Quick fix for a break-out
August 7, 2007 10:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm wearing a backless dress for a formal event this Saturday, and my back has suddenly broken out in a small smattering of acne. What can I do to minimize/clear this up in four days?

There's a lot of pimples, but they're light and small. Still, I'd rather do what I can. I've been lucky to avoid acne most of my life, so I don't know any quick fixes. I'm not looking for anything too expensive or elaborate - just tricks/techniques/products that will, at the least, minimize the break-out for the weekend. I've use tea tree oil with success in the past, and plan on trying that over the next few days.

If it matters, I have pale, freckly, dry skin. I tend to be allergic to a lot of dyes and chemicals, too.

Thanks, MeFi!
posted by Zosia Blue to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Protectively get a silk/fancy shawl or shrug or bolero.

Keep your hair up in a ponytail or in a bun. Don't let your hair oils constantly brush up against your back.

I like tea tree oil as well. Just make sure to spot apply it with a qtip.
posted by spec80 at 10:29 PM on August 7, 2007

Sometimes I get breakouts on my chest, and a few days of a benzoyl peroxide cream clear it up. The skin on your back is tougher than the skin of your face, so you can apply it generously and your back shouldn't get too dry.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:30 PM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by desjardins at 10:34 PM on August 7, 2007

I think it'll be hard to recommend a particular technique for ridding yourself of the bacne given that everyone's skin is a little different, but what's always worked for me is exfoliation and aloe afterwards as a non-clogging moisturizer.

That said, if nothing works, I recommend going with this stuff:
Its counterintuitive to put highlighter on things you don't want people to see, but its the only thing I've found that works on really intense zits, so it'll probably be even better for covering up little ones. I'm sure there are cheaper products that do the same thing, I just don't know what they are. Good luck!
posted by wuzandfuzz at 10:37 PM on August 7, 2007

If you use benzoyl peroxide, you need to wear a white tee or tank top under any good tops. It can bleach fabrics.
posted by The Deej at 10:38 PM on August 7, 2007

If you start treating tomorrow, you should have enough time to put a dent in the issue by Saturday. Benzoyl peroxide (which is in a ton of your basic, drugstore acne products) is your best bet for a quick fix, just don't go with too high a concentration or it could dry out your skin too much (I use 2.5% on my face and would probably go with 5% on my back). Look for a cream instead of a wash and smear it on your back at night. Be sure to wear an old t-shirt at night as benzoyl peroxide will bleach fabric.

I actually prefer salicylic acid for this kind of thing, but I tend to think it takes longer and you're clearly on a timeline.

Night of, I've found those new-fangled mineral makeups are great at covering the occasional body breakout for this kind of event.
posted by mostlymartha at 10:43 PM on August 7, 2007

If previous suggestions don't work (but they should) you can try witch hazel or calamine lotion.
posted by amyms at 10:50 PM on August 7, 2007

All great suggestions! Thank you! I was planning on hitting up the drugstore tomorrow, so this is going to save me from wandering aimlessly.
posted by Zosia Blue at 10:56 PM on August 7, 2007

Keep in mind that if you have very sensitive skin a very gentle exfoliant may be more effective than the normal astringents and acne soaps. I had a light case of back acne for three or four years (well after teenage face breakouts had cleared up) and the only thing I found that works on it is a home made body wash from my local farmers market that uses sugar as an exfoliant - much finer and more gentle than most.
posted by frobozz at 11:10 PM on August 7, 2007

For some reason, astringent just makes my occasional bouts of back acne much worse, like it gives my usually not-too-oily skin the go-ahead to start over-producing oil in response. If you have any reactions like that, I'd say stick with the benz peroxide to be safe.
posted by np312 at 11:26 PM on August 7, 2007

Note: Touche Eclat will run you about 45 bucks.
posted by brina at 12:20 AM on August 8, 2007

Queen Helene Mint Julep Masque - you can use it as a spot treatment as well as a mask. It's old-school, cheap, and super-effective (for me, anyway).

Given your sensitive skin, you might want to try it on one spot first. For spots, I leave it on overnight (I've even left it on overnight as a face mask, actually). It can be drying, but it works quite well for me.

I usually rinse it off with my hands - it can be hard to get this stuff out of a washcloth, given the clay content.

Reviews here.
posted by splendid animal at 1:02 AM on August 8, 2007

Re. new-fangled mineral makeups -- this Neutrogena stuff isn't overpriced and would work well for the purpose.

2nd Queen Helene Mint Julep. 2nd the leaving it (or any other clay mask) overnight.

Don't overdo anything, though; you've used up your question for the week, and so can't ask "How do I fix the flakiness from overdrying/irritating my back?" here in time... 2nd 2nd of mostlymartha, re. 5% (at best) BP.
posted by kmennie at 1:56 AM on August 8, 2007

Asprin. (Get the really cheap kind--uncoated, which can be distinguished by a) not coming in a small bottle, b) cheap price, and c) not being labeled as coated.) Use 2-3 pellets and add a very few drops of water to dissolve them, then apply [externally] as a spot treatment. Rinse after 15 minutes. Optionally you can mix it with a gel of some kind to make applying easier (and cleaner)... sour cream works well but the smell combination can be overwhelming, Cetaphil is also supposed to work really well but I haven't tried it yet.
posted by anaelith at 5:25 AM on August 8, 2007

seconding aspirin. also, plain toothpaste works wonders overnight, although i've only used it on my face. it doesn't dry, so it might not work for the back. although if you have an evening where you can walk around shirtless and either sit up or lie on your stomach, you might do that, and wash it off before bed.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:29 AM on August 8, 2007

The aspirin hacks sound cool (and cheap!) and are probably a great idea for unexpected breakouts on the face, but if you want to treat your whole back, commercial salicylic acid ointments might be easier to use and more effective.
posted by maudlin at 5:42 AM on August 8, 2007

If they're red and swollen, alternate the benzoyl peroxide with a dab of hydrocortisone cream to reduce the inflammation, or try taking doses of ibuprofren over the next few days. I am not a doctor. Corticosteroids like hydrocortisone are not meant for long term use. YMMV, etc etc
posted by junkbox at 6:42 AM on August 8, 2007

I've used toothpaste too, thinkingwoman, and it's worked for body as well as face. I use Tom's of Maine, which does dry on the surface, and I've left it on overnight with no problems or mess. Minty fresh, too.
posted by bassjump at 6:51 AM on August 8, 2007

I like Neutrogena Body Clear Body Scrub. It contains salicylic acid, and it can be picked up at any drugstore. And yes, the benzoyl peroxide is a good night treatment.

I really like the Queen Helene Mint Julep mask, but I'm not sure I'd use it in conjunction with the other treatments. As others have said, if you over-dry your skin it's going to react by producing more oil.
posted by Evangeline at 7:43 AM on August 8, 2007

Over the counter cortisone cream applied the evening before and day of the event will reduce the redness and some of the swelling
posted by estronaut at 9:43 AM on August 8, 2007

Brina - Hence, "I'm sure there are cheaper products that do the same thing, I just don't know what they are" and the link to the page that includes the price. I just use it for undereye circles and monster-zits, so the tube I have has lasted me a long time (and I bought it at Costco for $30, lol.)
posted by wuzandfuzz at 9:57 AM on August 8, 2007

Queen Helene's is pretty great, and I've heard diaper rash cream. A particular brand was recommended to me at the time, but I can't think of it.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:08 AM on August 8, 2007

In addition to whatever treatments you try, make sure you're getting your skin really clean in the shower AFTER shampooing and conditioning. The shine enhancers and other ingredients in hair products (even products that are meant to cleanse) can definitely clog your pores if the residue is left on your skin. Some products are worse than others; for example, I've found that using any Pantene product will cause my back to break out, regardless of how carefully I wash it after finishing up with my hair.
posted by vytae at 10:18 AM on August 8, 2007

The best way to get rid of acne very quickly is with heat shock; you need to heat the pimples and keep them that way for awhile. But be careful not to burn yourself.

Acne bacteria will suddenly choke and die at a temperature below what will burn you; it's hot enough to be uncomfortable, but not hot enough to do any actual damage. I believe dry heat is better than wet for this, but I've never tried it with wet. The heat has to penetrate into the skin, so it takes awhile.

When treated this way, pimples can disappear within hours.

I'd suggest sun exposure, but with pale freckly skin, the chance of a sunburn would probably be too high. You could try a little... UV also kills acne.
posted by Malor at 11:08 AM on August 8, 2007

Just a warning: if you do decide to go with the silk scarf/bolero idea, don't do tea tree oil on the night of the event. It will most probably mark the fabric, as (obviously) will makeup.

I wouldn't get too stressed about this. Nobody's going to be staring at your back obsessively (or if they are, they're probably past caring about your spots.)
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:55 PM on August 8, 2007

Thanks again! Vytae, that's a great idea about washing my back after shampooing/conditioning - that's something I wouldn't have thought of.
posted by Zosia Blue at 9:39 PM on August 9, 2007

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