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Got back acne? Don't sweat it. Here’s how the fitspo crowd can get it off their backs

Perspiration and tight workout clothes, especially compression wear and sports bras, may be the cause of your back acne or bacne. Find out what the experts recommend to prevent it from developing and what to do if you have the bumps.

You take care of yourself by eating right and putting in the sessions at the gym.

So, why are you being punished with bumps on your back otherwise known as back acne or bacne?

Just as the skin on your face can be prone to pimples, acne as well as black and white heads, so too, can the skin on your back.

“Acne occurs predominately in areas rich in sebaceous glands such as the scalp, face, chest and back,” said Dr Eileen Tan, a dermatologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.

What makes it worse is that when you work out, your sweaty back is often clad in tight clothes – one of the contributing factors for bacne, according to Dr Tan Hui Yun from DRx Clinic.

And with the popularity of compression tights that fit like a second skin, the situation worsens.

READ: Adult acne: Is it time to see a dermatologist for a problem that isn't going away?

“Sweat and dirt are often trapped against tight-fitting exercise clothing, clogging up pores further.

Constant movements during exercise, or friction against exercise equipment can aggravate skin irritation and lead to more inflammation,” said Dr Tan Hui Yuan.


Back acne is a common problem, said Dr Suzanne Cheng, a consultant at National Skin Centre, a member of the National Healthcare Group.

“It is a myth that acne only occurs in adolescence. Acne can affect any age group including infants and adults over 25 years old.”

Dr Eileen Tan, who treats four or five cases of back acne per week, added that certain medicines, such as steroids and anti-epileptic medications, may also induce acne in adulthood.

(Photo: Pexels/Timothy)

If you’re a man, the risk may be higher, said Dr Cheng. The male sex hormone androgen enlarges oil glands and increases sebum production.

Bacteria then uses the excess sebum to produce substances that cause “inflammation of the hair follicles and the surrounding tissues, resulting in blemishes, pimples and cysts”, she said.

Speaking of hormones, hormonal upheavals is another contributing factor to bacne, said Dr Tan Hui Yuan.

“Stress, illness, travel, disturbed sleep pattern, and menstruation cycles can all alter the hormonal cycle and lead to breakouts.”

READ: Stress could be the reason behind that pimple – here’s how to fight it


Just as the skin experts advise against picking the bumps on your face, the same applies to those on your back.

But what about going to the aestheticians to have them extracted? “I generally do not advise going for extraction during active acne outbreaks as the process may cause more irritation and damage to the existing acne,” said Dr Tan Hui Yuan.

“Bacne also tends to present as deeper nodules and cysts, which can be difficult to get to during a normal extraction process. I have seen many cases of aggravated breakouts and scarring post facials.

Instead, Dr Eileen Tan suggested “chemical peels, treatment facials with light therapy for antibacterial action, and vascular lasers that can address both acne and acne scars” to avoid the “multiple depressed scars and keloidal scars as a result of back acne” that she has seen in her patients.

“Extraction can, however, be a useful tool to further improve as well as prevent future breakouts after the initial inflammatory stage is over,” said Dr Tan Hui Yuan.

READ: Multi-purpose beauty products: Spend less, buy smart, look better than ever


    Here are some quick tips to keep acne off your back:

    • Before and after your workout

    Place a clean towel before lying on an exercise machines or mat. And avoid going straight into the steam room after a sweaty workout.

    • Wash and protect with the right stuff

    Shower with a body wash containing benzoxyl peroxide, salicylic acid or triclosan soon after exercising.

    If you are unable to shower, change into a set of clean, dry clothes and shower as soon as possible.

    Use an oil-free or non-comedogenic sunblock on skin before exercise. If you need to re-apply during exercise, wipe off your sweat before doing so.

    (From left) Murad Acne Body Wash (S$74, Lazada); Mario Badescu AHA Botanical Body Soap (S$20, Lazada); and YUNI Shower Sheets (US$15 for 12 sheets, Amazon)
    • Do a weekly bacne regimen

    Use a body exfoliator once a week, or more often if need be, to slough off dead skin cells. A retinol cream can also help with spot treatment.

    Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream (S105, Sephora) and Frank Body Peppermint Coffee Scrub (S$28, Sephora)
    • What to wear during exercise

    Wear loose, clean clothes, preferably in a cotton or moisture-wicking material.

    (Photo: Nike)
    Source: CNA/bk