6 Ways To Get Rid Of Chest Acne + What Causes It, From Derms
Acne can be a major cause of insecurity. For some, research even shows that having acne can be a traumatic emotional experience and can raise the risk of mental health concerns like depression and anxiety.
While body acne may be easier to hide at times, it can still cause deeply rooted insecurity and frustration. Plus, knowing how to treat acne on parts of the body, like the chest isn't always as openly discussed. To help you out, we asked derms for the 101 on chest acne from causes to treatments and more. Let's dive in.
Why do I have chest acne?
"Chest acne is similar to facial acne in that it is caused by clogged pores combined with bacteria in the skin leading to inflammation," board-certified dermatologist Jeremy Fenton, M.D., of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York tells mbg.
"However, as compared to facial acne, there are a few things that set it apart, primarily the fact that chest and back acne can more easily be aggravated by excessive sweating and heat because clothing can further occlude the skin and contribute to irritation and friction," Fenton adds.
What's more, both facial and chest acne can be linked to hormonal imbalances. "Having too much androgens, or male hormones, in a woman can trigger body acne," Fenton explains.
"Most frequently, this occurs in men during puberty and affects women during the phases of their menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause," board-certified dermatologist Kim Nichols, M.D., FAAD, tells mbg.
This form of hormonal acne is also more common for women than men. "Very rarely would chest acne be indicative of a hormonal problem in a male (unless they were taking some sort of supplement or anabolic steroids)," Fenton notes.
6 ways to get rid of chest acne.
The first step to getting a handle on chest breakouts is to determine the cause. However, there are plenty of topical treatments out there that will help tend to the skin, whether your breakouts are linked to hormonal imbalance or not. To follow, a few A+ methods to consider:
Get a salicylic acid wash or serum.
There's a plethora of topical treatment options for chest acne—many of which are similar to the ingredients you'd use on the face. One of which is the powerful beta-hydroxy acid exfoliant salicylic acid.
In this 2014 study1, researchers found that using salicylic acid directly impacts sebum production. This is essential for those with oily and acne-prone skin, as sebum can clog the pores and trigger breakouts.
Because salicylic acid is a multitasking ingredient, it treats acne in many ways, from exfoliating to managing bacteria and regulating sebum production. It's no wonder clinical studies deem this ingredient a safe and effective treatment for breakouts2.
You can opt for a salicylic acid face cleanser, body wash, or use a leave-on treatment like the Paula's Choice Acne Body Spray. This product is easier to use for areas like the chest and back, as the spray mechanism covers a greater area than a traditional face serum.
If you do opt for a wash-off product, be sure to leave it on the skin for 30 seconds to a minute before rinsing it off so you can give the salicylic acid time to work its magic.
Consider benzoyl peroxide.
Salicylic acid can take some time to kick in and tame breakouts, but benzoyl peroxide may be a quicker fix. "It kills the bacteria, P. acnes, that lives within our hair follicles, and it also helps to break up and remove dead skin cells that clog our pores," board-certified dermatologist Ife J. Rodney, M.D., FAAD, founding director of Eternal Dermatology + Aesthetics said about the ingredient.
That means the acid can be helpful for both inflammatory acne (your angry pustules, cysts, and pimples) as well as comedonal acne (blackheads and whiteheads). The best way to use benzoyl peroxide is in a wash-off formula rather than a leave-on serum. Need a suggestion? The INKEY List SuperSolutions 5% Benzoyl Peroxide Cleanser is one A+ (and budget-friendly) option.
The reason you'll want to opt for a wash is because benzoyl peroxide can dry out the skin. To mitigate this, be sure to follow up your shower with a hydrating, noncomedogenic body lotion. More on this in a bit.
Use adapalene gel.
Both Nichols and Fenton deem adapalene gel as an effective treatment for chest acne. This ingredient is a topical retinoid that's been approved by the FDA for the treatment of acne. It's available in both prescription and over-the-counter formulations and is the active ingredient found in the Differin Gel.
As with all retinoids, you should be mindful of potential dryness and irritation. Luckily, adapalene is relatively gentle compared to its prescription-grade cousins. Start by using adapalene on your chest every two or three days to allow your skin the proper adjustment period before bumping it up to every other day or even daily use.
This may seem like a powerful treatment to use so often, but the skin on your chest tends to be more tolerant than the skin on the face. "Generally in my experience, most people can tolerate stronger treatments on the chest than they can on the face (particularly the cheeks, which get more dry than the T Zone)," Fenton says.
"The reason for this is because the skin on the chest often produces a more consistent amount of moisture, as opposed to the face that tends to have oily areas (like the nose and forehead) and at the same time can have dry areas (like the cheeks), so it can be more difficult to find the right balance on the face," he adds.
"The face is also always exposed to the elements, particularly during the winter this can contribute to more dry and irritated skin," he says. However, each individual is different, so lay off the daily retinoid use if your skin begins to get irritated.
Check your body lotions for pore-clogging ingredients.
As previously mentioned, the pores on your chest can become clogged by topical products. It can be difficult to hunt down completely noncomedogenic body lotions, as heavy ingredients like coconut oil tend to be used more in body products than in those formulated for the face.
This doesn't mean you should lay off body lotion altogether, though. In fact, you'll need a hydrating layer to maintain healthy skin and work on clearing acne, especially if you do incorporate salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or adapalene into your routine.
The fix? Just run the full ingredient list (which can usually be found online) through this pore-clogging ingredients checker from Acne Clinic NYC to be sure.
Consider lifestyle factors.
Because sweat gets trapped by clothing, it's essential to maintain a healthy hygiene routine. Do your best to change out of sweaty clothes and hop in the shower after you've been exercising. This is when you'll want to go in with your salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide wash to minimize the chance of sweat clogging your pores.
In addition, how often you clock a full eight hours of sleep and what you consume food-wise matters too. See, there's a whole host of factors that go into hormonal balance; sleep and diet are included.
If you want to dive into the connection between diet and acne, you can read all about it here. And if you want to learn more about how your sleep affects your skin, we have a breakdown for that too.
Visit a derm.
If you've tried all of the above with little to no success, it's best to visit a board-certified dermatologist. These experts can set you up with prescription-grade topicals or oral medication that can help you get a hold of your breakouts should you need it.
What causes chest acne in males?
In both men and women, buildup of sweat, dead skin, and bacteria can cause chest acne. Hormones, however, don't tend to trigger chest acne in males as often. "Very rarely would chest acne be indicative of a hormonal problem in a male (unless they were taking some sort of supplement or anabolic steroids)," Fenton notes.
What hormone causes chest acne?
Both facial and chest acne can be linked to hormonal imbalances. "Having too much androgens, or male or hormones, in a woman can trigger body acne," Fenton explains.
What is the best acne treatment?
Topical ingredients like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and adapalene are great ways to ease chest breakouts. It's essential to mind your diet and sleep as well, as both of those factors contribute to gut health and hormonal balance, which, in turn, impact the skin. Also, do your best to avoid sitting in sweaty clothes post-workout. If none of these treatments ease your breakouts, it's best to visit a dermatologist.
Like facial acne, chest breakouts can cause insecurity and be difficult to treat. The best topical options include salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and adapalene gel. Be sure to change out of sweaty clothes post-exercise and always cleanse the affected area. If you want to learn more about acne basics, check out our beauty breakdown here for more causes, potential treatments, and the best products.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.