Chest Acne: Why You Have It and How to Fix It

Kristin Hall, FNP
Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP Written by Our Editorial Team Last updated 8/16/2020

As we grow into manhood, we leave some things — like our mountains of toys — behind. Other things, such as acne, can follow us long into adulthood no matter how much we wish they wouldn’t. 

Chest acne is easy to hide, but you know it’s there. 

It can be painful and leave scars, not to mention it can look unsightly and make you feel self-conscious on the beach or when you're with your partner. 

Treating your chest acne with less-than-effective over-the-counter solutions can get expensive and frustrating. 

But there are solutions available that can help knock out your breakouts. Understanding why you’re dealing with body acne can help you make informed decisions and get the help you need. 

What You Should Know About Chest Acne 

  • Acne is the most common inflammatory skin condition in the United States. 
  • Acne, whether on your chest or elsewhere, is caused by dead skin cells clogging your pores and trapping oil and bacteria, which results inflammation. 
  • There are several different kinds of blemishes or acne lesions. 
  • The severity of your acne is determined by where it is on your body and how much of the acne is painful, inflammatory pimples. 
  • Chest acne is often more severe than acne found on the face. 
  • Severe acne may warrant treatment with prescription antibiotics and topical retinoids, under the supervision of a healthcare provider or dermatologist. 

Acne 101

Acne is the most common skin disorder in the United States. 

While it generally first appears during puberty, when hormones are being upended, acne isn’t only limited to teenagers.

There are four contributing factors in the development of acne: dead skin cells that clog your pores or hair follicles (known as hyperkeratinization), oil or sebum production, the bacteria known as Propionbacterium acnes (P. acnes) and the inflammation that happens as a result of all of this.

The result of these four factors are acne lesions or zits. 

There are several types of blemishes: comedones which include blackheads and whiteheads, papules, pustules, nodules and cysts. 

Some of these lesions may be small and painless, where others can be deep and leave scars in their wake.

What Causes Chest Acne?

Like acne elsewhere, chest acne is caused by oil production, clogged pores, inflammation and bacteria. 

That said, there are other factors that could make you more likely to develop acne on your chest. 

Skin care products that prevent you from sweating, excessive sweating and clothing that irritates your skin could all be to blame for your chest acne. 

Athletes may be prone to chest acne if they wear equipment or clothing that rests on the chest, such as a chest protector in hockey or pads in football. 

Known as acne mechanica, this type of acne begins as small red bumps but can evolve into deep, inflammatory lesions that cause scarring.

Interestingly, chest acne is often more severe than acne that develops only on the face, particularly when paired with acne on the back, known colloquially as “bacne.” Chest acne is often classified as moderate to severe, rather than mild, which means it may warrant more intensive treatment.

Treatment for Chest Acne 

As with all types of acne, using the right skin care products is a good place to start. 

Cleansers with benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are bountiful at drug stores and may help control oil production. 

Resist the temptation to scrub your chest, as there is no evidence acne is caused by being dirty, and using harsh scrubs or too much vigor while washing can further irritate your skin.

The more large, painful nodules and pustules you have, the more severe your acne is considered to be when diagnosed by a healthcare provider or dermatologist. 

Severe acne warrants bringing out the big guns of acne treatment, including oral antibiotics and prescription retinoids. 

Oral antibiotics such as tetracycline drugs can take several weeks to begin working, but are effective at fighting the bacteria that causes inflammatory acne. Topical retinoids fight the nasty dead skin cells that clog your pores. 

When used together, oral antibiotics and topical retinoids are more effective than when either is used alone, according to research.

Your healthcare provider or a dermatologist can help you determine the right course of treatment given your acne and medical history.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.