There is a special place in hell for the whiteheads that pop up unannounced on your back and shoulders. These suckers are no joke, and it can be a pain in the literal back when you can’t figure out the reasons for pimples popping up there. While hormones and sweaty gym clothes may be to blame, there’s another bacne culprit you may not have thought about: Your shampoo and conditioner.
Turns out, some of the ingredients you’re lathering up with may be messing with your pores. “Sulfates can form a film on the skin and definitely contribute to skin clogging,” explains Michele Farber, MD of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. “Silicone is sometimes an offender—it helps protect the outside barrier of the skin and prevent dryness. In more acne-prone skin, however, silicones can can promote absorption of other ingredients and less commonly contribute to acne. Look out for additives like fragrances, thicker oils like mineral oil, and lanolin.”
“Many ingredients have no data on whether they can clog pores and to make things more complex, some ingredients may be ‘safe’ on their own, but clog pores when they combine with other ingredients,” says Iris Rubin, MD, a dermatologist and co-founder of SEEN Hair Care, which just released a sulfate-free, skin-first shampoo ($29). “We also have good-for-skin additives, including a skin-soothing chamomile derivative, and a silicone substitute derived from plant sugar.”
In addition to finding the right products, there are a few other precautions you can take to avoid what I like to call the “ring of fire” around your back, neck, and shoulders. “First off, wash nearby skin well. For leave-on products, wash the neck and hairline, and use an acne product like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid,” says Dr. Farber. “Then, wash off the body to make sure there is no residue from hair products. Also, remember to change pillow cases and shower after the gym, as these may be sneaky ways that products are spreading to unwanted places.” Pro tip? Since the oil from your hair and the conditioner you use can trickle down and clog your pores, wash your back after you finish washing your hair.
If you’ve already swapped your shampoo and conditioner, but your bacne still refuses to buzz off, there’s likely some other factor at play. “Friction from tight clothing and can cause excess skin cells and bacteria to work their way down pores,” says Dr. Farber, noting that acne in general is caused by an overproduction of oil that clogs pores. “Bacterial overgrowth can contribute even more to body acne, and dryness can lead to overgrowth of oil glands to rehydrate. Addressing these causes with good hygiene, and a good anti-acne regimen with your dermatologist can keep your skin clear.”
We hate bacne just as much as you do, so here are six ways to treat it holistically. And now that you know how important “clean haircare” really is (for your hair and your skin), here are three brands to help you hop on the trend in a big way.
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