Shoulder acne

Shoulder Acne: Types, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Acne isn’t just something that affects your face; it can also show up on other parts of your body. If you struggle with acne on your shoulders, you know how frustrating it can be to deal with this constant reminder of oily skin and acne-causing bacteria in the best place to get rid of shoulder acne. Fortunately, these tips will help you remove the blemishes from your shoulders and help reduce the amount of oiliness they contribute to your skin over time.

What is shoulder acne?

Shoulder acne is a type of acne that appears on areas around your shoulder blades and other parts of your upper back. It affects both men and women, but men are more likely to get it. This can be embarrassing and may affect your confidence in social situations.

Types of Shoulder Acne


These are commonly found on your shoulders and back. They’re due to clogged pores. They form when sebum, an oily substance in our skin, gets trapped beneath a layer of dead skin cells. The blockage triggers an overproduction of cells, and pus collects under these dead skin cells creating a whitehead or closed comedon. If you squeeze a whitehead, it releases pus that has an unpleasant smell because it contains bacteria.


These are commonly found on your face but can appear on your shoulders too. They’re not due to clogged pores but a chemical reaction between sebum and air that oxidizes when exposed to oxygen. However, just because they aren’t a clogged pore doesn’t mean they’re not caused by a build-up of dead skin cells and oil in your pores. As with whiteheads, blackheads can cause an unpleasant smell if they get infected.


These are small, inflamed bumps on your skin that form in clusters. They’re caused by a mild irritation and will go away on their own in between one and five weeks. Papules are not contagious or painful, but you may feel like you want to scratch them. It’s important to resist because if you pick or squeeze them, you can cause scarring or infections. They also tend to be tender when you touch them.


These aren’t as common as whiteheads, blackheads, and papules but occur when there is a large amount of pus in your hair follicles. Infected papules look like pustules, so be sure not to pick at any spots that are tender or have red streaks extending from them.


These are large, painful lumps on your skin. They’re caused by a build-up of hardened oil and dead skin cells in your hair follicles. The extra pressure compresses nearby blood vessels and causes inflammation . It can be difficult to distinguish nodules from cysts. While they share many similar symptoms, nodules don’t have a fluid-filled center like cysts do.


These are firm, painless, and round. They are very similar to nodules in that they’re caused by a build-up of hardened oil and dead skin cells in your hair follicles. Cysts are more common than nodules and can be difficult to treat because they’re deeper in your skin, making them hard to reach. While cysts aren’t painful when you touch them, if you squeeze them you could spread bacteria causing infection or scarring.

Causes of Shoulder Acne

The cause of shoulder acne isn’t always clear, but it can be related to several factors.


As you’ve probably noticed, skin breakouts are common around puberty and periods. These have a lot to do with changes in hormone levels. For example, during puberty, your body starts producing higher levels of androgens (male hormones). These male hormones cause changes that increase your chances of acne. One change is in sebum production (the oily substance that keeps hair and skin moist). Sebum normally flows through tiny pores in your skin. But when it builds up within these pores, it causes them to clog up and mix with bacteria from your skin.


Bacteria can also cause acne on your shoulders in pores that live on your skin. Different kinds of bacteria cause acne in different places. For example, sebaceous folliculitis causes red, swollen bumps called boils around hair follicles in areas like your chest and back. Propionibacterium acnes are tiny organisms that sometimes invade hair follicles and make them inflamed (red and sore). These things can happen anywhere on your body, including on your shoulders.


While bacteria can cause acne on your shoulders, sweat can make it worse. Excessive sweating can also clog pores and result in breakouts. Another thing you might notice is that sweating is more likely around your back and upper body than other parts of your body. This is because skin tends to be thicker in these areas, which causes them to retain more heat and moisture—two things that trigger sweating.

Hair product

Some hair products can also cause acne on your shoulders. Oils from these products can clog pores and cause breakouts, and this is more likely if you use heavy-duty hair styling products.


If your family is prone to skin conditions like rosacea, you may be more likely to get acne on your shoulders. This may not be due to your genes directly, but rather because you’re more likely to inherit certain habits or foods from them. For example, if your mom had terrible breakouts that cleared up after switching products, you might follow in her footsteps and find a solution by experimenting with other beauty products. Or if dad had rosacea and stopped eating spicy foods (which can trigger flare-ups), maybe you’ll do it too!

OTC Treatment for Shoulder Acne

You might have heard your friends talking about a zit zapper, also known as OTC treatment or over-the-counter remedy. There are multiple treatments you can use at home, and some even claim to get rid of acne in as little as two days.

Benzoyl peroxide

This common over-the-counter treatment is benzoyl peroxide. This works by fighting bacteria and drying out pimples, which eventually helps them fade away. However, some people find that it causes redness and peeling—and in extreme cases, breakouts! If you decide to use benzoyl peroxide, we recommend taking it slow at first and only applying a thin layer each night so your skin can get used to it before increasing your application size or frequency.

Salicylic acid

This common ingredient treats acne by getting rid of dead skin cells, which prevents pores from getting clogged. If you get zits around your hairline or behind your ears (as some people do), salicylic acid may not be strong enough on its own—but combining it with benzoyl peroxide can do wonders. You can buy a product that contains salicylic acid over-the-counter.

Topical retinoid

This prescription treatment is stronger than other over-the-counter treatments and can get rid of mild to moderate acne. It works by reducing inflammation, increasing cell turnover, and keeping pores clear. A topical retinoid is often used alongside another type of medication like benzoyl peroxide or a topical antibiotic. To apply, wash your face with a mild cleanser and pat dry; then, use a pea-sized amount on each affected area after you’ve washed your face in the evening (you might have better results if you apply it right after washing). If you start breaking out around any moles or wrinkles (or developing fine lines), talk to your dermatologist about switching medications.

Body wash

If you tend to contract breakouts on your back, try a body wash that has benzoyl peroxide. One popular option is Clean & Clear Persistent Treatment Body Wash, which will reduce breakouts and keep your skin clean and fresh for days after you use it. Start with a dime-sized amount and massage onto damp skin in a circular motion until it lathers; rinse well and pat dry. Then, apply moisturizer as usual—this should be gentle enough for daily use even if you have sensitive skin!


Applying sunscreen is always important, but it’s especially helpful if you’re prone to breakouts. A 2017 study showed that people who used daily sunscreen were less likely to get new pimples and reduce their scarring over time. It makes logic when you think about it; sun damage causes both short-term and long-term redness, which can lead to acne.


If you have oily skin, you possibly need less moisturizer than someone with dry skin. But no matter your skin type, it’s crucial that you find a moisturizer with SPF 30 built-in; not only will it protect your face from harmful UV rays, but it can also help keep your face looking and feeling hydrated all day long. You might want to look for something labeled oil-free, too—this will reduce shine without making your face feel sticky or tight.


If you have acne, you might notice that your skin becomes flakier as it tries to shed dead skin cells. A gentle exfoliator can help speed up cell turnover, prevent breakouts, and even out your complexion. You can use a manual scrub with tiny beads or a cleansing brush like Clarisonic’s Mia 2; make sure you don’t overdo it, though—over-exfoliating will cause more damage than good!

Try an acne night cream

Even if you have mild acne, you might notice that stubborn pimples are hard to get rid of. If so, ask your dermatologist about prescription creams like Differin or Epiduo—they’re a good option if salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide aren’t doing it for you. You might even see improvement overnight! Just make sure you don’t leave these products on too long; they’re best used before bed, so they have time to work while you sleep.

Once your skin clears up, please keep it in check with regular face washes and gentle scrubs that won’t irritate your skin.

Home Remedies for Shoulder Acne

Tea tree oil

This essential oil is popularly known for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, making it an excellent natural remedy for pimples on your back. Dilute tea tree essential oil with water in a one-to-three ratio (one part tea tree, three parts water) and then apply it with a cotton ball or pad onto problem areas. Leave on overnight and repeat every night until you see results.

Apple cider vinegar

This natural acid is a gentle but effective treatment for acne. It will help exfoliate your skin and kill bacteria in your pores, making it a good bet for tackling pimples on your back. Simply apply it directly onto problem areas using a cotton ball or pad, and then leave it on for 5-15 minutes before wiping it off with warm water. If you have sensitive skin, dilute apple cider vinegar with an equal amount of water before applying it to problem areas.

Warm compress

As a low-cost and readily available treatment, applying a warm compress onto your back is a great way to soothe redness and reduce inflammation. Simply soak a cotton ball in hot water, wring it out slightly and then apply it onto problem areas. Leave on for at least 10 minutes before rinsing it off with warm water. You can do as many rounds as you like before bed each night, but no more than once per day. Be sure not to get your skin too hot or leave on longer than recommended; either will damage your skin.

Baking soda

This common household staple is a great treatment for any kind of acne, including back, and shoulder acne. It contains mild exfoliating and cleansing properties that will help draw out impurities from your pores and unclog clogged hair follicles, making it a great choice for treating pimples on your back. Combine baking soda with water in a one-to-one ratio (one part baking soda, one part water) and then apply to problem areas using a cotton ball or pad. Leave it on for 5-10 minutes before wiping it off with warm water.

Aloe vera gel

This common topical treatment can be used as an alternative to tea tree oil, apple cider vinegar, and baking soda. It’s known for its ability to reduce redness and swelling, as well as healing skin lesions—all useful properties in treating pimples on your back. To use aloe vera on your back, apply it directly onto problem areas using a cotton ball or pad. Leave it on for 15-20 minutes before wiping it off with warm water. You can repeat every night until you see results but no more than once per day. Be sure not to overdo it; aloe is sometimes contaminated with salmonella due to improper handling during harvesting and storage.

Green tea

Green tea is a effective antioxidant that has been shown to reduce sebum (skin oil) production in the skin, making it a excellent choice for getting rid of back and shoulder acne. You can brew your own or buy green tea bags and steep them into a strong-tasting tea (the stronger, the better). Allow it to cool and then apply to problem areas using a cotton ball or pad. Leave it on for 10-15 minutes before wiping off with warm water.


Regular exfoliation can help prevent back acne and make it easier to treat if you already have a breakout. This treatment is similar to using baking soda but is less harsh on your skin. Mix one part coarse oatmeal with three parts water and then apply it onto problem areas using a cotton ball or pad. Leave it on for 5-15 minutes before wiping it off with warm water.

How to Prevent Shoulder Acne

Eat healthy

First, you want to make sure that you’re eating a balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables. Second, try eating anti-inflammatory foods such as antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. These are great for preventing acne outbreaks in general, but they’re especially important for preventing cystic acne on your shoulders.

Keep your skin clean

When it comes to cleaning your skin, you don’t have to be super fussy with complicated regimens—in fact, in many cases, all you need is warm water and a gentle cleanser. If possible, avoid scrubbing and avoid harsh products since these can irritate your skin or cause additional breakouts.

Wear breathable clothing

To help reduce irritation, try wearing clothes that aren’t made from synthetic materials. The chemicals in these fabrics can clog your pores and lead to acne breakouts. If you absolutely must wear synthetic clothes, wash them frequently.

Avoid scrubbing always

You might think that acne breakouts on your shoulders are less serious, so it’s okay to be a little rougher with them. Don’t do it! When you scrub your skin too hard, you can actually irritate existing breakouts and cause new ones.

Keep your hair clean

It’s a good idea to wash your hair regularly since products, dirt, and sweat can clog pores. But when you’re trying to prevent shoulder acne from cysts, be careful not to use too many products on your hair. Also, avoid putting it up in a ponytail if possible.

Change your pillowcase and bed sheet

It may seem like a lot of energy, but washing your sheets is one of the best ways to keep acne at bay. Dirty sheets and pillowcases can trap bacteria that lead to pimples on the shoulders.

Don’t use heavy products              

Before applying any product, make sure you read its label carefully. If it says heavy moisturizer or something similar, you should avoid using it because these products tend to clog pores. If you want moisturizer, look for lightweight formulas instead.

Always wash off makeup before going to bed

It might not be as crucial for people with less sensitive skin, but women who wear makeup at night could notice increased breakouts if they don’t take these steps.


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