seek Professional Help for Scarring
If you do end up with scars as a result of chest acne, there's no need to panic. Goldenberg assures that "treatment modalities for scarring are available and include lasers, micro-needling, and chemical peels."
Another step to treat acne on the chest is exfoliating the area once a week. "This helps remove dead skin cells to avoid clogged pores which can cause acne," explains Geria. "Be cautious not to exfoliate more than once a week; otherwise, it can cause irritation. "
Try Peter Thomas Roth's Acne Clearing Wash ($38) which is infused with jojoba beads to exfoliate, absorb excess oils, unclog pores, and re-texturize your skin for a smooth, even complexion. The scrub will also reduce discoloration.
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