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What causes back acne in males?

Get to the root cause of your back acne here.

Written by
Rebecca Mitchell
Medically reviewed by
Last updated
April 29, 2024
min read
What causes back acne in males?
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Back acne — occasionally known as 'bacne' — is common among men and women. The causes of back acne, while primarily hormonal, can also seemingly arise from unrelated things, like shaving and tight clothing.

While back acne is common, it's also annoying and totally understandable if you want to get rid of it.

With this in mind, we're deep-diving all things back acne, including what causes it, what makes it worse and how you can treat back acne lesions with skincare.

What is back acne?

Acne is a common skin condition involving breakouts of pimples, blackheads and cysts [1]. It's actually an inflammation of your hair follicles, which can get clogged and irritated by oils and bacteria on your skin.

Back acne or 'bacne' is when these pimples occur on your back area — a common site for acne, along with your face or chest.

Back acne in males will typically strike around puberty when the body is experiencing significant hormonal changes. Adult acne is less common and the term is used to describe acne that occurs after the age of 18-20 [2].

While hormones tend to be the root of any acne problem, breakouts can occur for a number of reasons and are often exacerbated by lifestyle and hygiene habits.

Does testosterone cause back acne in men?

Androgen production is linked to all types of acne, not just bacne. Androgens are hormones produced by both men and women. Men, however, typically produce more androgens, including the most famous androgen — testosterone.

This is why acne is most common in men around puberty age [1].

Androgens can cause the oil glands on our skin to enlarge and produce more oil and sebum. This is particularly true regarding the skin on our face, neck, chest, shoulders and — you guessed it — back.

The normal bacteria on the surface of our skin digest these oils and can produce byproducts that irritate the skin, leading to clogged pores and acne [1].

What causes back acne in males?

Hormones are one cause of acne, however, there is a range of reasons you might find acne on your back. Here's what you need to know.

Genes can increase chances of acne

There is some evidence to suggest your likelihood of getting acne is also genetic [2]. If your parents experienced acne, you may be more likely to see similar effects.

Shaving your back

Shaving back hair can inflame bacne or cause folliculitis — the clogging of your hair follicles. Folliculitis, although a different diagnosis to acne, can present as similar acne-like pimples, comedones or rashes [3].

Shaving can also irritate the skin for a number of reasons. You may have reactions to your shaving products (such as the razor itself or shaving cream or lotion) and it can also increase the spread of bacteria over the skin.

Shaving-related back acne is more common in men as the hair follicles are often bigger and the hair is naturally thicker due to higher testosterone levels.

As hairs regrow, they can become trapped in the skin and further clog your pores.

Not changing out of sweaty clothes

Wearing sweaty or dirty clothing for long periods of time can also worsen bacne as sweat can cause bacteria to build up in the fabric of your clothes. Increased or prolonged contact with your skin can therefore be irritating and cause the bacteria to clog your skin pores.

As a rule, it's always best to change out of sweaty clothing as quickly as you can to prevent a range of skin issues, from acne to contact dermatitis.

If you've just done a workout or even returned from a sweaty commute, try to shower immediately or as soon as you can to prevent back acne breakouts [4].

Wearing tight clothing

Similarly, tight clothing can cause acne as it doesn't let the skin 'breathe'. Acne is largely caused when pores become clogged with bacteria. Tight clothing exacerbates this issue.

Tight and synthetic clothing traps bacteria on your skin, where it can sink into your pores [5].

Not washing your back in the shower

We all miss spots every now and then, but as the back can be hard to reach when showering, you may be not cleaning it as well as you need to. If you have bacne, consider going the extra length to wash your back with a mild body wash that is safe for your skin.

Avoid harsh, scented soaps and opt for a dermatologically reviewed product, perhaps with salicylic acid, which helps to clear away acne-causing bacteria. Do your best to avoid scrubbing or exfoliating too hard as well.

Stress and acne

Some studies have found links between psychological stress and increased acne, especially in young men [6].

Few studies have been conducted regarding the links between stress and acne, particularly male back acne. However, most research concludes that emotional and psychological distress should be considered and addressed in an acne treatment plan [7][8].

Overactive oil production

Male back acne is largely caused by excess sebum, aka excess oil production on the skin. Overactive oil production, largely brought on by hormones, can clog pores and result in acne on the male back, in particular.

Countering oil production can be tricky. You don't want to completely strip your skin's oils as this can make the problem worse. A product with salicylic acid can help exfoliate dead skin cells while also penetrating sebum and oil on the skin to reach pores and clear skin [9].

Is acne worse in men than in women?

Acne, particularly adult acne, has been found to be worse in women [10].

Women are likely to see acne breakouts during the latter stage of their menstrual cycles (about a week before their period) or if they have greater androgen counts, such as those with PCOS [2].

Having said that, back acne can be worse in men due to the size of hair follicles, the amount of hair they have, and the greater experience of sweating in the area.

How to get rid of back acne in males

To treat back acne, men should consider the above potential causes. Start by limiting irritants, clean the affected areas properly, and consider clinical treatments to assist, as needed.

Here's how to say goodbye to back acne for good.

Limit acne-causing irritants

The first step should be to cut or change any lifestyle habits that may worsen your acne. This might include ceasing the above-listed bad skincare habits, like not showering after the gym or wearing clothing that is too tight.

It can also mean reviewing any irritating products that come into contact with the skin on your back, whether that be your moisturiser, deodorant, soap, shampoo or laundry detergent.

Your bedding might also be a culprit flying under the radar. Make sure you frequently wash your towels and sheets and consider if your bedding is making you sweat during the night.

Use skin products for acne prone skin

If you have sensitive skin, including skin prone to acne, consider how a new skincare routine may help prevent and reduce issues. Consider incorporating a body wash or cleanser with salicylic acid [9].

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) — a type of chemical exfoliant which works to gently exfoliate the skin, unclog pores, and clear dead skin cells and oils.

And, Software's Salicylic Acid Foaming Wash does all of this to help clear away acne-causing bacteria and inject hydration into your skin. And, because this is a gentle exfoliator, you can use it across your body and face 1-2 times a week for best results.

Retinoids can also prove helpful to help tackle your back acne issues. Keep in mind that when trying any new skincare products, always patch test first to ensure you're not further irritating your skin.

Furthermore, don't 'over cleanse' your skin as drying it out may actually have the opposite desired effect. Overly dry skin can increase dead skin cells and also trick your skin into producing even more oil to compensate for the dryness.

Depending on the severity of your acne, you may wish to consult a doctor or dermatologist for the best skin routine and acne treatment for you. In cases of severe acne, a doctor may recommend a course of antibiotics for your acne [9].

Also remember, when it comes to skincare, acne can sometimes get worse before getting better. Products can cause the skin to 'purge' toxins and oily substances, temporarily worsening acne before balancing out.

Review your diet

Diet can play a part in healthy skin and oil production. Diet does not 'cause' acne, but the foods you eat can make it better or worse.

Foods that can promote acne or make acne worse might include:

  • High GI foods (i.e. foods with a high glycemic index, including sugary foods and white bread)
  • Some dairy products
  • High fat foods
  • Chocolate.

Meanwhile, if you wish to prevent acne, consider adding more of the following into your diet:

  • Fatty acids (including oily fish, like salmon etc.)
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables [11].

It is even more vital to keep your skin hydrated by drinking lots of water. The recommended daily water intake for adult men is 2.5 litres per day. Feel free to drink even more than this to flush out toxins from your system and keep your body hydrated from the inside out.

Consider medical acne treatments

There are a number of clinical treatments available to treat acne. However, you and your healthcare practitioner or dermatologist can decide on the best approach for your skin.

If you are looking for discreet and simple medical treatment, Pilot offers online consultations and to-your-door delivery of treatments, allowing you to avoid any barriers that might prevent you from visiting a doctor or chemist in person.

And, our personalised acne treatment is no different — simply take our online consult and an Aussie practitioner will create a treatment plan based on your individual skin concerns so be sure to mention your experience with back acne.

Our formulas contain medical-grade ingredients like retinoids, niacinamide and azelaic acid. You can also access unlimited follow-ups with your Pilot practitioner and have your treatment reformulated if needed.

Do not pick!

If you take one thing away from this article, please let it be to not pick your acne. Picking or popping pimples will only spread any bacteria and likely result in more acne appearing.

Severe acne can also result in scarring and the likelihood of this is much greater if you pick your pimples [1]. Picking is guaranteed to make acne worse. End. of. story.

While acne is never fun, back acne can be particularly frustrating and affect your self-esteem. The good news is that it is treatable and you can access help with Pilot.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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