acne treatments

How to Get Rid of Butt Acne, According to Dermatologists

Illustration: Chaimae Khouldi; Photos: Retailers

Body acne is annoying wherever it appears. But butt acne — or “buttne” in skin-care circles — is more serious than a seemingly ready-to-pop whitehead in that if you don’t do anything about it, there’s a greater chance of infection, bigger bumps that spread, and a combo of discoloration and dark spots.

Just like acne anywhere else, causes run the gamut from hyperactive hormones to genetics. It’s possible to see a combination of comedones (whiteheads and blackheads), pustules (which are pus-filled), papules (which are not), and cysts, says Dr. Noelani Gonzalez, a clinical instructor at Mount Sinai Hospital. But you could also have a case of folliculitis, an inflammation of hair follicles resulting in bumps that are commonly mistaken for acne. Because folliculitis leaves a trail of redness and itchiness, dermatologist Dr. Adeline Kikam of @brownskinderm prefers the term “butt breakouts,” while Dr. Debra Jaliman — a dermatology professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the author of Skin Rules — similarly refers to it as a rash.

But whether you have folliculitis or actual acne, the strategy for defeating bumps on your behind is pretty similar. Below, we break down how to get rid of a butt breakout with recommendations from seven dermatologists. While our experts differed on the exact step-by-step process, most did agree that the best game plan for a smooth, clear-skinned bum boils down to cleansing, treating, and moisturizing. (There are some optional steps we’ve noted too.) And if you’re experiencing persistent butt acne, book an appointment with your dermatologist ASAP.

Clean with a wash featuring acne-fighting active ingredients

Anyone who’s acne-prone knows benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid for their pimple-busting properties. Dr. Sandra Lee, a.k.a. Dr. Pimple Popper and the founder of SLMD Skincare, describes these as “maximum-strength ingredients,” especially useful since your butt skin tends to be thicker than that on your face. All of the dermatologists we talked to recommended a wash with either ingredient, but benzoyl peroxide was the more popular of the two.

PanOxyl’s benzoyl peroxide washes were the most mentioned among our experts — Kikam, Gonzalez, Dr. Heidi A. Waldorf of Waldorf Dermatology Aesthetics, and Dr. Marisa Garshick of MDCS Dermatology name-checked the brand. This cleanser contains a higher than average amount of benzoyl peroxide (4 percent versus the usual 2.5). But it’s not the highest concentration you’ll see — PanOxyl makes a wash with 10 percent benzoyl peroxide that Garshick says you could build up to if needed, though she points out that some studies have shown that a higher concentration doesn’t equal more effectiveness.

Benzoyl peroxide can cause itchiness, redness, and dryness, but this creamy cleanser features emollients and humectants like glycerin to reduce those side effects and “boost tolerability,” Garshick adds. Just make sure to rinse it off completely to avoid bleach stains on towels, robes, and sheets. (And if you want a double-duty cleanser that works on your face, Gonzalez okayed this foaming face wash from CeraVe.)

Salicylic acid — a staple in many medicine cabinets already — is helpful for unclogging pores and sloughing away dead skin cells. “For this reason, larger red bumps tend to be best treated with benzoyl peroxide while smaller breakouts will often do well with a salicylic-acid-containing cleanser,” Garshick says. (You can alternate between the two depending on what’s popping up on your skin.) This CeraVe recommendation comes courtesy of Garshick and Jaliman, who both praise its pore-clearing abilities without causing dryness or irritation. There’s niacinamide and hyaluronic acid in there too — the two work together to strengthen the skin barrier, making it “excellent for sensitive skin,” according to Jaliman. We’ve also heard good things about Neutrogena’s Body Clear wash from Kikam and New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Michele Green, who recommends using it twice daily.

Or opt for an antibacterial soap

Butt acne is sometimes the consequence of not showering after sweaty workouts, so you might want to introduce an antibacterial soap to take care of bacteria. Waldorf likes this folliculitis-focused CLn SportWash; its standout ingredient is sodium hypochlorite, which she describes as a “less potent relative of hypochlorous acid.” (Hypochlorous acid heals our skin from bacteria.) That means there’s a lower chance of irritation compared to benzoyl peroxide, though Waldorf says the BP may be a better choice if you have very active acne.

Apply a toner with exfoliating acids

After cleansing, you’ll want to apply a toner with exfoliating acids to help even out texture — either salicylic acid (a BHA or beta hydroxy acid) or alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic and lactic acids. Despite the “peeling” in its name, this toner has a low percentage of glycolic acid, which keeps it gentle yet effective in unclogging pores, Jaliman explains.

Garshick likes these on-the-go-friendly salicylic acid wipes because they’re easy to use, especially on hard-to-reach affected areas. These remove excess oil, dirt, and buildup to prevent future breakouts, and the antioxidant-rich green-tea extract calms red and irritated skin.

If you want something even more convenient, Garshick gives a thumbs-up to this Glytone treatment spray. Besides salicylic acid, its other star ingredients are gluconolactone and glycerin; the former is a gentle exfoliator, while the latter helps with scarring. There’s aloe in the formula, too, which has antibacterial and redness-reducing properties. Caution: Choose either the pads or the spray as using them consecutively can be too irritating.

And if you’re worried about hyperpigmentation

Whatever you do, don’t pick your buttne. Dark spots, or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, can result from poking and prodding, according to New York City–based dermatologist Dr. Hadley King. If you have marks already, this King-approved toner-tonic will help brighten those areas with vitamin C, while lactic acid mildly exfoliates and hydrates. King particularly likes this for those who have melanin-rich skin.

Or go the retinoid route

Adapalene falls under the category of retinoids, which are best explained by our skin-care-expert-slash-contributor Rio Viera Newton as an “umbrella term for any cream derived from vitamin A”, including radiance-boosting retinol. Formerly prescription-only, adapalene is the strongest retinol you can get over the counter to treat mild to moderate acne; Kikam and King both approve of its use for buttne. There’s a long list of benefits, but King and Kikam highlight adapalene’s ability to decrease discoloration and reduce healing time. Heads up, though: An exfoliating acid (like those above) can “deactivate” a retinoid, so instead of applying one after another, space them out at different times of the day or on alternate days. The other caveat that we get more into here is that, though retinoids and retinol are the gold standard for acne woes, those with darker skin should consult a derm before applying as it can lead to even more hyperpigmentation.

Have a one-off spot? Go for a spot treatment.

If your booty just has a blemish here and there, a more targeted application method is your best bet. This spot treatment from La Roche-Posay (a longtime Strategist favorite) comes recommended by Garshick, Green, and Gonzalez. The breakout-reducing benzoyl peroxide attacks acne-causing bacteria, while the tiny percentage of lipo-hydroxy acid “micro-exfoliates,” Gonzalez says. When applying, make sure to rub it in completely so it doesn’t come off on clothing.

Finish with a lactic-acid-rich lotion

Good: a noncomedogenic moisturizer. Better: one that exfoliates. “With butt acne, the pores are clogged so that’s why an exfoliating cream is important,” Jaliman explains. AmLactin creams feature lactic acid, which smooths skin (especially after something like a salicylic or glycolic toner). Jaliman is partial to the Rapid Relief lotion, which features a generous amount of lactic acid as well as hydrating ceramides.

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How to Get Rid of Butt Acne, According to Dermatologists