How to Get Rid of Chest Acne: Causes, Treatment, and More

Medically Reviewed By Bukky Aremu, APRN
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Chest acne, or acne vulgaris on the chest, can occur when the pores of the skin of the chest become clogged. The blockage can then trigger inflammation, causing redness and visible acne spots. Chest acne treatments aim to reduce inflammation and the buildup of debris in pores. Although many people associate acne with the face, it can occur all over the body. The skin contains pores that can fill with naturally-occurring skin oils, dead skin cells, bacteria, and other debris.

Breakouts can be uncomfortable and also cause emotional stress or self-consciousness. Seeking effective treatment can help prevent or alleviate these complications.

This article will explain the treatment options for chest acne and how to get rid of acne affecting the chest. It will also discuss the underlying causes of the condition.

At-home treatments for chest acne

A person sits on a bed, turning their head to the side. Their skin shows visible acne from their collarbone to their face.
Olga Sibirskaya/Stocksy United

Before self-treating acne, it is important to identify acne and its type. This can help you rule out other conditions that may cause skin irritation. Other conditions can cause inflammation and acne-like symptoms, and acne-like irritation can sometimes be a sign of other underlying conditions.

Home remedies for confirmed cases of acne can include using over-the-counter (OTC) products. These can effectively treat mild-to-moderate cases of acne or alleviate symptoms.

Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs)

Some skin care products contain acids that can help exfoliate the outer layer of skin. This exfoliation can remove debris that causes clogged pores.

Examples of acids used in skin care include lactic acid, glycolic acid, and salicylic acid.

Retinol

Retinol is a derivative of a type of chemical called retinoid. Retinoids are vitamin A-based medications that can treat inflammation and reduce the appearance of scarring in mild cases of acne.

Many retinoids require a prescription. However, retinol is available in OTC products since it is less potent.

Benzoyl peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide works as an antiseptic to reduce the infection of breakouts. Some benzoyl peroxide products are available OTC, while some formulations require a prescription.

Many ingredients have a risk of adverse effects.

Many ingredients in products for treating acne carry a risk of side effects. These effects include skin irritation and increasing the skin’s sensitivity to the sun or UV light. Ingredients that may cause sensitivity or irritation include acids, benzoyl peroxide, and retinoids.

Always practice sun safety when using acids and retinoids. This can include:

  • wearing sunscreen SPF 15 or higher every time you go outside
  • seeking shade or wearing opaque clothes
  • reapplying sunscreen after sweating, swimming, wiping the skin, or after being outside for more than 2 hours

Additionally, you should avoid using acne treatments on your chest while breastfeeding to prevent the child from consuming the product.

Always check with a doctor or dermatologist before combining these treatments. Some exfoliants can cause irritation when using prescription acne medications alongside them.

Dermatologists also recommend starting with the lowest concentration of the ingredient possible to reduce the risk of irritation.

Clinical treatments for chest acne

Chest acne or severe acne may require stronger treatments, such as antibiotics or prescription creams.

If at-home treatment is not helping to get rid of acne on the chest, contact your doctor or a licensed dermatologist. They can advise whether any of the following treatment methods may help.

Prescription medication and hormone therapy

Doctors and dermatologists can prescribe both topical and oral medications that help treat severe acne.

These medications can include:

  • Azelaic acid: This can help address acne by clearing bumps and killing bacteria that may infect the pores. It can also decrease keratin, which also can contribute to acne development.
  • Combined oral contraceptive pill: Oral contraceptives can be effective if your acne results from hormonal changes or conditions. Oral contraceptives will help resolve the hormonal imbalances that result in acne.
  • Topical or oral antibiotics: Antibiotics can help reduce inflammation and clear the bacteria infecting the pores. As bacteria can develop antibiotic resistance, doctors may prescribe a course of antibiotics for more severe cases of acne. Using benzoyl peroxide in combination with antibiotics can also help to limit antibiotic resistance.
  • Topical retinoids: Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives that can help treat acne. Different types can include adapalene, tretinoin, and isotretinoin. However, if the chest acne covers a large area of skin, topical retinoids may not be as effective or suitable.

Learn more about prescription medications for acne here.

Corticosteroid injections

A licensed dermatologist can treat large, deep, or painful acne by injecting the affected area with a corticosteroid.

Corticosteroids can help relieve any pain from acne and inflammation. They can also help reduce the size of the acne spot.

However, while corticosteroid injections can be effective, they can cause side effects when used more than a few times.

Laser therapy

This treatment involves using a medical laser or light device over the skin. It is most effective when a person pairs the treatment with other treatment approaches.

Laser therapy is less suitable for cystic, scarring, or severe cases of acne.

Learn more about laser and light therapies for acne.

Symptoms of chest acne

Acne can appear differently, causing various symptoms and types of breakouts.

Types of acne breakout or spots can include:

  • Open comedones (whiteheads): These are clogged pores that form underneath the skin’s surface. They may appear to have a white bump or head.
  • Closed comedones (blackheads): These are similar to whiteheads but may appear to have a black bump or head.
  • Pustules: Also known as pimples, these lesions are typically red at their base, containing pus on the inside.
  • Nodules: Nodules are a type of acne lesion that lodges deep within the skin. They can be painful and lead to scarring.
  • Cysts: Cysts are another type of acne lesion that sit deep in the skin. They can fill with pus and cause pain and scarring. Sometimes, people experience cystic acne on the chest.

If you are experiencing symptoms of skin irritation on the chest, contact your doctor to diagnose your condition. If unsure about the cause of irritation, they may refer you to a specialist or dermatologist.

Causes of acne on the chest

Acne occurs due to debris, such as dead skin cells and oils, clogging the pores of the skin. This can especially occur if the glands of the skin produce too much sebum, a type of oil.

Sebum that mixes with debris can plug the skin’s hair follicles and pores, causing inflammation. Bacteria that are otherwise harmless can infect the pores and contribute to inflammation, too.

The chest is one of several areas with a high concentration of sebaceous glands, the glands of the skin that produce sebum. Other common sites of acne include the back and face.

The following factors can trigger or increase the risk of experiencing acne:

  • hormonal fluctuations
  • genetics or inheritance
  • certain medications
  • skin irritation
  • smoking

Around 20% of newborns experience neonatal acne, which can occur on the chest or other areas. This condition can be benign. However, it is important to consult a doctor regarding skin symptoms to rule out other conditions.

Identifying your acne’s underlying trigger can help you find an appropriate and effective treatment.

Preventing and caring for chest acne

Acne is not the result of poor hygiene. However, certain skin care methods can help avoid further irritation, prevent new episodes of acne, and reduce the risk of scarring.

These methods include:

  • washing the skin gently every day with warm water and as soon as you can after sweating
  • avoiding washing the skin more than twice per day, as this can cause further irritation
  • avoiding squeezing, popping, or picking at acne spots
  • avoiding touching acne or the skin
  • practicing sun and UV protection
  • stopping the use of anything that rubs against your chest, such as bags or irritating clothes
  • wearing loose-fitting clothes made of cotton or other breathable fabrics
  • washing clothes after sweating in them
  • avoiding the use of irritating skin care ingredients and products, instead using products that are:
    • oil-free
    • noncomedogenic or non-acnegenic
    • alcohol-free
    • fragrance-free
  • stopping the use of products that irritate your skin, which can sometimes include astringents, toners, and exfoliants

If you cannot wash promptly after sweating, using a cleanser or cleansing wipe to gently clean the skin may help.

Treating chest acne scars

Sometimes acne can leave behind scarring after the initial breakout has healed. Scarring most commonly occurs when nodules and cysts burst and cause damage to the surrounding skin.

It can also happen after picking at acne breakouts, which can cause further damage to the skin.

Scars can include pigmented marks on the skin, sunken or depressed areas of skin, and raised or rolling scars.

Treatment options for acne scarring can include:

  • dermabrasion
  • laser therapies
  • punch techniques, which remove areas of scarring from the skin
  • subcision

FAQ

Below are some frequently asked questions about acne on the chest.

Should you pop chest acne?

Avoid picking or popping acne on the chest. This can cause further irritation and inflammation or increase the risks of infection or scarring.

Trained dermatologists may physically clear breakouts in a clinic using proper techniques to reduce the risks.

How can I make my chest acne less noticeable?

You can reduce the appearance or prominence of acne on the chest by finding an effective treatment. Treatments can include using OTC products or prescription medications.

Daily skin care, such as washing with warm water, may also help reduce the appearance of chest acne.

What causes chest acne in females?

A variety of factors may trigger acne flare-ups in some people. Hormonal fluctuations that can affect females (sex assigned at birth) are one of these factors. 

These hormonal fluctuations can occur due to pregnancy, menstruation, and hormonal conditions such as PCOS.

How do you exfoliate your chest?

You can exfoliate the skin on the chest using mechanical or chemical exfoliation. Mechanical exfoliation physically scrubs away dead skin cells. In contrast, chemical exfoliation will use products to dissolve the skin cells.

Physically scrubbing the skin can cause irritation. Therefore, people with chest acne may prefer to use a mild chemical exfoliant.

Summary

Chest acne can occur due to clogged pores causing inflammation and irritation.

Treatment methods include OTC products, prescription medication, and clinical procedures such as laser therapy. Skin care methods can also help to prevent further irritation.

Contact your doctor or a licensed dermatologist before introducing any new acne treatments. They can help you find the most effective treatment for you and avoid side effects.

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Medical Reviewer: Bukky Aremu, APRN
Last Review Date: 2022 Jul 7
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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