Acne sucks, no matter where it pops up. But when it appears in a less traditional place, like the chest, then it’s all the more confounding and frustrating.
Most guys are used to getting the occasional pimple on their forehead, or maybe on their back or butt. But chest acne, while less common, is actually easier to diagnose (and therefore treat) for that very reason.
What causes it, and how can you get rid of it without scarring or future flare-ups? For some insight, we spoke to board-certified dermatologist Dr David Lortscher, founder of skincare company Curology.
What Is Chest Acne?
Chest acne isn’t all that different from the acne you might experience on your face. At a cellular level, it forms the same way, from one of four factors.
- Dead skin cells getting trapped inside the pores
- Overproduction of sebum (the body’s natural oil that hydrates the skin), which clogs the pore
- Bacteria, which thrives in excess oil and leads to breakouts
- The accumulation of all three causing the body’s white blood cells to defend against a perceived attack, which in turn produces inflammation on the skin.
On a more macro level, there are also various habits, behaviours, and oversights that can cause chest acne. More often than not, you’ll experience a breakout – big or small – instead of an isolated pimple, so it pays to know these too.
What Causes Chest Acne?
The skincare products you use might be to blame. “Avoid harsh cleansers,” says Lortscher, pointing to chemically enhanced body washes, which include potentially pore-clogging sulfates.
Secondly, he warns against certain exfoliation devices, and the “aggressive use of physical methods of exfoliation, such as loofahs and back brushes,” which can cause irritation and breakouts. Instead, use gentle products designed for sensitive skin to prevent and help clear chest acne.
The single best thing you can do to prevent acne breakouts is to cut back on sugar and processed foods. These foods send insulin levels sky-high, which in turn can cause inflammation on any part of the body. Whether it’s isolated to the chest or spread all around, first assess the food you eat, and scale back significantly on added sugars, now and forever.
If you don’t shower regularly, then you’re more prone to breakouts. Simple. The same goes for if you don’t wash your bed sheets, shirts, workout clothes, and towels frequently. Bacteria builds up on these unwashed fabrics and transfers easily onto the skin.
It’s recommended that you wash your workout clothes after each use – and don’t let them fester in your gym bag either, which itself should get washed routinely. As for bed sheets and towels, wash those weekly.
“Sweat doesn’t cause acne, but it is true that the moisture produced may encourage acne,” says Lortscher.
It can aggravate the skin, mainly due to friction (the same is true during workouts), so you might look to your backpack straps or tight clothing as culprits if you’re prone to sweat. Wear those straps looser and stock up on breathable cotton shirts or moisture-wicking fabrics that minimise sweat and don’t press on the body.
Your Workout Supplements
If you are experiencing chest acne and are also taking whey protein supplements or mass-building steroids, you may have your verdict. Whey increases insulin levels in the skin (just like sugar), leading to inflammation. Steroids, on the other hand, significantly impact testosterone levels, which in turn produces excess sebum in the pores and can quickly clog them.
How To Get Rid Of Chest Acne
Target Specific Ingredients
Lortscher’s foremost suggestion is to combat chest acne with some of the same high-strength ingredients you would use on your face.
“Chest acne and facial acne can be treated with zinc soap, sulfur soap, salicylic acid, and benzoyl peroxide,” he says. “Prescription topical therapies are a consideration and can be discussed with your dermatologist. However, acne on the body can be more treatment-resistant than facial acne, and permanent scarring can occur.
Take An Omega 3 Supplement
One of the best ways to reduce inflammation (and prevent it in the first place) is to take a daily Omega-3 supplement, like fish oil. The fatty acids in these regulate oil production in the skin and boost natural moisture levels so that you have firm, clear, healthy skin. As a bonus, fish oils are good fuel for your memory and other brain functions.
Wear Breathable Fabrics
By wearing breathable natural fabrics (such as cotton, linen and wool) and other moisture-wicking materials, you significantly reduce the chance of sweat and bacteria buildup.
These also reduce friction on the body that is caused by tighter, less ventilated clothing. Another thing to consider is bulk. Too much fabric, regardless of material, will only lead to sweating, friction, and irritation.
Switch Up Your Shampoo
Far from an old wives tale, switching to an anti-dandruff shampoo can help minimise and prevent chest acne. The salicylic acid fights the bacteria that causes breakouts, while also thwarting dandruff, psoriasis and dermatitis on the scalp.
You probably don’t need to shampoo daily, so you might as well put it to use as a makeshift body wash in between.
Visit A Dermatologist
If you have chronic or ongoing flare-ups, Lortscher recommends visiting a board-certified dermatologist. It’s possible your doctor will prescribe antibiotics or more prescription-strength solutions that use benzoyl or salicylic acid.
Serious solutions like Accutane might be discussed, but these should be closely monitored by your doctor. Plus, he or she will have advice for your specific case and can help explain the unique factors that lead to your breakouts, as well as your eventual solution.
How To Get Rid Of Chest Acne Overnight
Acne isn’t something that disappears with one night of sleep, but you can take steps to expedite its healing. Lortscher says that the fastest fix for chest acne is a heavy-hitting body wash or topical cream.
“If your routine doesn’t currently include acne body wash with active ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, it might be worth trying these over-the-counter topical solutions first,” he says. “If your breakout seems to need more than this, speak to a dermatologist about other options that might be right for you.”
Chest Acne Scars: What You Can Do
You can prevent scars by not popping or picking at your acne. “This increases inflammation, and the risk for scarring,” says Lortscher. Secondly, he advises wearing sunscreen to minimise dark blemishes that acne leaves behind. These dark spots can otherwise linger on your skin for months on end.
“If you have acne that is leaving depressed scars or firm, raised scars, it’s best to discuss treatment options with your local dermatologist,” Lortscher says. “Treat the active acne before you even think about treating scars — that’s the only way to make meaningful progress.”
He also says that, with severe cases, you should discuss whether Isotretinoin is right for you. “Commonly known by its former brand name, Accutane, isotretinoin is an oral medication derived from vitamin A that is the most powerful acne drug available.
“Even isotretinoin does not permanently clear up acne for everyone, but it comes pretty close for many people, and deserves serious consideration if you are developing permanent scars.”