Updated: Apr 24
Some people go through their whole lives without ever having to worry about acne on their shoulders, back, and other parts of the body. For those who do, however, it can be an ongoing struggle that seems like it will never end. Sometimes the answer is as simple as changing up something you do in your daily routine or simply swapping out a product.
Here's what you can
do before consulting
Check THE INGREDIENTS IN Your hair care products
Pore congestion caused by hair care products is the number one cause of body acne among my clients. A lot of shampoos, conditioners, and styling products contain ingredients that are meant to be great for hair but often are not skin-friendly. You wash and style and these products get transferred down your neck, shoulders, back, and beyond and elements can get trapped in your pores. In this case, all you need to do is switch out a product or two. But how do you know what's causing the problem so you can avoid buying another product that's going to start they cycle all over again?
There are certain popular ingredients used in hair care products that can cause congestion, which I'll list below. Something to keep in mind when you're looking at the list of ingredients on your products is where they fall in the list. The first 4-6 ingredients almost always make up 90-95% of the total product and will have the biggest effect on your skin. The other ingredients may still have an effect, but are usually less offensive.
Check your products for these top offenders:
Sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate. Sulfates fall under the category of surfactants. These are the ingredients in skincare and haircare that add slip to a product and usually create suds, aka, soap. Surfactants, although meant for cleansing, can easily get lodged in your pores and cause buildup that leads to breakouts and acne. Some surfactants are worse than others. These two are the reason most quality shampoos are advertised as "Sulfate Free".
Coconut derived ingredients. Coconut is a natural ingredient you would think is safe for your whole body, however, it causes some of us to break out when applied to certain areas of the body (ie: the face, neck, and shoulders). These ingredients usually start with 'carpyl', ''caprylic' or 'coco', but check the web for updated lists. Here's a good website to start with by Erica Julson.
Panthenol, or, Vitamin B5. Although great for strengthening your strands, panthenol can be exceptionally pore clogging. This is best when used at lower percentages, so, if it's listed closer to the middle or bottom of the list, you're probably in the clear.
Other oils and ingredients to look out for. There are many other oils and ingredients that rate higher on the comedogenic (pore clogging) scale. There are many sites online that list all the different ingredients to steer clear of. This webpage by Simple Pure Beauty has a great list of oils and their ratings. This webpage by Acne Clinic has a comprehensive list of all pore clogging ingredients.
As for specific products that have proven to be safe for most, we recommend Khiel's, Aveda, and Shea Moisture. Whether you make the switch or not, it's always good practice to rinse your hair completely after washing and conditioning, and then clip your hair up if needed, while you rinse your back and shoulders one last time before getting out of the shower. Wearing a t-shirt will provide a barrier while you're adding products and styling your hair.
Check out your
Body care products too
Lotions, oils, body butters, and cleansers are just as likely to contain pore clogging ingredients as your hair care products so you'll want to check the ingredients in those as well. Not all ingredients are going to affect everyone the same, and not all ingredients are even going to affect one person the same from one area of their body to the next. Good examples of these are cocoa butter and coconut oil. These can be particularly pore clogging on the face, neck, shoulders, and back, while they're usually perfectly fine on the arms, legs, hands, and feet. But if you're experiencing body acne, it pays to check the top ingredients in your all-over body care products so you can avoid certain ones.
use cautiously :
Sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate
your Laundry products
could ALSO be causing
you to breakout
Detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets can clog pores and irritate follicles with synthetic fragrances and other chemicals. Detergents contain high-powered surfactants that would not be safe to use on skin, so when they don't get fully rinsed out of your clothes, they're getting transferred to your skin where they can get trapped in your pores. Usually this happens when too much soap is used in the wash cycle. Try cutting down the amount you use and see if it has an affect on your breakouts. You might also want to switch out one product at a time for a more natural or fragrance free product, giving yourself a week in between each one to assess.
Evaluate your hygiene
Dirt and debris that accumulates on our skin throughout the day can get trapped in pores with sebum, sweat and oil, and if it's left for too long it can start to build up and cause congested pores. If you sweat a lot during a workout or just in general, you may need to rinse off more often than you think. I'm all for showering less to save your skin from hot water and soap, but everyone's different and some of us might need a quick rinse more often than others. Wearing tighter clothing and accessories (eg: hats, headbands, sports bras, spandex) can further exacerbate this process in the areas where friction is causing irritation to already congested skin.
what's left to consider?
If you've gone through your routine, checked the boxes, and switched your products and you're still breaking out, it's time to dig a little deeper. There are still a few things you can do on your own to try to break the cycle. Read our post on Hormonal Acne for a deep dive inside the body's systems.