What Causes Chest Acne?
Chest acne is caused by the same factors as face acne. "The sun dries the water out of your skin, dehydrating it, which makes your oil glands overgrow and overproduce," Doris Day, a cosmetic dermatologist and author of Forget the Facelift, says.
But chestne also tends to be worse in the summer because of higher temperatures, pores clogging from sweat, friction from your clothing rubbing against the skin, and increased bacteria on your body, says Debra Jaliman, a cosmetic dermatologist in NYC and author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets From a Top Dermatologist.
Layering makeup over your chest to camouflage your breakouts, applying too thick of a moisturizer on your body, and using thick sunscreens can also exacerbate chest acne, adds Francesca Fusco, a cosmetic dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology in NYC.
But keep in mind that bumps on your chest aren't necessarily pimples: "You might even mistake chest acne for folliculitis [a skin condition that can show up on the chest] that looks like acne but is caused from a bacterial infection of your follicles," Fusco says. "Heat rash is another skin condition that crops up in summer and can also look like acne. It looks like the entire chest is covered with really tiny red bumps."
How You Can Prevent These Pesky Pimples
The problem with chest (and back) acne, Dr. Day says, is that it takes so much longer to fix than breakouts on your face, so prevention is key. Dr. Jaliman suggests taking frequent showers to get the bacteria off the skin's surface, and all three derms agree that exfoliating regularly (with either a sonic cleansing brush or a physical exfoliator that contains gentle skin-sloughing granules) is a good idea. Use a benzoyl peroxide or a 2-percent salicylic wash when you do shower to keep your pores clear and the bacteria at bay.
Dr. Day recommends also swiping your chest (and back) skin with a glycolic acid-laced pad after you're done showering so the skin-clearing ingredients stay on your skin and work their magic.
Dr. Jaliman suggests wearing natural fibers like cotton so the sweat doesn't stay on the skin's surface. It's also important to shower immediately after you're done exercising, or at least to change your clothes, so the sweat doesn't mix with the dirt and bacteria on your skin and brew a blemish. If you can't change out of your clothing quickly or jump in the shower, throw a packet of towelettes in your gym bag and wipe down your chest, back, and anywhere else you tend to break out.
When you're reapplying SPF, go for a lightweight version that's non-comedogenic. Dr. Fusco also recommends wiping your skin down with a wipe in between applications to rid your skin of any sweat and bacteria that may have built up in the last couple hours.
What You Can Do to Treat Them
First and foremost, don't pick or try to scratch off your pimples, Dr. Day says. "The chest (and back) are two areas on your body that heal more poorly and can scar easily, so hands off."
If you have chest acne, apply a leave-on benzoyl peroxide or salicylic gel on the affected skin, Dr. Jaliman says. "Retinols, like Retin-A or Tazorac, or antibacterial clindamycin gel—all which can be prescribed by your dermatologist—are also helpful when it comes to unclogging the pores. Just make sure to apply sunscreen on top of any retinoid if you're wearing it during the day, since it makes your skin sensitive to the sun," Dr. Day adds. Start out using the prescription-strength potion once a week and if your skin doesn't get red or irritated, bump it up to two times a week.
Wearing a strapless dress and need to conceal your chest acne stat? Use an oil-free salicylic acid-based foundation to camouflage your trouble spots and treat them at the same time.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.