Shoulder Acne: Types, Causes, & Remedies

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Body acne is a common skin problem in the United States of America. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, acne affects up to 50 million Americans annually.

At one time or the other, you might have had an acne breakout or know someone who has. In most cases, acne develops on the face. However, it can also pop up other parts of your body that are oil-secreting, including your chest, back, and even shoulders.

Just like how you struggle with face acne, having shoulder acne can be frustrating and troublesome. So how do you deal with these breakouts and go about treating them?

Let’s take a closer look.

What Is Acne?

Acne occurs due to an accumulation of oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria in the skin pores. The oil-producing glands, sebaceous glands, produce sebum, whose role is to carry the dead skin cells from your skin surface. If this process is interfered with, the sebum and skin cells clog together with the dirt and bacteria.

When all these elements get trapped inside the hair follicles, the skin gets infections and inflammation, which we refer to as a pimple.

What Are The Different Types of Shoulder Acne?

Shoulder acne lesions will not feel or appear the same. They differ and vary in terms of size and color. Here are some of the common ones.

• Whiteheads

These pimples appear on your shoulder as tiny, firm bumps which have a white center. Also known as closed comedones, these whiteheads form when a buildup of oil, bacteria, and dead cells stays sealed inside the hair follicle.

• Blackheads

Blackheads or open comedones form when clogged pores or the sebum comes into contact with air. They occur when the inflamed follicle opens up on the skin surface, therefore trapping dust.

• Pustules

Pustules have a red base and contain white or yellow pus. These bumps form due to inflammation caused by clogging of the hair follicles. Pus buildup results from excess white blood cells.

• Papules

When you have papules on your shoulder, they appear as red, inflamed bumps. These lesions are usually tender but don’t contain any pus. As small bumps, they can be less than 1 centimeter in diameter.

• Nodules

Nodules are significantly larger and form hard lumps deep within the skin. Forming as a result of trapped bacteria in the hair follicle, nodules are very painful to touch. Due to their deep skin location, they might cause tissue damage and further inflammation.

• Cysts

These lesions appear similarly to nodules but contain pus. When a cyst infection extends deeper into the skin, you could get extensive and permanent scarring.

What Causes Shoulder Acne?

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If you have just developed shoulder acne, you need to find out the cause before seeking treatment from a dermatologist. Doing this is vital because you can treat some of the inflammations at home.

1.    Acne Mechanica

This form of acne is the most common, especially on your shoulders and back. It’s a result of physical factors such as friction, pressure, and heat. Once the skin gets subjected to these physical strains, it goes through excessive sebum production, which triggers acne.

Here are some specific causes of acne mechanica.

• Sports Equipment Friction

Athletes suffer from this form of acne the most. Workout equipment or synthetic uniforms that rub against the body holds sweat and heat that triggers skin irritation. If you also carry backpacks on your shoulders, you are likely to suffer acne problems.

• Not Changing Clothes after Exercise

If you have excess moisture and heat after a sweat session, you need to change your workout clothes immediately. Failing to do this can cause acne to form due to the sweat, bacteria, and dirt on your clothes.

Furthermore, invest in loose-fitting clothes. Clingy fabrics tend to trap the bacteria and dirt on your skin, causing breakouts on your shoulders. Even with the less sticky options, it’s advisable to remove them immediately after leaving the gym or finishing your workout session.

• Irritating Fibers

Shoulder acne gets triggered by irritating fabric. For example, if your pillows or blankets have a rough material, your skin could easily get irritated, resulting in bumps. Before using any fabrics, pay attention to any possible effects on your skin.

• Using Irritating Shampoo and Conditioner

Ironically, these cleaning agents can cause more harm to your skin. When using shampoo and conditioner on your skin, the oils that run down your shoulders as you rinse your hair could block your pores and form acne. Therefore, it’s best to wash your body after a shampooing session to eliminate any residue that could cause clogging.

• Using Harmful Shower Accessories

Items such as damp towels are a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Once this bacteria comes into contact with your back and shoulders, it could mix up with sebum to clog your pores, resulting in acne breakouts.

2.    Acne Vulgaris

This medical term for common acne forms after dead skin and oil gets trapped in the hair follicle. Acne Vulgaris gets triggered by a change in the hormonal body levels. The hormones that contribute to this condition are:

• Progestren and Estrogen

Prominent in women, these hormones can increase your chances of getting acne on your shoulders. Progesterone triggers acne during the luteal phase, typically between the period after ovulation and before the period. This hormone also affects women on the progesterone-only birth control pill.

On the other hand, the estrogen hormone shrinks the oil-producing glands.

• Testosterone

An increase in testosterone levels can result in acne in both men and women. This is because this hormone acts as a regulator in sebum production. However, during puberty, when the levels increase, adolescent males experience increased breakouts.

3.   Keratosis Pilaris

This is an acne-like condition that involves the overproduction of keratin. As a result, the bumps on the shoulders can be painful to touch and rough. If you have these types of breakouts, you can effectively treat them at home.

How To Avoid Shoulder Acne Breakouts

Acne incidences can’t always get controlled, especially when the cause is hormonal. However, there are several measures that you can take to protect yourself from constant inflammations. Let’s look at some of these preventive measures.

• Use Less Oil-Based Products

To protect your shoulders from breakouts, it’s better to go for skin-care products that don’t have oil. These items include conditioners and all cosmetics. When shopping, look out for products with labels that indicate they are oil-free, non-comedogenic, or the item won’t clog your pores.

• Avoid Pressure on Your Back

If you work out a lot or carry heavy bags on your shoulders, you are more prone to acne. You can reduce these incidences by carrying lightweight backpacks that don’t hurt your shoulders. For the clothes, don’t wear them for extended periods to minimize skin irritation.

• Change Clothes Often

If you get sweaty a lot, change into a clean set of clothes immediately you get a chance. Removing clothes full of sweat protects your skin from any form of clogging and breakouts.

• Watch your Medication

Some forms of medication significantly increase the chances of developing acne. If you are prone to shoulder inflammations and pimples, talk to your doctor to give alternatives. The same applies to hormonal pills; only take them when you need to.

• Exfoliate Often

Exfoliating and cleansing your skin is vital for removing dead skin cells. Use a microfiber band or loofah to wash your back and exfoliate during a shower. Ensure the process is gentle to remove the buildup of bacteria and dirt to open up your pores.

How To Treat Shoulder Acne

Once you notice acne on your shoulders, you can either treat the breakouts using home remedies or medication. Both methods bring relief and work to reduce the irritation and get your skin back to normal.

Here are some of the tactics you can use on your shoulder.

1. Medical Methods

• Get Over the Counter Treatment

Several creams, gels, and foam help to clear acne breakouts. You can get products that contain benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or retinoids to treat inflammation. These elements work by either killing the bacteria, reducing inflammation and sebum production, and keeping dead cells out of the pores.

These creams can help get rid of all the blemishes and also stop any new ones from forming. These products are also present in washes that you can use for your shoulder for spot treatments.

• Use Oral Medication

Your dermatologists often prescribe these medications to help you get rid of the acne problem. In most cases, they are essential in treating the underlying issue causing the breakouts.

Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics such as doxycycline to treat moderate to severe acne. Certain birth control pills can also help with acne control. Furthermore, you can get on a hormone therapy program that reduces hormone levels in your body.

For all these medications, it’s best to first discuss with your doctor the advantages and disadvantages before any administration.

2. Home Treatments

Apart from medication, you can take care of the acne problem at home, especially if it’s not extensive. How can you do that?

• Use a Warm Compress

Once a whitehead forms, you can use a warm compress to help with the healing process. According to the American Academy of Dermatology acne tips, the warm compress will fasten the acne clearing process. Use the compress on the pimples for 15 minutes, 3 to 4 times a day, until the pus drains.

• Don’t Pick the Lesions

As much as it’s tempting, it’s advisable not to pick the pimples as they heal. Popping a pimple on your shoulder slows down the healing process and puts you at risk for increased infections. In addition, if you frequently pick the acne spots, you’ll leave black or brown permanent scars on your shoulders.

• Stay Away from the Sun

The sun tends to worsen the acne by making the spots darker. Therefore, when treating the lesions, avoid exposure to direct sunlight and always wear sunscreen to help the skin heal much faster.

• Change Your Bed Sheets and Pillow Cases

Bedsheets and pillowcases hold so many dead skin cells and bacteria that can affect your skin. Having a clean set each week is essential in clearing the shoulder bacteria. While cleaning them, also use a soft detergent that will not irritate your skin much further and cause acne inflammations.


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Shoulder acne manifests due to the reasons listed above. Although these types of breakouts are less visible than face acne, it’s essential to take preventive measures to keep your skin healthy. Taking precautions goes a long way in ensuring there is no dirt, bacterial, or sebum buildup on your skin.

Shoulder acne clears out naturally most of the time. However, in some cases, it could recur and become problematic.

If your home treatment options don’t work, consult with a qualified dermatologist to advise on the best course of action. Medical treatments can treat the underlying issues and prevent the acne from coming back.

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