How To Treat Chest Acne, According To Top Dermatologists

Photographed by Natalia Mantini.
While no one welcomes a breakout, seeing a pimple crop up after a string of late nights or going to sleep with makeup on makes a certain amount of sense. Back acne is discussed more frequently but chest spots are just as common. Causes of chest acne can be really varied dependant on hormones and lifestyle, like working out, moisturisers or wearing fitted clothing in the winter. According to Miami-based dermatologist S. Manjula Jegasothy, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at the University of Miami, simple things like that can lead to an acne flare-ups on the chest. It doesn’t mean you have to drop the healthy habits: According to the dermatologist, there are a host of little tweaks — both for prevention and treatment — to help clear skin on the chest.
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To start, both Jegasothy and New York-based dermatologist Michelle Henry, MD, suggest wearing fresh workout clothes and showering immediately after sweating. Treating acneic skin on your chest may also call for a more gentle use of common topical remedies often used on the face, like salicylic acid, retinol, or benzoyl peroxide. “The skin on the chest is thicker than that on the face and can also be more sensitive to harsh topical ingredients (like alcohol or heavy use of alpha and beta hydroxy acids), perhaps due to a more active local immune system,” Jegasothy explains, adding more studies need to be done before we understand why this may be.
For her part, Dr. Sandra Lee (also known as Dr. Pimple Popper) suggests sticking with non-comedogenic body products. "You’d be surprised that many body lotions are full of fragrance and other ingredients that might actually be clogging pores and causing chest acne."
Finally, addressing chest acne can also mean adjusting our expectations, because in addition to lifestyle tweaks and topical treatment, a doctor’s care may be needed. “Treating acne on the chest can be tricky," Jegasothy says. "Often, pimples on the chest can originate from hair follicles deeper in the skin, making them more cystic in appearance. And that cystic acne can be more difficult to reach from the surface topically, and so may require a few weeks of oral antibiotic (I like doxycycline) therapy to jumpstart clearance.”
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We spoke to dermatologists asking them to share their best tips to help clear our chests.
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“For darker skin, I always also treat with prescription 10% azelaic acid,” Jegasothy says. “It has great antibiotic and anti-inflammatory effects, and can be an excellent agent to counter hyperpigmentation that inevitably follows acne in darker skin types.” This oil-free OTC gel-cream also contains salicylic acid to help slough off dead skin cells and a cocktail of skin soothers, including licorice root extract.
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No time to shower after a workout? Try a glycolic acid wipe on the chest and back. These come in a handy pack for on-the-go treatment.
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“Oftentimes, chest acne can be due to poor exfoliation of the skin, leading to clogged pores,” Henry says. “So I always recommend adopting a great exfoliating product.”

This gentle mist helps manually exfoliate even the most sensitive skin. After spraying, a light sweep of the skin with fingers produces balled-up dead skin cells — and zero irritation.
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“The chest is likely to become dry, flaky and irritated even more quickly than the face from overuse of topical treatments. This can be exacerbated in dry climates and from the friction caused from cold-weather clothing,” Jegasothy notes. For this reason, she favours non-greasy cream and lotion formulations to treat chest acne, like this editor favourite.
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Two of Jegasothy’s go-to skin clearing ingredients for chest acne? A retinoid and 2% salicylic acid, both found in this spot treatment lotion.
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This alcohol-free treatment gel checks a lot of our derms' boxes: It contains 2% salicylic acid to help reduce acne, niacinamide and azelaic acid to address hyperpigmentation (or “acne scars”) and willow herb and hyaluronic acid to help prevent dryness and flaking.
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Another effective ingredient Jegasothy recommends for tackling chest acne is topical 5% benzoyl peroxide. The only hangup? Some formulations can bleach clothes. Instead, try a non-whitening gel, like this one, or wait five minutes to dress after applying treatment products. “This can reduce the occurrence of clothing fabric bleaching (sometimes seen with benzoyl peroxide) and can avoid occluding the skin with the topical, which increases potential irritation,” she says.
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