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Acne is the most common skin condition in the United States. It can cause blackheads, whiteheads, and pus-filled spots.
Acne tends to start at puberty, and most people experience it during this time before it resolves itself in the late teens or early 20s. For some people, however, it can persist into their late 20s and even 30s.
Its severity can vary from just a few spots to larger clusters of affected areas. As well as on the back, acne can appear on the face, neck, and chest. If acne is left untreated, dark spots and permanent scars can appear on the skin as it clears.
There are several treatment options available to help people get rid of acne on their back.
Most treatments involve applying topical medications directly to the skin. These are usually the first choice to treat cases of mild to moderate acne.
For people with just a few spots, over-the-counter medications will often deal with the problem. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a product that contains benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.
People should apply the medication to the whole affected part of the back, not just the spots, usually once or twice a day. This kind of treatment will usually result in clear skin within 4-8 weeks.
A doctor or healthcare provider may prescribe oral medication if a person has severe acne, including acne cysts and nodules. Treatment may include:
- Antibiotics to kill bacteria and reduce inflammation: sometimes, doctors will prescribe these alongside a topical medication. A person may need to take them for 2 to 6 months.
- Birth control pills and other medicines that impact hormones: these can reduce the amount of oil the skin produces but can take 3 to 4 months to take effect. This option, which interrupts ovulation, may not be suitable for young teenage girls.
- Isotretinoin: this is a powerful medication that can benefit people for up to 2 years after treatment. It does, however, have the potential to cause side effects – it can harm unborn babies, meaning it is not suitable for women who plan to get pregnant. Before prescribing isotretinoin, doctors may order blood tests and continue to monitor people while they use it.
With some medications, notably isotretinoin, there are also concerns that it can cause depression and suicidal feelings. Isotretinoin can also result in dry skin, particularly around the lips, so a lip moisturizer is recommended.
Also, isotretinoin may cause joint pain issues secondary to the drying and decreased lubrication of the joints.
Laser and other light therapies can reduce the levels of p.acnes on the skin, but there is limited evidence to support the effectiveness of this approach. Dermatologists sometimes offer a chemical peel to treat blackheads and papules.
Drainage and extraction is a procedure to remove large acne cysts if they do not respond to medication. It will help ease the pain but will possibly leave a scar.
Tight-fitting exercise clothing that traps sweat next to skin on the back and blocks pores may contribute to outbreaks. People should consider wearing loose-fitting clothes, especially during a heavy gym session.
Other tips for reducing the risk of back acne breakouts are:
- washing after sweating
- using fingertips to apply a gentle, non-abrasive cleanser
- avoiding products that irritate your skin
- not scrubbing the affected areas
- not popping, picking, or squeezing spots because this may lead to them spreading and scarring
- staying out of the sun and avoiding tanning beds because damaged skin is more prone to acne
Sometimes, large tender cysts can develop on the back. These may either burst or heal up without rupturing. Skin affected by acne may be tender to the touch, feel hot, or be painful.
The severity of back acne can vary. Grade 1, or mild acne, usually consist of a few blemishes and may include whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples. Grade 4 acne is severe and is characterized by many spots or cysts.
When levels of hormones in the blood rise, the glands produce an excess of oil. At the same time, dead skin cells that are not shed properly clog up the follicles. The combination of these processes leads to a build-up of oil and results in whiteheads and blackheads.
Everyone has the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes living on their skin, and for many, it does not cause any problems. But the buildup of oil on the skin experienced by people prone to acne creates the perfect environment for the bacteria to multiply. This can lead to inflammation and the formation of pus-filled or red spots.
According to the British Association of Dermatologists, there is little evidence that any particular foods, such as chocolate or fast foods, can cause acne.
The American Academy of Dermatologists, however, points to studies showing that certain carbohydrates, including white bread and potato chips, increase blood sugar levels, which is a potential trigger for acne.