"Sporadic acne breakouts occur for nearly everyone," says dermatologist Anthony M. Rossi, MD, an assistant attending at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Weill Cornell Medical College, and New York Presbyterian Hospital. Bad news for us all (though slightly comforting in a misery-loves-company sort of way).
In fact, acne is the most common skin conditions afflicting Americans; about 50 million of us suffer from unslightly blackheads, whiteheads, and deeper bumps and lumps on the face, neck, chest, upper arms, shoulders, and back, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Now, it's easy to cover up the angry inflammation with sweaters and long sleeves. But in the midst of summer? That's not an option. Your best defense is prevention (and treating any existing breakouts). Read: The Best Ways to Treat, Cure, and Prevent Back Acne.
It also helps to know what's causing your breakouts in the first place. Essentially, a pimple forms when your hair follicles or sweat glands become blocked, Rossi says. Though genetics, hormones, emotional stress, and medication can also influence your acne.
Here are seven bad habits you're probably guilty of that are plugging your pores, boosting bacteria, and worsening back acne. Make the fixes today so you can stop stressing and reduce your risk for scarring.
Note: If you have cystic acne (deep, painful pimples that won't go away with lifestyle tweaks or over-the-counter products), see a dermatologist; prescription medications are stronger and work better to treat severe breakouts.
1. Sitting in sweat-soaked clothes
"Sweating after a heavy workout can contribute to acne breakouts if you let the sweat sit on the skin for too long," Rossi says. Invest in some flip flops and hit the gym shower (or risk a foot fungus that can cause another, smellier, skin problem). Even if you live 20 minutes from your gym, walking around in your damp gym clothes can cause bacteria to flourish. "Make sure to wash right after working out with cool water to calm down any irritation on the skin," Rossi recommends.
2. Wearing the wrong gym shirt
"Non-breathable fabrics, like spandex, can contribute to breakouts by preventing the moisture or sweat from leaving your skin," Rossi says. You want natural fabrics that minimize irritation, not synthetic ones like rayon; try these workout shirts for $50 or less.
3. Missing spots when cleansing
Excessive dirt or oil are big reasons why you experience bacne breakouts. It all comes down to keeping your pores clear. So, to keep them from getting clogged, make sure to wash your skin with a mild cleanser, Rossi says. This will dissolve any dead skin, dirt, and oil that's accumulated on your skin over the day—and can contribute to breakouts. Here's a great skincare regimen to follow. Also, invest in a loofah or long-handled bath brush to help you get the hard-to-reach spots when you lather up in the shower.
4. Not exfoliating
"It helps to use an exfoliator about once a week to help get rid of the dead skin that can accumulate on your back and cause clogged pores and breakouts," Rossi says. Use a gentle scrub to slough away skin in the shower.
5. Shaving your back hair
"If you groom your back hair, make sure to use techniques that minimize breakouts," Rossi says. "If you have curly hair, which is prone to forming ingrown hairs, make sure to shave in the direction of your hair growth and try using a single blade to shave," he suggests. Some razors have multiple blades, which can cut your hair at a sharper angle and increase your risk for ingrown hairs.
6. Not cleaning or changing blades
"It's important to regularly change your razor blades or clear your electric buzzer to make sure there's no bacteria on the blades, which can cause infections or breakouts," Rossi says. After you shave, make sure you rinse off your razor and pat it dry; and if it's an electric, blow out any hair or residue.
7. Being lazy with laundry
Don't be that guy—the one who dares to wear the same gym shirt two days in a row, even if you let it "air out." Not only will your fellow gym-goers notice (good luck picking up the hot girl in your class now), but you're doing your skin a disservice. "Make sure to wash your gym clothes regularly as bacterial buildup from sweat can also lead to skin irritation and breakouts," Rossi says.