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Solutions for a spotty back or body acne

June 12, 2012 Reviewed by Marta 6 Comments

I am prone to a spotty back. I wouldn't go so far as to say I get bacne, but my shoulders just seem to breakout frequently. It is frustrating and irritating (possibly more for my husband than me since he is always swatting my hands away when I try to have a surreptitious scratch between my shoulder blades). So what to do about a spotty back? I am not sure that I have a definitive answer, but here are a few of things that I have learned through trial and error.

For a long time, I used Murad's Clarifying Body Spray ($37). The best thing about it is that the spray action works even if you hold the bottle upside down, so you don't need to be a yoga fanatic to get to those hard to reach places. This product is basically taking the view that your zitty back is due to over-active sebaceous glands that need to be dried out. I used it with Murad's Acne Body Wash. The active in both is salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid that comes from willow bark. It works by reducing swelling and redness and unplugging blocked skin pores to allow pimples to shrink. It treats other skin conditions by softening and loosening dry, scaly, or thickened skin so that it falls off or can be removed easily.

There is no doubt that Clarifying Body Spray was, initially, a big help. Over time, however, I found it very drying and after several bottles began to think it might be making things worse. This may not have been completely fanciful; it contains triclosan, an antibacterial. Overuse can cause come bacteria to become resistant. Overall, I would recommend giving Clarifying Body Spray a try if you have oily skin - just don't overdo it.

My experience with Murad got me to thinking - counter-intuitively - that dry, rather than oily, skin might be responsible for my back breakouts. I found out that there is such a thing as dry skin acne caused by a loss of natural moisture content of the skin. The skin becomes dry, especially during the winter season, itches and peels off. These sloughed off skin cells can clog your pores, causing even more acne blemishes than you had in the first place. This was sounding familiar. It seemed that I needed a whole new strategy.

The key was to find a way to moisturize my back without getting the pores clogged up. Instead of my usual body lotion, I treat my shoulders, back of the neck and anywhere else I can reach with either pure squalane or aloe vera. Jojoba oil could be worth a shot, although I haven't actually tried it. Like squalane, its chemical structure closely mimics that of human skin oil (sebum). Because of this, it may actually convince the skin that it has plenty of sebum and to stop overproducing.

Great for keeping dead cells from clogging things up is the Clarisonic Brush. It can be used on dry skin or in the shower. I tend to use it in the shower with Japanese charcoal cleanser. Charcoal is great at removing impurities from clogged pores and then helping to tighten the pores again, thereby avoiding a vicious circle. This is a good routine for chest outbreaks as well. Last, but not least, don't turn your back on the power of LED light. A zap with the Baby Quasar once a week or so makes all the difference.

Ingredients in Murad Clarifying Spray

Active Ingredient: 0.5% Salicylic Acid.

Water (Aqua), Alcohol Dena, Butylene Glycol, Allantoin, Undecylenoyl Glycine, Sodium Salicylate, Lecithin, Tocophersolan, Retinol, Pentylene Glycol, Polysorbate 20, Panthenol, Triclosan, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Oleth-20, Menthol, Cymbopogon Schoenanthus Oil.

Ingredients in Murad Acne Body Wash

Active Ingredient: 1.0% Salicylic Acid.

Water (Aqua), Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate, Polyethylene, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Glycerin, Acrylates Copolymer, PEG-200 Hydrogenated Glyceryl Palmate, Triclosan, Rice Amino Acids, Lysine Lauroyl Methionate, Zinc As Chitosan Ascorbate, Phoenix Dactylifera (Date) Seed, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Polyquaternium-51, Glycolic Acid, Sodium Hydroxide, Hydrogen Peroxide, Menthol, PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate, Benzophenone-4, Benzoic Acid, DMDM Hydantoin, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Benzyl Salicylate , Hexyl Cinnamal, Butylphenyl Methylpropional , Fragrance (Parfum), Blue 1 (CI 42090), Ext. Violet 2 (CI 60730).

  • December 10, 2009

    by milo, phd

    I'm a little late on this, but would like to chime in anyway. Since my teens, I've had a recurrent, stubborn rash-like skin condition on my upper chest and back. It was embarrassing, especially in warmer months, when I would have to choose between weather-inappropriate clothes and looking like a leper. What's more, sweating made the rash angrier and itchier. It failed to respond to acne treatments, exfoliants (made it worse), doctor-prescribed erythromycin pads, and cortisone (though cortisone did relieve the itching). Fed up, I went to a dermatologist about a year ago. She diagnosed me with folliculitis, or 'inflamed follicles,' and sent me away with an rx for a topical steroid. Great.

    None too impressed, I did some research of my own. The rash that's been the bane of my existence for a decade is caused by an overgrowth of yeasts native to human (and animal) skin. It is not an uncommon condition, and I think there are probably a lot of people out there who think they have "backne" and subject their skin to all sorts of harsh treatments that don't work because they fail to address the underlying cause.

    The good news is, the condition (known as either pityrosporum folliculitis or malassezia folliculitis) is easy to treat. As it is most likely a genetic predisposition that decreases some people's ability to tolerate the yeast, the condition cannot be cured. Controlling the symptoms relies on consistent application of whichever topical you choose. For more info, google "pityrosporum folliculitis" and check out the first few results.

    Figuring out the origin of this rash honestly changed my life. For anyone suffering from a recurrent rash that doesn't respond to treatment, you might try going to a dermatology website with extensive photos and descriptions of skin conditions to see if there is a better match for what you've got than 'backne.' Good luck, and always do your research!

  • August 18, 2009

    by mike30

    I suffer from breakouts just on my shoulders which I thought was odd since I have dry skin below the chin. A combination of exfoliating shower gloves, a good body wash and my star player, Earth Science's Triple Action Problem Skin treatment spray has solved my problem.

    The spray is designed for men to treat ingrown hairs, razor bumps, etc. Considering it has salicylic acid, I started using it on my shoulders and so far works like a charm. It's pretty potent so I use it a few times a week. I love the mix of goodies in this treatment spray and even better I got it at a steal on sale at Whole Foods for under $9.

    Ingredients: Witch hazel extract, salicylic acid, sodium hyaluronate, cat's claw extract, gotu kola extract, guaiazulene, Peg-35 castor oil, aloe leafe juice, cranberry fruit extract, echinacea angustifolia extract, willow bark extract, glycerin and fragrance.

  • June 23, 2009

    by marta

    Michelle - if you only want to use one then pick the spray. But the wash should be OK on its own. I wouldn't use it on my face though - too harsh. Try <a href="" rel="nofollow">Epicuren's cleanser.</a>

  • June 23, 2009

    by Michelle

    Hi Marta,

    With your experience, does the Murad Acne Body wash work well on its own, or does it have to be used with the Body spray? I just bought the body wash from a beauty store, but they didn't carry the spray. I was wondering if the wash will be sufficient since it only contains 1% salicylic acid, and I've heard that there should be 2% for it to be effective. Also, I'm trying it on my face, because somehow I suddenly started breaking out there; and that rarely happens. =X

  • June 17, 2009

    by marta

    Deb Thanks!
    My emu oil smells like a farmyard. I went to Tau of Herbs - is your's by <a href="" rel="nofollow">Thunder Ridge</a>?

  • June 15, 2009

    by deb

    I had horrifically itchy dry, sensitive and small red pimply shoulders and middle back - read different things (and price points) about properties of emu oil vis a vis human skin. Got a few bottles to try from I believe the site is "tau of herbs" or vice versa... my skin soaks it up, after initial swipe with it it is not horribly greasy and my shoulders and back do not itch and break out. Now use it on my arms, heels anywhere I feel really dry and do not want any perfumed smell - this product from this supplier has no odour whatsoever and I have had emu oil that did - something about the refining process. I highly recommend it for your back problems.

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