Shoulder Acne: How to Get Rid of Pimples on Your Shoulders and Back

If you click a link on this page and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more.

Acne is one of the most common skin conditions out there, and while many may associate breakouts with the face, body acne is just as real. Pimples can appear anywhere on the skin where sebaceous glands can be found, meaning that the only safe places are the soles of your feet and the palms of your hands.

If you’ve been noticing breakouts popping up around your shoulders and back, don’t worry – again, this is completely normal. Of course, that’s not to say that those pimples aren’t frustrating to deal with, so here’s what you need to do to treat and prevent shoulder acne.

What Causes Acne on the Shoulders?

The cause of acne, whether on the face, the shoulders, or anywhere else on the body, is always the same – clogged pores. However, the factors that lead to those blockages vary.

Imbalanced hormones are one culprit, while genetics can play a part in acne too. Stress, diet, and certain medications can all also increase sebum production, resulting in breakouts. Failing to cleanse properly contributes to this even further, with dead skin cells, oil, and sweat joining together to form a plug.

patient shoulder being checked by a dermatologist

Acne Vulgaris vs Acne Mechanica

All of the above acne causes have one thing in common – the excess oil production is triggered by internal factors. However, there’s another type of shoulder acne that could be at play here; acne mechanica.

Unlike acne vulgaris, acne mechanica is caused by physical damage to the skin, which then leads to increased sebum production. This damage could be from clothing rubbing against your skin and creating friction, pressure from carrying a heavy shoulder bag, or even heat, humidity, and sweat.

While it’s important to understand the cause of your shoulder acne, don’t worry if you still can’t quite figure it out – the symptoms for both acne vulgaris and acne mechanica are the same, as are the treatment and prevention methods.

Shoulder Acne Symptoms

While spots appearing on the shoulders and back are obvious symptoms, there are several types of acne pimples that each differ in shape and size. Blackheads, whiteheads, papules, and pustules are all types of small bumps, but each vary in color and feel.

Nodules and cysts are larger bumps that are more worrying because of their increased risk of scarring. If these develop very suddenly, then acne fulminans could be the reason – a rare but severe type of acne that causes pimples to ulcer and bleed.

Is it Actually Acne?

checking out shoulder and back for skin irritation

If the bumps on your shoulders don’t quite match up with the above symptoms, and the skin around your spots is rough and dry, then you may not actually be dealing with acne. Instead, you may have a skin condition known as keratosis pilaris, which is caused by hair follicles becoming blocked with keratin.

Often referred to as ‘chicken skin’, keratosis pilaris is usually genetic, so find out if some of your family members are dealing with similar bumps too. If so, there are several home remedies that you can try to treat your keratosis pilaris.

How to Get Rid of Acne on the Shoulders, Arms, and Back

Here’s what you’ve been waiting for – shoulder acne treatment options! Research shows that a combination of multiple treatments is usually more effective than depending solely on a single treatment [1]. So, pick some of your favorites from the list below and then wave goodbye to those pimples!

Over-the-Counter Products

While there are plenty of effective acne treatments out there, you’ll also come across several that don’t work. The secret to finding this out before you actually make a purchase lies in reading the ingredient list. A truly effective shoulder and back acne treatment will contain either salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid has been proven to be more effective than benzoyl peroxide at reducing the number of acne lesions on the skin [2], so this is an ingredient that you should really seek out.

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid that comes from the same family as aspirin. It works by deeply cleansing the pores of sebum and dead skin cells, clearing away any blockages and eliminating acne lesions.

woman choosing cosmetics at pharmacy store

Benzoyl Peroxide

Although salicylic acid wins when it comes to pimple reduction, benzoyl peroxide is more effective at treating severe lesions. This is because of its antibacterial properties, enabling it to destroy acne-causing bacteria and therefore preventing it from spreading and exacerbating existing lesions. This makes benzoyl peroxide a popular ingredient in spot treatment products, as well as in acne cleansers.

Home Remedies for Spots on the Back and Shoulders

A quick online search will reward you with numerous home remedies for shoulder, chest, and back acne, but don’t believe them all. While anecdotal experience is great, you don’t want to make those lesions any worse, so make sure that any acne home remedy you try has some scientific health information behind it.

Tea Tree Oil

Studies show that tea tree oil is extremely effective at treating both mild and moderate acne, with minimal side effects [3]. It also helps to prevent scarring.

However, never use pure tea tree oil on any area of your face or body. Either dilute it with a carrier oil or look for products containing tea tree oil.

Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)

Apple cider vinegar

Although there isn’t a huge amount of research on ACV and acne, the acids that it contains are known to effectively kill off acne-causing bacteria [4].

Again, pure ACV should never be used on your skin, as it can cause burns, and it should never be used on open wounds or severe lesions either.

An Oatmeal Bath

While science hasn’t spent much time connecting the dots between oatmeal and acne, research shows that this ancient beauty ingredient has powerful anti-inflammatory properties [5]. This is why oatmeal has such a soothing reputation, and is how an oatmeal bath can help to calm breakouts.

Prescription Medication

If all else fails, or if some of your shoulder acne lesions are particularly severe, turn to your dermatologist. They’ll be able to offer you prescription medications, which could be oral, topical, or both. A dermatologist that has lots of experience with acne cases will also be able to share other useful tips to treat and prevent shoulder and back acne.

Enjoying this post? Be sure to also see our article covering how to get rid of chest acne.

How to Prevent Shoulder and Back Acne

Once you’ve managed to get your lesions under control, it’s time to focus on acne prevention techniques. After all of that hard work, you don’t want your breakouts returning, making prevention absolutely key.

Shower After Sweating

Sweat settling into hair follicles can quickly lead to a breakout, and the shoulders, as well as the back, are areas of the body that can sometimes sweat quite heavily. In order to prevent that sweat from causing acne, you need to wash it away as soon as possible. Make an effort to shower more frequently if you often sweat, and always give your body a good cleanse immediately after working out.

Fit young woman sweating during a gym workout

Regularly Exfoliate

The best way to keep your pores clear of sebum and dead skin cells is by regularly exfoliating. People tend to experience better results with chemical exfoliants, as opposed to physical scrubs, as these are able to really target each individual hair follicle.

If your acne vulgaris is caused by hormones, it could be worth visiting your dermatologist for a professional peel. These will delve deeper into your skin than at-home alternatives.

Wear Loose and Breathable Clothing

Since friction from your clothes is one of the factors that can trigger acne mechanica, keep your clothing as loose and breathable as possible. Avoid irritating or scratchy fabrics, especially around your shoulder area, and be aware of friction when wearing multiple heavy layers.

Keep Your Bedding and Clothing Clean

Woman waking up in a white and clean bed

Acne lesions that touch bedding and clothing spread bacteria. This means that the next time your skin comes into contact with that fabric, the bacteria that causes acne vulgaris will be transferred back onto a different part of your skin, therefore spreading your shoulder and back acne. Keeping everything as clean as possible will help to prevent this.

Use Non-Comedogenic Skin Care Products

From body washes and exfoliants to moisturizers and sunscreens, your shoulders likely come into contact with a range of different skin care products each day. If any of these contain comedogenic ingredients, meaning those that are known for blocking pores, then they spell trouble.

Take a close look at the products you use – if they don’t state that they’re non-comedogenic or acne-friendly, then avoid using them on your shoulders and back. Instead, switch to alternatives that are safe for use on acne-prone skin.

Be Careful with Haircare Products

Does your long hair often brush against your shoulders and back? If so, then it’s likely leaving behind a small amount of product residue as it does so. Even if you don’t use styling products, residue from shampoos and conditioners can easily make its way into the hair follicles on the body, resulting in pore blockages and acne.

So, in addition to switching to non-comedogenic skin care products, make sure that your hair care products offer the same promise.

FAQs

What does acne on the shoulders mean?

Acne on the shoulders is usually due to excess oil production and inflammation, but it could also mean that you have hormonal imbalances.

How do you get rid of shoulder acne overnight?

Treatments containing benzoyl peroxide can help to significantly reduce shoulder and back acne overnight, but it won’t fully get rid of it. Whether you’re dealing with shoulder, back, or face acne, completely eradicating the problem can take a little longer. Speak to your dermatologist if you need to speed things up.

Conclusion

Although common, nobody enjoys having to deal with shoulder and back acne. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to treat your spots, no matter the types of acne you have. Whether store-bought products and home remedies work for you or you need to turn to prescription acne medications, don’t underestimate the importance of prevention once you’ve managed to finally achieve that clear complexion!

References

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3080563/
[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1535287/
[3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27000386/
[4] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/apple-cider-vinegar-and-acne#TOC_TITLE_HDR_2
[5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25607907/

About the author

Courtney Randle

As someone who had problems with her skin in the past, I’m glad I can help people find what works for there's. All products reviewed are thoroughly tested for quality.