Itchy Back Acne And Treatment Options
If you suffer from itchy back acne, you may avoid some of the social problems that regular acne presents. In most people, acne is usually confined to the face, nose and cheeks (the so-called 'T zone'). However, acne can be found on other parts of the body such as the shoulders, legs, buttocks, and back. This is commonly called body acne and if it is on the back, the informal term is 'bacne.'
You may think that having back acne may be a relative blessing. Unlike facial acne, it cannot be seen and this spares the sufferer some of the social embarrassment and body image issues that typically accompany facial acne. But acne that is on the back, and especially itchy back acne, can be a torment. Having acne can be a miserable experience and having acne that itches makes it worse. And having acne that itches in a place that can't be easily reached - the back - is worse still.
What causes itchy back acne, and what does it look like? The lesions themselves are formed because excess skin oil and dead skin cells are produced and clog the pores. The result is whiteheads and blackheads, and if the clogged pore becomes infected and inflamed, red, pus-filled lesions form, and these can be very itchy (Note: there are other skin conditions that can mimic itchy back acne such as folliculitis and dermatitis. If you're not sure if your symptoms are due to acne, see a doctor). There are multiple factors such as heredity, age, hormone production, and excess secretion of skin oils that can cause acne on the back; the exact cause is not known for sure. Some of the more obvious causes are clothes that are too tight (irritating the skin and not allowing the pores to drain), heavy backpacks (again, irritation of the skin and not allowing the pores to drain), and irritating cosmetics or cleansers. The itching itself is thought to be a primitive defense mechanism that helped us detect the presence of parasites on our skin so they could be removed.
But regardless of the cause, itchy back acne can be a miserable experience. You're itching, but it's hard to scratch. Not only that, your natural reaction is to try and alleviate the itching by scratching and that can make the situation worse by producing the 'itch-scratch-itch cycle' that is common in itchy back acne. The acne itches, the back is scratched, the sensitive, inflamed skin is damaged, this aggravates the acne, the itchy back acne becomes progressively worse, you'll scratch even more and the cycle continues.
How should itchy back acne be treated? Most of the recommended therapy is basically the same as it is for acne on any other part of the body (One thing to remember. Because of the thickness of the skin on the back, acne there may be more difficult to treat). Excess oil should be removed with gentle cleaners (harsh cleaners and vigorous scrubbing are not recommended) and excess debris on the skin should be removed with an exfoliant. You can try over-the-counter antibacterials that have antibacterial action (benzoyl peroxide is popular).You can also try topical ointments such as retinoids (e.g. isotretinoin) that are derivatives of vitamin A, or antibiotics, or oral antibiotics can be used.
What about antihistamines? These have a place in traditional medicine for treating pruritus (itching) but they are almost never mentioned as a treatment for the itching associated with acne. Possible benefits would include a) alleviation of the symptoms of itchy back acne, b) reduction of stress (The antihistamines have a sedating effect and stress may be a cause of acne), and c) a possible synergistic effect when given with the macrolide antibiotics, e.g. erythromycin: possible drawbacks would the common side effects of antihistamines, especially drowsiness, dry mouth etc. Finally, what about the steroids, e.g. prednisone. These have long been used for their anti-inflammatory action, but as a common side effect of these drugs is acne, there is little support for their use.
You can read more about treating itchy back acne here.