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How to Get Rid of Shoulder Acne

A woman’s hand covers a breakout on her shoulder while she wonders how to get rid of shoulder acne.


If you experience consistent acne breakouts on your shoulders, you may be unsure what to do.

Should you treat it the same as facial acne, or does it need a different approach? And sure, it’s nice that shoulder acne is easier to hide than acne on your face, but then your clothes are constantly irritating it! What to do?

Never fear — we’re here to help. Keep scrolling to learn what causes breakouts on your body and how to get rid of shoulder acne.

What Is Shoulder Acne and Why Is It Different?

Acne vulgaris — the most common form of acne — affects nearly 50 million people in the U.S. per year. It forms when the skin’s hair follicles become clogged with dirt, debris, excess oil, and dead skin cells. When the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes joins the party, the body reacts with an immune response, creating a swollen, inflamed lump under the skin.

Acne vulgaris can occur anywhere on the body where there are hair follicles, which is everywhere except the palms of your hands and soles of your feet. Hormonal changes resulting in increased oil production in the skin or regular exercise resulting in increased sweat and bacteria on the skin are two common causes.

Like facial acne, shoulder acne can take a few different forms. It can appear as a blanket of tiny red bumps, called papules, usually less than one centimeter in size. It can also appear as a series of poppable pustules — pus-filled bumps that we often refer to as pimples. Whiteheads and blackheads can also crop up on your shoulders, though they’re more common on the face.

More rarely, shoulder acne can include painful lumps deep under the skin, called nodules or cysts. Cystic acne is a type of inflammatory acne that forms deep in the skin and contains pus. Nodular acne is also inflammatory and forms deep in the skin, but these pus-free knots are harder than cysts and usually more painful. Both are harder to treat than other forms and more likely to cause scarring.

If you have persistent shoulder acne, you may also experience breakouts on your neck, back, and/or upper arms. This could be from a condition called acne mechanica, which is different from acne vulgaris. Instead of resulting from something like excess oil production, acne mechanica stems from a mechanical irritant, such as repeated friction, rubbing, pressure, or heat.

Acne mechanica is common among people who wear protective equipment for sports, such as football pads, or who have physically demanding jobs. It can also result from tight or abrasive clothing or accessories.

It’s also possible that the breakout on your shoulders isn’t acne at all. Certain skin conditions look very similar to acne, but their underlying cause is completely different.

Keratosis pilaris, for example, is a skin condition characterized by small bumps on the skin that appear as rough patches. The condition isn’t harmful, and it’s most common in children. Moisturizers and certain prescription creams options can help minimize the condition and any associated itchiness.

Folliculitis is another condition that can look very similar to acne. The types that often occur on the shoulders, chest, and back are most often caused by a bacterial (staph from skin, pseudomonas from hot tubs) or fungal (yeast from skin) infection of the hair follicles. Small red bumps or pustules appear around each little body hair in an area, causing what looks like a strangely uniform outbreak of acne.

Infographic: How to Get Rid of Shoulder Acne

How to Get Rid of Shoulder Acne

Now that you understand what causes breakouts, you can explore solutions. Let’s discuss how to get rid of shoulder acne.

Embrace the Post-Workout Shower

Do you exercise? That’s great! Movement is vital to your physical health and emotional regulation — but it could be contributing to your breakouts.

To fight shoulder acne, take a shower immediately after working out to remove sweat, dirt, and bacteria before they have a chance to gang up on your pores. This might mean using the shower at the gym, especially if you have a long drive home. Grab a pair of flip-flops and hop in. Clear skin is worth the extra steps!

Ditch the Friction

Speaking of working out, next time you hit the gym (or field, or rink... you get the idea), pay close attention to your routine. If your shoulders constantly rub against clothing or equipment, that friction could be causing your breakouts.

If you’re able, switch to loose-fitting shirts to air out your skin between sets, and add clean padding between your body and equipment when possible. Make sure any sports gear fits well, so it rubs as little as possible.

Opt for Clean Clothes

Don’t put those sweaty clothes back on after you shower. The sweat, dirt, and bacteria trapped in your gym shirt or sporting equipment will get right back on your skin if you wear them again before washing. Bring a fresh outfit to change into after workouts, and regularly clean any equipment you can’t throw in the washer.

While we’re on the subject of clothes, check your laundry detergent for harsh chemicals, fragrances, and other known irritants that could be aggravating your shoulder acne.

Check Your Skincare Products

After you check your laundry detergent, rustle through your cabinet and look at the skincare products you use on your shoulders. Make sure they’re all non-comedogenic, meaning they don’t contain pore-clogging ingredients, and irritant free. 

If you’ve been disguising your shoulder acne with cosmetic products, it’s especially important to make sure they’re oil-free and won’t clog pores.

Scrap the Scents

Refrain from using products that contain fragrances. This might be disappointing if you love to use perfume, but fragrances can cause irritation that mimics or leads to acne breakouts.

Invest in Treatments

Looking for a holy grail acne treatment? Many products on the market are formulated to treat body acne.

You may need to try several different active ingredients before you find what works best for your skin. Active ingredients commonly found in over-the-counter products include salicylic acid, azelaic acid, and benzoyl peroxide, which appear in body washes, moisturizers, and spot treatments.

If it’s difficult for you to apply products to your upper shoulders and back, consider an acne-clearing body spray. Using a body spray ensures you cover the entire affected area without straining toward hard-to-reach spots.

Quote: How to Get Rid of Shoulder Acne

Final Thoughts

Learning how to get rid of shoulder acne is only half the battle. To keep breakouts from coming back, it’s essential to stick to a skincare routine.

Finding the best combination for your skin may take some trial and error, though a dermatologist can help direct you toward what might help your specific case. You’ll need a little time and patience — but getting clear, smooth shoulders will be worth it!

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