The Weird Cause of Your Body Acne—And How to Fix It!

Victoria Moorhouse
body acne story

Photo: CaiaImageCLOSED / Getty Images

As if worrying about pimples popping up on our faces wasn’t enough, some of us also have to deal with the very real (and annoying) issue of body acne. And by now you’re probably schooled on what causes the breakouts on your T-zone, you might still be in the dark about why that zit popped up on your back, chest, butt, or arms.

To get you up to speed on how to prevent and fix all your body acne probs, we went to a few derms to find out exactly what’s behind the blemishes. And we must say, it’s kind of weird.

The first question we had is if our workout clothes really are the cause of body acne.

Well, according to Dr. Neal Schultz, NYC dermatologist, host of and creator of BeautyRx by Dr. Schultz, the cause isn’t necessarily always the type of clothes we wear but, the rubbing certain clothes can cause. Yes, you read that right. Although we’re quick to blame the sweat on our workout gear for clogging our pores, Dr. Schultz says that anything [i.e. clothes in general] that rubs against the “acne-prone area” can trigger the breakouts. “Sweat may or may not contribute to the breakout, but it’s the rubbing that drives the breakouts,” he further explains. “However, lots of people with acne don’t workout, and they still get acne breakouts. The bottom line is acne in any acne-prone area will be worse if clothing or anything else rubs against the area.”

So yes, your workout clothes might contribute to it, but so might your jeans.

“Anytime you rub acne-prone skin, you push debris and dirt into the pores, and you also thicken the skin, both of which contribute to acne breakouts,” he says.

One quick solution, Dr. Shultz explains, is to wear light or loose-fitting clothes.

Dr Hadley King, board certified dermatologist at SKINNEY Medspa, also notes that tighter fitting clothes—yep, like workout pants—might worsen body acne for other reasons. “If you are wearing clothing that is non breathable, like spandex, it is more likely [to experience body acne while working out.] If you’re sweating, oil starts to build up, bacteria can grow there,” she says.

Working certain acne products into your routine can help. “I recommend topical medications in pad form because it makes it a little easier to reach the difficult to get to places on your back and butt,” says Dr. Schultz. “Over-the-counter exfoliants like glycolic or salicylic are readily available in pad forms, as are topical antibiotics available by prescription.”

Dr. King also notes you can try using cleansers with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide and body brushes like the Instrumental Beauty Home Spa Treatment ($30,, which will exfoliate your skin.

If you experience back acne, Dr. Shultz says wearing a backpack might be a bad idea because the pressure and the rubbing could intensify the issue. Treating your back with products can be slightly different, as he notes it’s a little tougher and thicker than the skin on the face. He suggests trying a higher strength ingredient, so a 2 percent salicylic acid treatment verses a 1 percent is best.

However, that’s not to say sweat or clothes rubbing your body are the only causes of body acne. As Dr. Shultz says it totally depends on the person. And if your over-the-counter treatments aren’t working, you might consider visiting your derm to get a pro opinion on the issue and how to fix it.
More from Daily Makeover: How to Treat and Prevent Body Acne