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Ask Belle: Solutions for Body Acne

Dear Belle,

I suffer from acne on my shoulders and chest.  I’ve tried Accutane, and every wash/cream/lotion on the planet.  Or maybe it just feels that way.  Any advice you could share?


First off, you need to look at your conditioner, your moisturizer and your hairspray.  Acne on your shoulders is usually caused (or at least, exacerbated) by beauty products.  

Eliminate all products that contain mineral oil.  Mineral oil is death.  

Keep a jaw clip in the shower so that you can pin your hair up while it conditions.  The last thing you want is your cream-covered locks laying on your shoulders while they condition.

Wrap a towel around your bare shoulders before you apply hairpsray or gel.  I’ve used a few hairsprays (Garnier Fructis with Bamboo) that left a residue that caused massive breakouts.

Secondly, you need to decide how to treat it.  Creams are useless.  The skin on your body is much thicker than the skin on you face and the creams won’t penetrate.  So you can either go the cheap route or the expensive route.

The cheap route involves cottonballs and a bottle of isopropyl alcohol.  While incredibly effective at killing bacteria and exfoliating skin, alcohol is also unfathomably drying.  You reach a point by week two where the acne is gone, but that’s only because you have basically removed all of the skin from your chest.

It’s not pretty.  And even if alcohol is just a little bit drying, applying moisturizer to acne-prone areas is what we were trying to avoid.

So what’s the expensive route?

Glytone Retexturize Exfoliating Body Wash ($26)

Jean Godfrey-June wrote about this product in an issue of Lucky magazine, and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since.  The product is packed with glycolic acid and micro-exfoliators that eliminate dull, dry skin and clear your pores of dead skin and other impurities.

Just add a small dab (quarter size) to a washcloth (or a Clarisonic, you know how I love mine!), a bit of scrub-a-dub-dubbing and you’ll lose that acne in two to four weeks.  It also works on keratosis pilaris (KP), a constant problem for my younger brother who gets it on the back of his arms.  It will remove dry skin, even skin so dry it develops plaque.  And lastly, if you get ingrown hairs around your bikini line from waxing or under your arms from shaving, this will knock them right out of commission.

In short, body acne is a scourge.  You can fight it cheap and dirty with alcohol, but prepare for things to get dry.  Or you can scrub it away with glycolic acid and a loofah.  I recommend the Glytone, it saved my skin after I started working out again (sweat and acne prone skin don’t mix), so give it a try.  What do you have to lose?


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  1. LM says:

    Belle, thank you for posting about a body wash with glycolic acid! I also have KP on my upper arms and while I like DERMAdoctor's KP duty moisturizer, their body scrub is too expensive. I'm definitely picking up the Glytone.

    October 18, 2011/Reply
  2. Elena says:

    If you're on birth control ask your OBGYN about switching to one that controls acne breakouts, if you're not on one talk to your doctor about the low dose options. I've had a milder case of the same issue after I stopped Accutane for the worst of it and BC really helps. Also make sure your nightshirts are changed frequently if you sweat at night, same with pillow cases.

    October 18, 2011/Reply
  3. ashley says:

    I've been struggling to get bacne and chest-ne under control and have finally found refuge in Murad products. I use their body scrub ( followed by the clarifying body spray ( and am finally starting to see this stuff going away.

    I've previously been on a course of doxycycline (anitbiotic) for body acne as well and that worked, but not as well as the Murad stuff, actually…

    October 18, 2011/Reply
  4. No Drama Mama says:

    Something that works on KP? Sold! (LM, AmLactin is cheaper than DermaDoctor, and works great.)

    October 18, 2011/Reply
  5. missy says:

    Unfortunately, topical tools don't get at the root of the problem, they can only help control the acne once it appears. That said, my derm prescribed Duac cream. Not sure if you've tried it but I've had some success with it for my hormonal acne. That's another thing – have you tried BCP (as Elena mentioned) and/or spironolcatone? If it's a hormonal thing, either or both of these may help. It sucks being on meds long term but if the acne is bad enough it could be worth it.

    October 18, 2011/Reply
  6. marie says:

    I second (third?) the birth control option. I had terrible, terrible body acne (like wore dresses with sleeves to prom and every wedding I'd ever gone to and avoided tank tops like the plague). My doctor put me on Yaz when I was 29 and my acne cleared up pretty much completely and now 3 years later the scars are gone and I actually expose my arms with pride! I know it's not for everyone but it really is worth trying different BC to see if it works for you.

    October 18, 2011/Reply
  7. Dr. Jean Grey says:

    I don't have body acne, but believe in the powers of glycolic. I love it. i worship it. I cannot live without it. If I sound fanatical, it's because I am. That shizz WORKS!

    October 18, 2011/Reply
  8. Katie says:

    I would highly recommend Neutrogena Body Clear Body Scrub to anyone looking for an affordable and non-drying option. It costs less than ten dollars and works WONDERS. This cleared up my (pretty severe) body acne in around a month. As a swimmer, it was key for me to find a product that wasn't too harsh/drying. That was 4 or so years ago and I still use it today!

    October 18, 2011/Reply
  9. LM says:

    No Mama Drama – I've never heard of AmLactin. Thanks for the recommendation!

    October 19, 2011/Reply
  10. DH says:

    I would also recommend changing whatever you sleep in each night and change your pillowcases at least once a week – I started doing this years ago and noticed a huge difference in my acne (face, chest, back) right away. I've also had very bad KP for years and I've noticed that swiping some of my face tonic on it once a day and then moisturizing with an unscented, basic moisturizer several times a day significantly improved it. I would also recommend 100% argan oil for acne- it seems odd putting oil on your face when that's what you're trying to get rid of, but it actually regulates sebum production and clears up red scars. I put just a dime-sized amount on my face each night before bed (smells kind of nutty, not too strong, doesn't stain) and acne is much much better. Plus it doesn't dry out your skin!

    October 19, 2011/Reply