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How to Treat and Prevent Chest Acne

<p>Getty Images</p>

Getty Images

There's nothing worse than getting all glammed up and slipping on a cute low-cut top only to see red, angry chest acne staring back at you in the mirror. Breakouts can be bothersome no matter where they decide to pop up, but when they are on the chest, the way to go about treating them is a little different than trying to shrink a zit or two on the face. That's because the skin on the body is thicker than the face, so it can usually handle stronger ingredients (that's the case for all body acne).

Related: How to Get Rid of Acne, According to Dermatologists

Here's what top dermatologists say should be the go-tos for clearing up chest acne and preventing it from occurring in the first place.


Meet Our Expert

The Causes of Chest Acne

Several factors contribute to the onslaught of breakouts on the chest. For the most part, chest acne results from a combination of acne-causing bacteria, excess sebum, blocked pores, and inflammation that causes the formation of an acne lesion. Still, other influences can contribute to them, too. "Acne on the chest is very common," says Dr. Murphy-Rose. "Both males and females can experience chest acne from pre-adolescence through adulthood."

Most times, Dr. Murphy-Rose shares that chest acne is inflammatory acne caused by clogged pores and bacteria (P. acnes), leading to inflammation in the skin. "Many people are genetically predisposed to acne, partly driven by androgen hormones." Other chest acne exacerbating factors include occlusive skincare products, sweating, certain medications, supplements, foods, and stress. Excess sweat that results from vigorous workouts, the weather, or the body's natural sebum production is a common reason why the skin on the chest is more likely to break out. Dr. Camp says those who are physically active, sweat a lot, wear tight clothing that causes friction, or have naturally oily or acne-prone skin may be more predisposed to chest acne.

Unbeknownst to many, hair products can also cause chest acne. Dr. Ciraldo says to look at where the breakout occurs. "If your hair is long and hits right at the chest, ingredients in your hair products may cause chest acne," she shares.

<p>Getty Images</p>

Getty Images

What Chest Acne Looks Like

Most pimples that call the chest area home are small, red, inflamed bumps that can sport a whitehead on top or be void of one. According to Dr. Ciraldo, chest acne looks more uniform than facial acne. "With facial acne, we often see a spectrum of lesions, including clogged pores and whiteheads, pimples, pustules, and even cysts. But on the chest, the breakouts are mostly smaller bumps without clogged pores and less pus-filled pimples and acne cysts." That's not to say that the occasional cyst or blackhead can't appear on the chest.

You'll want to get an accurate diagnosis from your dermatologist since not all bumps on the chest are acne, and many may be mistaken for a pimple when, in actuality, they are another skin condition. For example, Dr. Camp says pityrosporum folliculitis, a rash caused by yeast on the skin, is one skin condition that can be misdiagnosed as chest acne. "It often presents with bumps on the chest that appear like acne, but it requires antifungal medications for treatment."

Related: The 16 Best Acne Serums of 2023 for Clearer, Brighter Skin

Acne breakouts on the chest can lead to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and acne scars. "Cystic acne tends to scar, and most chest acne is inflammatory, but some cases can be cystic," Dr. Murphy-Rose says. "All types of acne see an increased risk of scarring when picked at, popped, or otherwise manipulated." Rather than attempting to extract a pimple yourself, Dr. Ciraldo recommends applying a warm compress to the area, which will often help the blemish come to a head and resolve faster without any risk of scarring. "If a lesion is very big and tender, go to the dermatologist for a dilute cortisone injection that they can put directly into it."

The Best Ways to Prevent Chest Acne

Determining the cause of your breakouts and appropriately addressing them is the easiest way to send chest acne packing.

1. Change out of sweaty workout clothes ASAP

For starters, don't wear sweaty workout clothes for a minute longer than you need to. Keep a clean change of clothes on hand after you finish a workout. Showering as soon as possible after a sweaty workout will remove any oil and sweat lingering on the skin so as not to exacerbate acne.

2. Wash the chest with an acne body wash

To help control oil production on the chest and exfoliate away dead skin, both of which contribute to chest acne, reach for body washes explicitly formulated for treating acne. "Cleaners are an effective way to treat large surface areas, like the chest," Dr. Camp says. "Ingredients like salicylic acid, found in Peter Thomas Roth Acne Clearing Wash ($39), can prevent acne by clearing the pores of excess oil and dead skin cells. Benzoyl peroxide cleansers offer anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties."


Just steer clear of body washes with artificial colors and fragrances since, as Dr. Ciraldo explains, inflamed acne skin can get red and irritated from these ingredients.

Related: The 8 Best Acne Body Washes of 2023, Tested and Reviewed

3. Exfoliate regularly

Using a gentle exfoliator on the chest one to two times per week can help reduce the buildup of dead skin cells accumulating on the chest. Whether you use an exfoliating body wash or scrub or an exfoliating treatment with salicylic acid, such as PanOxyl Clarifying Exfoliant 2% Salicylic Acid ($11) or  Dr. Loretta Micro Exfoliating Cleanser ($35), which dissolves dead skin cells for clearer looking skin, the goal is not to over scrub the skin or strip the skin barrier.

4. Stick with noncomedogenic products

If acne is a problem on the face, it can also be one on the chest. When that's the case, read the labels of your skincare products thoroughly and swap any heavy creams and lotions for noncomedogenic ones and lightweight serums.

5. Change up your diet

A diet consisting mainly of sugars, processed foods, and inflammatory foods can instigate chest acne. Dr. Camp says modifying the diet may help with acne. "Foods with a high glycemic index, including white bread, beer, sugary soft drinks, white rice, and potatoes, cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, which are thought to trigger a hormonal cascade that leads to acne," he explains. Paring back your intake of these may help improve the skin.

6. Control how much you sweat

Keeping the body cool can help limit sweating to prevent chest acne. Dr. Ciraldo says to shower in cool water rather than hot water and sip on ice water at the gym and throughout the day. “If you can lessen sweating, you'll be surprised how well this can resolve the problem.”

7. Swap out your hair products

If heavy conditioners and styling breakouts cause chest acne, swap them for lighter formulations without silicones, heavy oils, or butters. Dr. Ciraldo recommends switching to clear, see-through shampoos and mixing half of the usual amount of conditioner with Infusium 23 Leave in Treatment ($6) to dilute the creamy nature of the conditioner, which can sometimes cause acne. There are also noncomedogenic hair care products like Seen, which offer skin benefits.

<p>Getty Images</p>

Getty Images

How to Treat Chest Acne

Getting rid of chest acne may be an uphill battle until you find the right combination of treatments for your skin. It takes time to see results, so don't give up. When your skin starts to clear, you must be consistent and keep doing what works. In the meantime, do not pop or pick any visible pimples, which can cause scarring and prolong the healing time.

1. Apply a spot treatment or spray where needed

To help clear up pimples on the chest, reach for over-the-counter topical spot treatment products containing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide (only use benzoyl peroxide when wearing light-colored tops since the active ingredient can bleach out fabrics). "Salicylic acid is a great option for treating and even preventing chest acne," Dr. Murphy-Rose says. "Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that exfoliates the skin, clears pores, and decreases inflammation. Unlike other hydroxy acids, salicylic acid can travel down into pores to help keep them clear, working at the skin's surface and inside the pores." Sprays and mists with salicylic acid, like Bliss World Clear Genius Body Acne Spray ($18), are also effective options, especially for treating larger areas of skin.

2. Consider prescription medication

When stubborn chest acne persists and over-the-counter options don't cut it, topical and oral prescription medications are the next go-to. "We can often use stronger medications to treat acne on the body as compared to the face because the skin on the face generally tends to be thinner and therefore more sensitive than the skin on the body," Dr. Murphy-Rose says.

3. Get a chemical peel

Your face isn’t the only acne-prone area that responds well to a pore-clearing chemical peel; the chest does, too. Chemical peels, usually done following a chest facial with extractions, can help further exfoliate the skin and loosen any debris within the pores contributing to active acne. Salicylic and glycolic acid peels are usually the treatment of choice for acne. At-home chemical peels are also an option.

4. Get a steroid injection.

When time is of the essence, and you need to shrink a giant, painful chest pimple like yesterday, a cortisone shot is usually your best bet. It helps reduce inflammation within cystic lesions, removing redness and healing the spot.

5. Invest in doctor-administered treatments.

Aside from prescription medications, in-office treatments like light and laser therapy can help clear the skin. Dr. Ciraldo adds that HydraFacials are also very effective treatments for chest acne. "They should be done as a series spaced every two to four weeks," she says.

If chest acne leaves behind scars, lasers and microneedling can make them better. "We can improve many scars with non-ablative fractionated laser resurfacing or radiofrequency microneedling, which helps remodel collagen," Dr. Murphy-Rose says. "Pulsed dye lasers work on discolored pink scars and marks. My go-to for hyperpigmented scars is often topical skincare that lightens discoloration."

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