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Body acne
May 26, 2005 2:31 PM   Subscribe

I've had bad body acne for as long as I can remember. It is especially difficult during the summer because it makes me self-concious about exposing my upper chest and back.

I already scrub my back and chest as best I can with a loofah and acne wash while in the shower. I've tried Differin and Retin-A and they helped marginally in the places I was able to apply them. I've only had a respite from the problem once, after a particularly vicious early summer sunburn took off the first few millimeters of skin.

Does anyone have any non-cancerous body acne remedies? Preferably non-prescription, since I no longer have insurance and am working on a limited budget.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I suppose it depends on the severity, of course, but I found that laying out in the sun clears up a lot of my acne. Of course, don't overdo this.
posted by odinsdream at 2:39 PM on May 26, 2005

You could try using plain zinc oxide cream. It's great for acne and redness. It's available at Walgreens and most pharmacies. Or you could use diaper cream (which has zinc). It's a little greasier though.
posted by crapulent at 2:44 PM on May 26, 2005

I've suffered similar woes. After nearly ten years of trying nearly everything, my "situation" has really calmed down. Maybe it's just hormones (I'm nearly 25 now), but it's such an unbelievable relief to finally be somewhat rid of my breakouts. I've used accutane, which has horrible side effects and is to be avoided at all costs. I had semi-decent luck with prescribed benzaclin, but nothing great. I had zero success with alcohol wipes, which only irritated my skin and perhaps made it worse. Also, St. Ives products (apricot scrub, etc.) , while trendy, are said to be highly carcinogenic, also they didn't help me at all.

I've recently had success with an over the counter product I never thought would help. I'm pretty anti-consumerist, but the Clean and Clear product line really seems to work well for me. I use the Persagel benzoyl peroxide cream at night and in the morning, and wash twice a day with the clean and clear blackhead clearing scrub. for my back, I use a kind of cleaning "strap" that you can find at your local drug store. Be careful not to overdo it and irritate your skin, but clean it well. Pat dry, don't smear. What I've also found is that not all OTC products (at least for skin care) are created equal. Rite-Aid benzoyl peroxide is NOT just as good as persagel. I don't think my current regimen is a long-term solution. I'm hoping to phase my way down to healthier and less abrasive products, but I cannot tell you what a difference being (mostly) acne-free has made in my life. The C&C oil absorbing sheets also do wonders on shine.

The biggest thing is really to be totally consistent. Don't miss a morning shower or an evening wash. It took me a long time to realize that a day off from washing really matters.

I've also found that sun exposure really does help--but it is very embarrasing and creates a self-perpetuating cycle. Try to find a private space and give yourself some sun. It helps dry things out. Avoid having any other drying agents on your skin while in the sun, and do be careful not to burn. Use a light coat of sun screen.

I would also pay attention to your diet. You may be intolerant to a certain type of food--perhaps wheat or sugar (in my case). Try experimenting.

I know what a truly difficult thing it is to have to deal with face and body acne. It is psychologically scarring and can really be debilitating. It's easy to treat the symptoms and have a momentary "clear" phase and then get lazy--unfortunately you have to keep at it in a preventative fashion.
posted by pinto at 2:58 PM on May 26, 2005

For large cysts, you can go to a dermatologist and have him inject antibiotics straight into them. Not fun, but it will heal them faster than anything else. Of course this probably causes resistant strains, etc....

Also vitamin b12 is said to positively affect the hormonal imbalance. i've been taking a pill a day for the last year (the first "good" year for me acne-wise since puberty).
posted by pinto at 3:02 PM on May 26, 2005

If you are female, the birth control pill can be helpful.

I believe laying in the sun will go a long way toward killing the bacteria that are responsible.

Change shirts daily, so as to not reinfect yourself.

Go easy on the loofah; it damages the skin and spreads the bacteria.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:12 PM on May 26, 2005

I want to second what odinsdream said about getting a little sun on it. I don't know it that works for everyone, but for me and my cousins (all similarly afflicted at varying levels), it works wonders (though somewhat short term). Also, be careful about heavy loofah scrubbing. For years I scrubbed the heck out of both body and face with loofahs thinking it was going to help. It didn't, and when I stopped doing it so often and so much the acne got a little better.

One of my cousins recently started using a sulfur soap, and she seems to feel it's really helping. The first week though she said it looked much worse as everything started to pull together (and she had some peeling too). I think it was called Grandpa's Soap. I tried a soap with salicylic acid in it, and it didn't help at all. In fact, even after weeks of use (thinking I needed to give it time), I think it made things worse. Someone once suggested tea tree oil to me, but I have yet to try it.

I have found that clothing makes a difference as well. Fabrics that breath, like cotton, linen and other natural fibers, are better for your skin if you have back acne. Also not wearing snug, tight or form fitting clothing helped me a lot.

Good luck. Acne sucks, especially when you are on a tight budget and can't spend a lot trying to deal with it.
posted by Orb at 3:20 PM on May 26, 2005

Tanning beds have been reccommended for a variety of skin issues. Timed dosages can help.
If you were dealing with cystic acne, many remedies have herbal extractions of things like clove oil (Don't use clove oil undiluted, that was just an example).
From the tags, I have to say in helping men hands on, they found the most relief in my doing careful extractions and treating the area after with antibacterial agents like tea tree oil to prevent infection, and then, in the absence of inflammation, keeping up a good hygiene regime.
(Don't go nuts with this, either, as you may end up damaging the surrounding skin and causing scars or infection. If someone you trust is capable, enlist their aid, ape grooming has its reasons. After a hot bath when the pores are more open and the skin is soft, and as you become more familiar with the texture of your skin, you can tell when something can be easily removed or is ready to come out with little effort--)
Be careful of scrubbing and cleaning too much and aggravating the skin, but it sounds like overproduction of oil and sebum is the issue. Baths might help with this as well, additionally with different herbal extractions in the water.
Different basic drying masks can be bought and made as well as ones to help unclog the pores.
Sorry not to have links and recipes at hand, but I'll try to tack on what I stumble across, maybe others can, too, and they can probably be found at different drugstores, health food chains, herbal sites and "beauty" forums on skin care.

(repeating some of what's been said, but pinto's note of consistency is a definite thing to remember)
posted by philida at 3:24 PM on May 26, 2005

And another second on the clothing issue (missed while in preview)
posted by philida at 3:27 PM on May 26, 2005

Be careful with the sunning - while some exposure may be helpful I believe that overexposure on a wound (which popped zits would qualify as) will make the scarring -worse-, though I cannot recall supporting details so perhaps it's just misfiring neurons I killed with beer.

Somewhat tertiary, I'd suggest that regarding your summer self-conciousness that the best solution to that isn't clearing up the acne but putting aside the self-conciousness. Everyone normal has things that they are self-concious about or not thrilled with about their appearance but letting it keep you from doing what you want to do is much worse in the long run than the discomfort of learning to disregard the ill feelings.
posted by phearlez at 3:53 PM on May 26, 2005

There's no quick fix here; acne can be caused/exacerbated by all kinds of things: stress, changing hormones, even excessive scrubbing of skin. Basically, what you want to do is treat your skin the best that you can. A holistic approach is what you want: get plenty of sleep, drink lots of water (those two things are always the most important in a skin care regime), and get some regular exercise. Use a gentle cleanser or acne wash a couple times a day. (Do not scrub the skin!) And don't squeeze or pick at any blemishes. Wearing natural fabrics that allow the skin to breathe is a good suggestion. And diet is very important. Eat your vegetables, seriously. Lots of green leafy vegetables with fiber and vitamins E and A. And, like pinto said, food allergies may be causing a big part of your problem and are worth investigating. (My little brother's acne was reduced by half once he figured out he's allergic to corn, of all things.)

Oh, and un exposure in moderation. It can help by drying out overactive sebaceous glands, but don't over-do it. (Sometimes folks who think their acne's redness is going away may in fact just be hidden by a sunburn.)

five fresh fish is way off: acne doesn't spread by exposure to bacteria, and there's no way sunlight will kill the germs! Check it:

Acne is believed to result from a change in the inner lining of the follicle that prevents the sebum from passing through. For reasons not understood, cells from the lining of the follicle are shed too fast and clump together. The clumped cells plug up the follicle's opening so sebum cannot reach the surface of the skin. The mixture of oil and cells causes bacteria that normally live on the skin, called Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), to grow in the plugged follicles. These bacteria produce chemicals and enzymes that can cause inflammation. (Inflammation is a characteristic reaction of tissues to disease or injury and is marked by four signs: swelling, redness, heat, and pain.) When the plugged follicle can no longer hold its contents, it bursts and spills everything onto the nearby skin--sebum, shed skin cells, and bacteria. Lesions or pimples develop as a result of the skin's being irritated. (via)

I never really had acne until I reached my late twenties and my hormones changed, then I got it on my chin and ass. I did all of the above (except the sun; I'm incredibly pale) and added a mild treatment that contained salicylic acid (Neutrogena acne something-or-other). I found anything containing peroxide to be too drying, and acne washes just irritated my skin. I still get a very occasional bit, but I find if I avoid too much red wine and cheese, it really helps.
posted by Specklet at 4:01 PM on May 26, 2005

un exposure

Er, that's sun exposure.
posted by Specklet at 4:11 PM on May 26, 2005

Cut down on sugar. If I was to go drink a 20oz. Mountain Dew right now, in 2 days I'd break out. I've done this experiment many times and have switched to iced tea. If you drink soda you are consuming a vast amount of sugar, 9-12 teaspoons in a 12 oz. can ( A 64 oz. big gulp has ~750 calories and 50 teaspoons of sugar!!!)
posted by 445supermag at 4:19 PM on May 26, 2005

Panoxyl was suggested to me a few years back for chest/back acne by a dermatologist. It comes in two different strengths, 5% and 10% and worked well. Available at the corner drugstore.
posted by 6:1 at 4:35 PM on May 26, 2005

Oh yeah, and it worked well. Worth a try.
posted by 6:1 at 4:43 PM on May 26, 2005

Pinto - what we're your experiences with Accutane? My 16-yr old daughter also has had a hard time with adult acne since she was in middle school, has tried it all & wants to try Accutane, but we're leary as she suffers from depression & we've heard horror stories. Her dermatologist seems pretty unconcerned & her psych doesn't seem to have a position.
posted by Pressed Rat at 4:47 PM on May 26, 2005

I was on accutane for two months at age 17. It "worked" in that it dried me up excessively, so much so that my lips were badly chapped and yes, the acne subsided. Two months in, I started having blood in my stools and was soon diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. There's no causal link, but I believe a class action law suit is in the works connecting accutane and ulcerative colitis. Perhaps as a result of two months on the stuff, I now suffer a life-long chronic inflammation of my colon, with high risk of colon cancer.

I was always a semi-depressed kid (and as a teen, mostly because of my skin!), so I can't speak to the depression part, but I've heard plenty about that too.

While you probably don't expect your daughter to be having children soon, accutane is a powerful drug and causes birth defects. I'd say that given all of the above, it's best to stay far away.

I recently spoke with my dermatologist of seven years ago, who apologized for prescribing the accutane and offered to refer me to a laser surgeon buddy of his for a dramatically reduced cost; such is his guilt for what he thinks happened.
posted by pinto at 5:01 PM on May 26, 2005

445supermag, are you sure it's the sugar, and not the carbonated water? In my 20s, I ended up with the impression that sugar-free sodas did the same thing to me that sugared sodas did: basically, zits in the goatee area. (Just curious if you'd ruled that out.)
posted by kimota at 5:24 PM on May 26, 2005

Also, anon, I can sympathize with you about not having insurance. I've been without for 2 years. What I've found is that if you previously had a dermatologist or a general practioner, simply call the office and explain your situation (either to the office manager or the doctor). Most doctors are willing to work with you regarding the no insurance thing. My doctor gave me free samples of the medicine that I had been using and it has lasted me up until now. They get free samples from pharmaceutical representatives and your doc would probably be willing to pass them on to you if you simply explain your dilemma. Even if they won't give you free samples, he/she might be willing to write you a prescription over the phone without making you pay for an office visit. Look at the Walgreens website and you can get an idea of what you might be paying out of pocket. Most of these topical drugs don't cost over $50 a tube, which is a small price to pay for your happiness. And there are always free clinics or reduced-cost clinics that could help you out if you don't have a doc who you can call. That said, I would still give some non-prescription methods a try before anything else.
posted by crapulent at 6:06 PM on May 26, 2005

ive recently discovered that acne can be a result of the skin as an organ not functioning properly. i have dry skin. ive avoided putting lotion on acne prone areas in the past. this actually lead to 'super acne'. go figure.
posted by GleepGlop at 6:24 PM on May 26, 2005

A note on sun exposure. My dermatologist recommnded it for me for psoriasis, but I've noticed it help my acne as a well. She called it a bonus. Accoridng to her, the amount you need is about 20 minutes. You don't need to bake, just get 20 minutes a day. Or once in the morning, once in the afternoon for 40 minutes and natural sunlight is best. Anymore is just damaging the skin. Good luck.
posted by karmaville at 6:52 PM on May 26, 2005

It sounds like you're being pretty harsh on your skin, which can make it worse.

Some antibiotics are pretty inexpensive, though there seem to be certain ones that are more appropriate for acne - really, asking a dermatologist might be the best route. And you might be able to find a dermatologist who will work with you on office visit price if that's necessary.

I once gave myself awful acne cysts once by trying a nut-intensive diet; apparently the tannin (or something) in nuts can give bad acne.

What you eat is important, and I don't mean just avoiding chocolate. Be willing to eat better than everyone else you know; it's weird, it's difficult in some ways, but the benefits! Some people just don't tolerate the so-so American diet well.

Exercise has also helped my acne, particularly in this type of regimen: wake up early, shower & wash hair (cleaning skin with Neutrogena acne soap), exercise for 30 min to one hour (sweaty!), shower again (clean skin again, gently, but not hair - YMMV), then dress & join the world. At night, I'd just wash my face again (gently, with a peroxide product), but if your body acne is that bad, a quick shower might be a good idea -- or it might be just a little too much and might irritate your skin.

Ya gotta approach this scientifically -- see what works for you, maybe refine it. When too much scrubbing can have the same bad result as too little cleaning, it's hard to know what to change :)
posted by amtho at 7:38 PM on May 26, 2005

And there seemed to be some good books on this when I looked in my local Barnes & Noble recently.
posted by amtho at 7:39 PM on May 26, 2005

445supermag, are you sure it's the sugar, and not the carbonated water?
No, I'm not sure, as diet sodas make me ill. But I beleive that other sources of sugar have the same effect (like the week and a half period that our family has 3 birthdays, all that cake and ice cream).
posted by 445supermag at 9:52 PM on May 26, 2005

Based on my experiences with (admittedly pretty light) chest/back acne, and my brother's also (his was much worse), here's what worked for us: take a shower, have someone gently squeeze anything with a head or visibly blackheaded, then use Neutrogena Alcohol-Free Antiseptic Cleanser all over the affected area, and Clinique Deep Cleansing Emergency Mask on any angry red unheaded spots. (I also used alpha-hydroxy gel on my upper chest and it made some difference, but it did get worse before it got better.) Shower every day or even twice a day if necessary but don't over-soap; wear clean shirts even if you have to change more than once a day, cotton only, nothing tight; and sleep unclothed. Do not use scrubs or a loofah; this will irritate the skin more. I found that deliberately exposing my skin to sun made it worse, not better (I am also very pale and burn easily; YMMV). I enforced this regimen on my brother every day for a week and his backne (heh) improved *immensely*. But he didn't keep it up (lazy! =P), since you need someone to do your back for you to make sure you reach every spot, and it got bad again.

Pressed Rat - my youngest brother used Accutane, same age as your daughter; it did improve his acne but dried out his lips so they were peeling and almost bleeding for a few months, and that drove him nuts. He was an even-tempered, laid-back, not-depressive sort of kid, but while on it and since then he's gotten pretty moody, irritable, and introverted, not to mention his sleep schedule went totally kablooey (he was a natural morning person and now is tired and falling asleep in the middle of the day and staying up all night). Some of that is typical teenager changes but it was obvious the Accutane had a big effect.
posted by Melinika at 9:59 PM on May 26, 2005

Consider swimming in the ocean, the salt water may help.
posted by Chimp at 3:35 AM on May 27, 2005

I'll second these bits: go easy on the loofah/scrubbing, get a little sun, swim in the ocean if you can.

I'll add: Don't fear all prescriptions just 'cause your budget is limited. Oral antibiotics can help tremendously and can be very cheap. The pills I take now cost only $6 a month and work great. Accutane, however, will probably be pretty expensive.
posted by spilon at 8:00 AM on May 27, 2005

Regarding paying for drugs out of pocket, I pay for my prozac(fluoxetine) out of pocket even now that I have insurance - it's actually cheaper than the deductable where I get it: the Costco pharmacy.

They have a drug pricer on there too so you can see what something would cost you. Worth nothing: particularly in pills, getting 3 month's worth at a time is often only 10-70% more expensive than 1 month's worth but you have to ask your doctor to write the script that way. Example: these are the prices for 30/50/100 of my med. $6.89,$8.19,$11.09

I am unsure if most other pharmacies are that way on quantity but I would expect so; their big expense is labor/dealing with you, not the actual materials.
posted by phearlez at 9:06 AM on May 27, 2005

Yes, and if you are taking tablets, consider asking your doc to write a prescription for a larger dose (say 100mg) so that you can use a pill splitter and have two of your normal dose (2 x 50mg). This is another way you can save money at some pharmacies.
posted by crapulent at 10:01 AM on May 27, 2005

Hrmm. I've never really dealt with body acne too much. Facial acne is my nemisis.

Oral Antibiotics work GREAT. Until you become resistant to them.

Accutane worked really well for me. The first week was hell, but it cleared up my acne wonderfully. It's VERY drying, however. I'm considering trying a low dose of Accutane again soon.

Regular use of Benzoil Peroxide 5 or 10 percent helped me. The Downside: it bleaches the edges of my dark brown hair, and also my eyebrows. All of my towels have bleached spots too.

Oil control:

Milk of Magnesia applied and then wiped off will shine-proof your face.
Clean and Clear oil removing sheets are a rip off. You can get something similar at a chinese grocery store (they had 'em first) for maybe a buck. Toilet paper works too. I've heard that the C&C sheets have a dye in them, which is why they turn so dark blue when you use them.

posted by stray at 12:31 PM on May 27, 2005

Is there a swimming pool anywhere near you? I always find that the chlorine helps tremendously to clear up acne.
posted by MsMolly at 12:39 PM on May 27, 2005

Most commercial "soaps" on the market are actually detergent bars made of sodium laureth sulphate, which can irritate the skin of a lot of people.

I think Ivory is still actually *soap* (not positive), and your local heathstore probably has natural soaps and glycerine bars. You might be surprised at the difference you'll see in your skin.

Tea tree oil mixed into some aloe vera gel would probably help. If using essential oils, keep your mix to probably 5% or less of tea tree to aloe. Remember to keep your batches small, and refrigerated, since you won't be using preservatives.

If you've got time, and a friend for doing your back, you can do a clay mask that will do wonders. Bentonite clay will cost about $2.00 a pound. Sea clay, which I would recommend, costs around $7.00 a pound, last I checked.

Use 4 tablespoons of clay powder to every cup of distilled water. If adding herbs, like crushed bay leaves, use about 2T. Alternately, add up to an oz of any (or any combination) of the following: witch hazel , tea tree oil, Cupressus sempervirens (cypress), Citrus nobilis (citrus), Cedrus deaodora (cedar), Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary), Mentha arvensis (field/wild mint), Canaga odorata (ylang ylang), Lavandula angustifolia (lavender), Citrus medica Limonum (lemon), Slavia sclarea (clary sage), Santalum album (sandalwood), Anthemis nobilis (chamomile). (Latin names given because searching for the right essential oil can be tricky because of varities.)

Ingredients can often be found locally, but if not, I'd recommend Camden Grey as an online source. They aren't the fastest of shippers, and the site design is pretty darned ugly, but their prices are fair for small orders. I've ordered pounds and pounds of essential oils and other products from them, and everything has always been slow but perfect.
posted by dejah420 at 6:45 PM on May 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

See a dermatologist!

Perhaps a dermatologist could work with your limited budget to design a treatment that works best for you.

Don’t waste your time with the anecdotal-acne-cures false economy. Acne isn’t caused by diet and hygiene (although it can be inflamed by both.) If you want to do something about your acne, get thee to a dermatologist.
posted by tommunation at 8:16 PM on May 31, 2005

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