Oh, did you just assume acne was something you would kiss goodbye after your teenage years? Think again: Many adults experience breakouts on places other than their face, including their chest, back, and yep, even their butt—especially if they work out frequently. If you fall into this camp, the good news is you’re not alone, and there are steps you can take to treat and prevent breakouts on your backside (without giving up your fitness routine).
Board-certified dermatologist Deidre Hooper, M.D., sees patients with these pesky blemishes all the time. “Many patients often won’t mention them until I find them during a full-body skin check because they’re too embarrassed,” she says.
Why, oh why must they exist?
According to Hooper, one of the biggest causes of butt breakouts is staying in sweaty activewear long after you’ve finished your workout. Since sweat is warm and wet, it promotes the growth of bacteria and yeast on your clothes, which, combined with the tightness of the garment, causes friction to irritate the root of hair covering parts of your body such as your backside. (Gross.)
The combination of an irritated hair follicle with friction often leads to it becoming more inflamed, ultimately resulting in breakouts. This condition is called folliculitis, and it’s actually very common on body parts like the buttocks and back.
“Many people love to live in their workout clothes and get errands done immediately after exercising,” Hooper says. “But the best thing to do to prevent these breakouts is to shower right away to rinse off excess bacteria and then change into clean clothes immediately after working out.”
There’s also hope for treating existing booty bumps.
Believe it or not, most over-the-counter products aimed at treating breakouts on your face are just as safe to use on other parts of your body, Hooper says.
“A topical antibiotic prescription or an over-the-counter salicylic acid leave-on cream can help to soothe the skin, prevent overgrowth and calm inflammation,” she says. “Similarly, a benzoyl peroxide wash, such as PanOxyl or Proactiv, can limit bacteria already present on the body.
“Gentle versions of acne-fighting cleansers are a good option to avoid irritating and drying out the skin. Some people even have success with anti-dandruff shampoo because of its anti-yeast ingredients.”
But the same can’t be said for all prescription products.
Clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the USC Keck School of Medicine Nada Elbuluk, M.D., adds that while many over-the-counter products can effectively treat mild cases of acne on your backside, the same is not necessarily the case for all prescription products you may be using on your face.
“Retinoid treatments are one example of a product you wouldn’t want to use on other areas of your body because it would likely be way too harsh and irritating,” she says.
And scrubbing with that shower loofah is definitely not a good idea.
You may have also considered exfoliating your butt with a scrub, but experts say to proceed with caution with existing breakouts, as doing this can cause pigmentation and further irritation.
“Gentle exfoliation with a product containing salicylic acid can help to prevent acne, but once the acne is actually there, exfoliating can just make the skin more irritated and inflamed,” Elbuluk says.
“Physical exfoliants and scrubs can help smooth bumpy skin, but if you’re prone to hyperpigmentation or if you notice worse redness after exfoliating, switch to a skin-smoothing chemical exfoliant containing hydroxy acids, such as AmLactin,” Hooper says.
In some cases, what you wear is what matters.
Other possible causes of body breakouts could be an irritating fabric or a chemical or dye in the clothing. Although cotton is often recommended for everyday clothing, when it comes to working out, Hooper recommends sticking to sweat-wicking and dry-fit fabrics, including underwear, especially if you live in a hot and humid climate. These fabrics can help to release and evaporate sweat so it’s not sitting on your skin as long as it otherwise might.
“Keep in mind that this won’t solve the problem of friction promoting the growth and trapping of bacteria and yeast, so you should still be sure to change out of them immediately after working out,” Hooper says.
Another potential breakout trigger could be a fragrance or preservative in the laundry detergent you’re using. If you have sensitive skin, Hooper advises switching to a fragrance- or allergen-free version. Some gym-clothes-specific detergents like this one from Vapor Fresh are free of dyes, fragrances, brighteners, and softeners, which can help avoid irritation.
Still can’t seem to beat this literal pain in the butt?
Know that the golden rule of blemishes applies to your derriere too. “Don’t ever pick at your bumps. These scars tend to last longer than those on the face because the skin on your backside doesn’t heal as quickly, experience as much blood flow, or have as many hair follicles to act as sources for new skin cells,” Hooper says.
And if you’re already doing all of the right things but still feel like your bum is blemish-y, it might be time to wave the white flag and get some help.
“Some people are just more acne-prone than others and may be better off seeking expert advice right away,” Elbuluk says. “If you can tell your breakouts are more severe and you’re already experiencing scarring, visit a dermatologist as soon as possible to ensure you begin an appropriate regimen using an antibiotic cream or ointment in combination with the wash. If your case proves to be more severe, a dermatologist will likely have you start a regimen of oral antibiotics.”
Emilia Benton is a freelance writer and editor based in Houston, TX. An avid runner, she has finished nine marathons (and a couple dozen half-marathons). She also enjoys country music, baking, and traveling.