What Causes Shoulder Acne? Plus, How to Help Prevent It

January 30, 2023
Claire Rodgers
By: Claire Rodgers | skincare.com by L'Oréal
Image of a person's back and shoulder

On the list of the most annoying places acne can appear, the shoulders are right up there next to the back and chest. On the bright side, acne in this hard-to-reach area is not impossible to deal with. Shoulder acne can be addressed similarly to how one would approach facial acne — with a targeted routine. Ahead, we gathered expert tips on how to stop breakouts and get rid of shoulder acne once and for all.

What Causes Shoulder Acne?

Not Showering Immediately After a Workout

After working out, be sure to hop in the shower and rinse off within ten minutes. “When you have acne on your body, it’s often caused by waiting too long to shower after working out,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Lisa Ginn.

Friction From Sports Equipment

It’s so common for athletes to get acne from their sports equipment that there’s actually a name for it: acne mechanica. Anything that rubs — from backpacks to synthetic uniforms — and traps sweat and heat on your skin can cause irritation. To help prevent flare-ups, try placing clean padding between the equipment and your skin to limit rubbing. It’s also helpful to stick to loose-fitting clothes whenever possible.

Not Washing Your Clothes After Sweating

Sweat, dirt and other bacteria can stick to your clothes if you don’t wash them after a workout. Make a habit of tossing your dirty laundry directly into the wash and also bring a change of clothes with you to exercise, especially if you sweat profusely. Sitting in your sweaty clothing for too long can cause body acne to form. “Get out of gym clothes or anything sweaty as soon as possible,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Houshmand. “The faster the sweat evaporates, the less likely you are to develop bumps.”

Bacterial Infection

According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Ted Lain, one major cause of shoulder acne is a bacterial infection. This can occur due to a variety of factors, including not cleansing properly, not exfoliating and dirt or impurities getting deep into your pores.


Due to an increase in sebum production from hormone fluctuations, adolescents going through puberty are the most prone to a variety of forms of acne, which can include body acne.

How to Get Rid of Shoulder Acne 

Use Fragrance-Free and Antibacterial Body-Care

As much as you may love your scented body-care products, if you’re dealing with acne and sensitivity, fragrance-free skincare is the way to go. Some products formulated with fragrances may trigger irritation. In addition to fragrance-free products, Skincare.com consultant and board-certified cosmetic surgeon Dr. Laura Holsey recommends using antibacterial soaps and body washes to help clear shoulder acne. “If patients continue to have problems, I recommend adding the SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense to their problem areas,” she says.


SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense

Cleanse With a Benzoyl Peroxide or Salicylic Acid Body Wash

Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are some of the most popular acne-fighting ingredients in skincare products. You can find them in face washes, creams, gels, spot treatments and more. If you’re using a body wash, let the product sit on your blemishes for a few minutes before rinsing. We recommend trying the CeraVe SA Body Wash because it’s formulated with salicylic acid to help exfoliate acne-prone skin without stripping the skin of its moisture.


Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid can be drying, so be sure to follow up with a body lotion after your shower.


CeraVe SA Body Wash

Try an Acne-Fighting Body Spray

Shoulders aren’t the most easily accessible part of the body, which is why acne sprays come in handy for targeting blemish zones that are hard to reach. Try the Bliss Clear Genius Body Acne Spray — it’s formulated with salicylic acid to help get rid of existing breakouts and prevent future ones from forming without drying out your skin.


Bliss Clear Genius Body Acne Spray

Exfoliate Your Skin

“It is crucial to gently remove the buildup of skin cells on your shoulders by exfoliating when you shower,” says Dr. Houshmand. Dr. Lain also recommends using products that contain alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), which are chemical exfoliants. These ingredients help gently slough away dirt, grime and buildup from your skin’s surface.

Don’t Pick at Your Pimples

Picking at your pimples will only worsen their appearance and can lead to infection. If you feel like you’ve exhausted all options, don’t resort to picking at your skin. Instead, see a board-certified dermatologist. “There are medications that can be prescribed to help clear acne,” says Dr. Holsey. “It is important to establish a relationship with a dermatologist or medical esthetician to help guide treatment protocols that can control acne breakouts and accelerate results.”

Apply Broad-Spectrum Sunscreen

Sunscreen is a necessity for protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays, yet many people still tend to forget to apply it all over their bodies. No matter the time of year, Dr. Houshmand recommends applying sunscreen daily on your shoulders, face and any other areas of exposed skin. “You’ll want to make sure you’re protecting your skin with a non-comedogenic sunscreen,” she says. “If you have oily skin and are prone to blemishes, make sure your sunscreen is also oil-free.” The La Roche-Posay Anthelios Clear Skin Oil-Free Sunscreen SPF 60 absorbs excess oil and reduces shine without feeling greasy.

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Clear Skin Oil-Free Sunscreen SPF 60

Photo: Chaunte Vaughn

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