Body acne occurs because the pores get clogged. Sebaceous glands oversee the production of sebum in your skin, exist on all areas of the body, and can be blocked wherever they are. Usually, these blockages are caused by dead skin cells that accumulate inside the pore. “The sebaceous glands continue to produce oil, but when they withdraw, your body sees it as a foreign object and creates inflammation,” explains board-certified dermatologist Robert Finney, MD. Clogged pores and inflammation can lead to superficial and deep cystic acne.
The main difference between acne on your face and on your body, however, is that inflammation can also occur around hair follicles. This is called folliculitis and can occur anywhere there is hair (such as the back, chest, or buttocks). It may look like acne on the surface, but what’s happening underneath might have more to do with bacteria than dead skin cells. “When we talk about folliculitis as opposed to acne, we start thinking about bacteria that can get into it,” says Finney. This bacteria captured inside can lead to inflammation which leads to pimples.
Another bacne culprit could be what is called mechanical acne, which is caused by friction. It’s especially common on the back because of things like backpacks, chairs, and gym equipment, which rub against our backs and force sweat and debris into the pores. “Mechanical acne can be accelerated by running, sweating, tight-fitting clothing, and non-absorbent materials,” says Finney. All of these things can interfere with our body’s natural exfoliation process and cause dead skin cells to stay in our pores longer, which, you guessed it, leads to irritation and breakouts.
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