Dealing With Annoying Pimples on Your Chest? Here Are the Top Causes of Chest Acne—and What to Do About It




Whether you're gearing up for tank top season or not, chest acne can be rather distressing. It can lower your confidence and make you wary of wearing certain clothes, such as tank tops or V-necks, that expose the chest.

Chest acne is pimples on your chest. It's the same as any other type of acne on your body. Yet, unlike the face, it doesn't get as much oxygen. Even researchers in a 2022 report said that truncal acne, which includes chest acne, is underdiagnosed..That same year, The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology published a review in which authors called for more awareness of truncal acne, saying it could help with the psychological impacts.

So, let's scream from the rooftops: Of course, chest acne is real.

"Where there are oil glands, there is a risk for plugged pores," says dermatological nurse and celebrity aesthetician Natalie Aguilar. "The only difference between facial acne and chest acne is location and triggers."

For example, the chest is exposed to different factors that don’t affect the face like clothing materials, bras, scarves, jewelry, perfume, long hair and temperature.

"It’s also often neglected compared to the face," Aguilar says. "Most people just use skincare from the jawline up and don’t regularly cleanse, moisturize and wear SPF on their chest."

But it may look different than acne on other parts of your body.

"Usually, the acne on the chest presents as papules and pustules, which are more superficial and look like raised bumps," says Karen Fernandez, the lead aesthetician at SkinSpirit. "It’s less common to have deeper cystic acne, which tends to happen where skin is thicker on the face or back areas."

You also can experience fungal acne on your chest.

"This form of folliculitis is caused by an overgrowth of naturally occurring yeast on our body," says Vanessa Coppola, FNP-BC, a board-certified nurse practitioner and aesthetic specialist and the owner of Bare Aesthetic Medical Spa. "Folliculitis occurs from inflammation of the hair follicle. In the case of fungal acne, the offending organism is yeast. Fungal acne is typically unresponsive to traditional ace regimens. Fungal acne typically occurs in a warm and humid environment."

Here's everything you need to know about every potential cause of chest acne—and what to do about each.

Related: 25 of the All-Time Best Pimple-Popping Videos You'll Find Anywhere on the Internet

Causes of Chest Acne

Your skin is oily

Your chest could break out for a few reasons, notably naturally oily sin.

"Having naturally oily skin, in general, makes you more prone to acne anywhere on the body and not just your face," says Dr. Howard Sobel, MD, the clinical attending dermatologic surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital NYC and the founder of Sobel Skin + Sobel Skin RX.

The skin on the chest is very different from the skin on the face

Your chest skin is thin – that's not an attack. .

"It is thinner with fewer oils, and the healing time for the skin on the chest is slower," Fernandez says. "The chest area is actually more sensitive and reactive than the skin on other areas of the body."

You're taking certain medications

Remedies for some conditions may trigger chest acne.

"The consumption of certain medications such as corticosteroids, lithium or exogenous androgenic hormones such as testosterone can cause chest acne," Coppola says.

Your skin is exposed to heat or sun

"The inflammatory reaction of heat and sun exposure can trigger chest breakouts," says Fernandez.

You wear tight clothes

Your wardrobe just might be doing a number on the skin of your chest.

"Clothing friction can cause chest acne, and those who are most likely to get chest acne are those who work out in tight clothing and tend to sweat a lot," says Aguilar.

You sweat a lot

"Sweat combined with heat and friction can lead to bacteria overgrowth and clogging," Aguilar says. "Sweat can also trap dirt and debris in your pores."

You're super stressed

Stress isn't great for the mind or body – chest skin included.

"There are some theories that suggest that stress can play a role in acne formation and severity, and although no definitive link has been established, there is an association between stress and inflammation which may play a role in acne formation," says Coppola.

Your hormone levels are high

"For everyone, hormones are a large factor, and higher than normal levels of hormones will have acne-causing effects," says Fernandez.

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12 Tips for How to Treat and Avoid Chest Acne

Try a hot and cold compress

Pimple-popping videos are tempting to put into practice. Try this tip first — you'll likely have better results.

"Instead of attempting to pinch or squeeze at chest breakouts, one can perform hot and cold compresses on the affected areas," says Aguilar. "Hot and cold compresses help to 'shock' the breakouts and help to increase circulation in the area, encouraging faster healing."

Avoid foods that have a high glycemic index

Eating nutritious foods and avoiding ones high in sugar may reduce chest acne.

"Avoiding sweets, including sugary fruits,  white bread, rice, potatoes and cereal, will help to improve all-over acne," says Sarah Akram, a celebrity master esthetician and owner of Sarah Akram Skincare. "When you incorporate these foods into your diet, you are increasing your chance of high blood sugar levels, which causes your body to produce excess sebum, which will cause breakouts."

Keep an acne spot treatment on hand

Your best Rx for chest acne may be in the drugstore (and best kept in your bag after you purchase it).

"Nowadays, one can easily find a great spot treatment containing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide," Aguilar says. "These fast-working products generally have powerful soothing properties and active ingredients to help minimize inflammation, and irritation, to control breakouts."

A 2020 observational study supported the use of products with salicylic acid for topical acne treatment.

Try a retinoid

A 2022 clinical review in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology pointed to clinical trial evidence supporting the use of retinoids, a form of Vitamin A, as a first-line treatment for acne.

"The use of topical retinoids or retinol, both prescription and over the counter, can help to speed up cellular turnover and exfoliation to help clear clogged pores," Coppola says.

Wear clothing that is loose and not too close to the body

Dress for chest-acne-busting success. Dr. Sobel says sweat sitting on the skin makes it challenging for the skin to take a breather.

"The skin cannot breathe properly in tight clothing," Dr. Sobel says. "Tight fabrics can trap bacteria and oils, which can clog pores. Cotton is the best fabric to wear because it is the most breathable, while spandex and nylon can cause irritation."

Shower immediately after your workout

Add "shower" to your post-workout cooldown routine. A clean chest combats bacteria, which is the root of acne. Fernandez recommends carrying portable toner wipes if you can't shower post-workout.

Nix harsh treatments

It's not just about keeping the chest area clean after working out (or generally) but how you do so. Be gentle with the skin.

"Also, avoid using harsh soaps or scrubs on the chest as they can aggravate your skin over time," Fernandez says. "It is better to use scrubby gloves or a loofah once a week to keep skin exfoliated more gently."

Try a mask and exfoliate

A cleanser can go a long way, but you may want to add some semi-regular TLC into your regimen.

"The use of acne and purifying masks, once or twice a week, is another great way to clean and soothe breakouts on the chest area," Aguilar says. "Additionally, exfoliating products on the chest area are just as vital to use as on the face. This will help to remove dead skin cells and congestion and help maintain uniformity from the head to the décolleté."

Keep conditioner off your skin

Conditioner is excellent for the mane. The skin? Not so much.

"When conditioning longer hair, it’s important to keep the hair to the side of the body and rinse completely off," Aguilar says. "By doing this, you can avoid irritation and clogging that conditioner may sometimes cause."

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Protect your chest from the sun

We couldn't get through a skincare story without mentioning SPF.

"The heat of the sun will make acne worse and prevent it from healing," Fernandez says. "Be picky and diligent about SPF on your chest, and be sure to use it every day and triple when you are actually in the sun."

Fernandez recommends an SPF without chemical ingredients and opting for one with zinc and titanium dioxide.

"This is super important since sun exposure combined with acne is a one-way ticket to scars and the breakdown of healthy skin," Fernandez says.

Aside from applying a broad-spectrum SPF, choosing specific wardrobe pieces can also layer on protection.

"To fight a breakout and avoid the next one, choose physical coverage when possible (like high-necked shirts — no V-necks when out in the sun," Fernandez says.

Try an in-office treatment

Sometimes, skin may need some extra love that a drugstore buy can't give it.

"When my clients are dealing with chest acne, my go-to treatment is in-office Alkaline Therapy," Aguilar says. "Alkaline Therapy brings the skin’s pH down to a 3, killing bacteria and softening the skin to help with extractions. Alkaline Therapy not only improves breakouts but also improves scarring and discoloration."

If you're dealing with fungal acne, you may need different treatment

Fungal acne may not respond to some of the above ideas because it's different.

"Fungal acne can sometimes be treated with an over-the-counter antidandruff shampoo, such as Selsun Blue," Coppola says. "It should be applied to the body in the shower and left on for about 5 minutes and then rinsed off."

Talk to your dermatologist first and again if it doesn't work.

"More severe forms of fungal acne may require oral-systemic anti-fungal treatments and warrant evaluation by your primary care provider and or dermatologist," Coppola says.

Up Next: Everything You Need to Know About Fungal Acne