From preventative measures to treatment, and more.
No matter where pimples pop up, it can be uncomfortable, embarrassing, and stressful. This is especially true when they surface on your chest, a place more visible and more difficult to conceal than other areas. But don’t fret—chest acne is more common (and treatable!) than many realize. We spoke to dermatologists and estheticians for the 101 guide to understanding this particular category of body acne.
What is Chest Acne?
As defined by Papri Sarkar, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Newton, Mass., chest acne is often called ‘folliculitis’ because it’s just that: an inflammatory process around the hair follicle. Much like breakouts on your face, there are several types and causes of chest acne. One type is caused by a higher concentration of sweat glands in the skin that become clogged. Another cause can be hair growth, particularly for men.
Dr. Sarkar adds that people can be predisposed to chest acne due to genetics if many people in their family have suffered from acne. Wearing tight, constrictive, and non-breathable clothing while you sweat can cause pimples to form on your skin underneath. This is partly why athletes or gym-goers are more likely to have chest acne, according to Deanne Mraz Robinson, M.D., FAAD, president and co-founder of Modern Dermatology and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale-New Haven Hospital. As she explains, when we work out a lot, it creates a combination of sweat, heat, and friction, all of which make the perfect cocktail for bacteria to thrive in clogged pores.
Also, any time you are going through a shift in your hormones, including intense stress, puberty, pregnancy, or hormone supplementation (including birth control), you may be more prone to acne, says celebrity facialist and dermatological nurse Natalie Aguilar. “Stress produces hormones called androgens, which may stimulate hair follicles and oil glands, leading to more inflammation and development of acne,” she says. “Hormonal changes can cause your glands to produce more oil and lead to more acne, and clothing friction can irritate and inflame it.”
How to Get Rid of Chest Acne
If you’re experiencing a breakout, you want the fastest, easiest way to make it go away. Treating your chest acne is a lot like healing facial acne, with a few exceptions. Here are some top tips from the professionals.
Switch up your wardrobe.
Since sweating and irritation are an issue here, Dr. Sarkar says to try dry-fit, sweat-wicking clothing that's not too tight and change soon after a sweat session. The goal is to allow some airflow between your skin and the clothing, so it creates ventilation and doesn’t allow those pores to gather bacteria.
Shower right after you exercise.
If you can, shower immediately after you finish your fitness routine. And make sure to strategize your skincare routine so it’s packed with the right ingredients. Dr. Sarkar recommends using a cleanser that decreases bacterial overgrowth and includes some anti-acne agents like benzoyl peroxide. Her favorite over-the-counter option is Panoxyl Acne Foaming Wash Benzoyl Peroxide ($10; amazon.com). After you wash, Dr. Robinson recommends a gentle exfoliator to ensure all sweat is gone. Her top pick is Skinbetter AlphaRet Peel Pads ($110; skinbetter.com).
Be mindful of sugar and skim milk.
When our diets are full of sugar, it can lead to increased acne. And while we often associate sugar with sweet treats and drinks, Dr. Sarkar says sometimes skim milk could be causing breakouts. How come? It has more sugar than whole milk due to a higher concentration of carbohydrates and less fat.
Give your chest some TLC.
Though most people have spent a solid portion of their life developing the right regimen to keep the skin on their face clear, few give the same attention to other parts of their body. This is why sometimes, chest acne can surprise us. As Aguilar says, where there are oil glands, there is a risk for clogged pores. In other words, the only difference between facial acne and chest acne is location and triggers. “The chest is exposed to different factors that don’t affect the face, like clothing materials, bras, scarves, jewelry, perfume, long hair, and temperature,” she says. “It’s also often neglected compared to the face. Most people just use skincare from the jawline up, and don’t regularly cleanse, moisturize, and wear SPF on their chest.”
To begin, up your sunscreen game by being picky and diligent about SPF on your chest and be sure to use it every day, says Karen Fernandez, the lead esthetician for SkinSpirit. “To fight a breakout and avoid the next one, choose physical coverage when possible and a sunblock that is ‘physical’ with no chemical SPF ingredients.” This is super important, she adds, since sun exposure combined with acne is a one-way ticket to scars.
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