No, You Shouldn't Treat All Body Acne The Same

Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
We spend nine months of the year waiting for summer — the sunshine, the longer days, the warm weather, the barely-there wardrobe that comes with it all. But it's a bit of a catch-22 that the same weather that begs for sleeveless tops and short-shorts can also make our skin break out in those newly exposed places.

“We’re outside, being more active and sweating more, so our pores are more likely to get clogged,” says Jennifer Segal, MD, a dermatologist in Houston. “We’re exposing more of our skin to different environments than it’s used to, so breakouts might appear in more areas than we’re used to.”

Despite the perfect storm of acne-friendly conditions, there’s no reason for your sundresses or shorts to gather dust, or for you to hide out in air-conditioned isolation until Labor Day. We've talked to the experts and gotten head-to-toe advice for keeping your skin blemish-free. Here’s how to battle breakouts on your scalp, back, butt, bikini line, and more.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
“Warmer, more humid weather means your skin is producing more oil,” says Josh Zeichner, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. “The scalp is loaded with oil glands, [which] predisposes the area for breakouts.” Also, fungus — which lives in oily environments, like scalp skin — can cause bumps that resemble pimples.
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A salicylic acid-spiked shampoo, like Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Shampoo, can help control excess oil and exfoliate away dead skin cells that could be clogging pores. And if you tend to get dandruff, stay ahead of the situation and use an anti-fungal shampoo like Head & Shoulders Clinical.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Hair products can combine with perspiration to create painful bumps, says Doris Day, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University medical school. (Yet another reason the pixie haircut is perfect for summer.)
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Wearing your hair up is one solution. Another is avoiding heavy, waxy products. Make sure to wipe your ears with an acne-treatment pad containing glycolic or salicylic acid to clear pore-clogging culprits. Try Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Exfoliating Facial Pads.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Clogged sweat glands can often cause breakouts on your chest, says Los Angeles dermatologist Jessica Wu, MD. “This is a condition called ‘miliaria,’ and it occurs after heavy perspiration. The breakout looks like tiny whiteheads.” Also called heat rash, the raised bumps can be itchy and uncomfortable.
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Keep your skin cool and clear of sweat with cleansing towelettes like Ban Total Refresh Cooling Body Cloths. When you’re out in the sun, keep your skin protected with a light sunscreen like Neutrogena CoolDry Sport, which will allow your sweat to evaporate to help keep your skin from overheating. Use a peel once a week to exfoliate, which will help keep your chest clear before you’re in a hot spot. Try Renée Rouleau Triple Berry Smoothing Peel.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
If your bra-line area feels itchy and has little red bumps, acne might not be the problem, even if it looks like it. You’ve likely developed a bacterial or yeast infection — but don't worry, it’s not as terrible as it sounds. “Yeast that occur naturally on your skin can combine with moisture and grow under your bustline to cause redness and irritation,” explains Dr. Day.

Since there’s nothing like a sticky summer day to turn your bra into a swamp, you’re more likely to develop bustline breakouts in the summer. Your bra’s constricting, non-breathable fabric doesn’t allow sweat to evaporate, so the sweat collects on your skin, providing a bacteria-friendly environment. Going braless can cause problems, too — we just can’t win sometimes — because skin-on-skin contact can prevent sweat from evaporating. When perspiration stays trapped against your skin, bacteria and yeast multiply and cause irritation.
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As a preventative measure, you can apply antiperspirant to your bustline to help limit the sweat that collects. Dusting your skin with an anti-fungal powder like Zeabsorb can help you avoid heat rash and treat symptoms if it’s too late. If you develop the rash, Dr. Zeichner recommends applying a thin layer of miconazole lotion.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
It’s bad enough to find bras that work with backless dresses and tops with creative cutouts, so we don't want zits to factor into our wardrobe choices too. Unfortunately, heat and sweat (yet again) can make your back more blemish-prone.
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“It is crucial to gently remove the buildup of skin cells on your back by exfoliating every time you shower,” says Renée Rouleau, a celebrity aesthetician in Dallas. She suggests using an antibacterial cleanser — look for one containing benzoyl peroxide or triclosan, like Noxzema Ultimate Clear Bacteria Fighting Cleanser — with a loofah. The exfoliating action of the loofah will help remove pore-clogging skin cells, and the antibacterial properties of the cleanser will kill the microbes that lead to breakouts.

When you slip into that backless dress, you’ll also want to make sure you’re protecting your skin with a noncomedogenic sunscreen. “Those who have oily skin and are prone to blemishes can have a challenging time finding a sunblock that won’t cause [them] to break out,” Rouleau says. She recommends looking for sun protection that feels lightweight and greaseless. Try La Roche-Posay Anthelios 30 Cooling Water-Lotion Sunscreen.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Raised angry bumps on your butt are so common that they have their own title: buttne. While these breakouts may resemble face acne, they are usually an infection of the hair follicle, Dr. Segal explains. “When you’re sweating, the hair follicles can become inflamed and the bacteria on your skin more active,” she says. “I see it a lot in athletes.”
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To prevent the bumps, use a benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid wash after exercising — you want to rinse away the sweat as soon as possible. Dr. Segal suggests SkinCeuticals Clarifying Cleanser. Also, get out of gym clothes or anything sweaty, ASAP. The faster the sweat evaporates, the less likely you will be to develop bumps. If you already have inflammation, see your dermatologist for a prescription like topical clindamycin.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Bikini Line
Waking up with red bumps on your bikini line can ruin a beach day. While they may look like acne, these are likely razor burn and ingrown hairs. “Breakouts on your bikini line are a shaving problem,” Dr. Day says.
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Before you grab a sarong to cover up all day, you can soothe razor burn with a moisturizing, calming treatment like aloe vera gel or hydrocortisone. Avoid anything too harsh or drying, or you risk making the irritation worse.

Prevent razor burn altogether with a proper shave — always use a sharp razor, apply shaving gel every time, and wait to shave until the end of your shower to reduce friction, Dr. Day says.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
You may be lucky enough to have a pristine complexion nine months of the year, but even those with usually well-behaved skin are prone to forehead breakouts in the summer. “Sweat, hair products, and oil can combine to clog pores on your hairline in warmer months,” Dr. Segal says. Add the friction from hats or helmets along with layers of sunscreen, and your skin can develop a band of breakouts on your forehead.
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Dr. Segal suggests doing a pre-cleanse step. Use a facial towelette like Neutrogena Oil-Free Cleansing Wipes Pink Grapefruit to wipe away surface dirt. Then, wash with a gentle exfoliant — anything too harsh could make the problem worse. Try Avène Gentle Purifying Scrub.

Make sure your sunscreen is oil-free and noncomedogenic. Try Elta MD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen. If your breakouts are proving to be stubborn, see your dermatologist. Dr. Segal says she often puts her patients on Retin-A to calm summer-stressed skin.
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