Need help getting rid of butt acne for good? Learn how it’s done, according to a board-certified derm.
With summer upon us, you might be hesitant to lean into the “sun’s out, buns out” mentality if you struggle with butt acne. Whether the bumps on your bum are angry and red or tiny but tenacious, we get that they can be frustrating… and even downright embarrassing. Perhaps it’s even getting in the way of your summer plans to rock a swimsuit, or maybe it’s complicating your confidence as far as your sex life is concerned.
But what causes these pesky flare-ups to begin with… and do they differ from the triggers behind other types of acne and inflammation? And more importantly, how can you effectively get rid of butt acne once and for all?
We asked NYC–based board-certified cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green, MD, to share must-know intel to smooth out and support your bottom from this day forward.
What Is Butt Acne?
For starters, Dr. Green reminds us that acne generally occurs when sebaceous follicles get clogged with oil, dead skin cells, bacteria, dirt, and debris. “The clogged pore triggers inflammation, which leads to whiteheads, blackheads, pustules, nodules, and cysts,” she explains. While this can occur on any body part with sebaceous follicles, there’s a high concentration of them on the face, upper arms, back, chest, and butt.
However, it turns out that butt acne might not actually be acne to begin with. “People with breakouts on the buttocks are typically experiencing folliculitis,” Dr. Green clarifies. In this case, hair (rather than sebaceous) follicles get clogged from sweat and the same sources of buildup noted above, leading to inflamed bumps that resemble pimples but aren’t quite that.
But it also could be another dermatological issue. “Keratosis pilaris (KP) is a harmless skin condition that can cause small red bumps on the buttocks,” she adds, which can also get conflated with legit butt acne. “Occasionally, acne-like bumps on the buttocks can result from an allergic reaction on the skin,” resulting in contact dermatitis.
What Causes Butt Acne?
Again, a bumpy bum is likely to be attributed to irritated and inflamed hair follicles—aka folliculitis—rather than true acne.
Dr. Green says that the key causes behind it include:
- Friction from tight clothing, such as leggings
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Hygienic issues, such as not showering after sweating or working out
- Improper hair removal techniques
If you’re experiencing actual butt acne, it makes sense that hormones—namely androgens—are a key cause triggering flare-ups. “Fluctuating hormone levels trigger the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum,” Dr. Green explains. “The excess oil gets trapped in the pores along with acne-causing bacteria, leading to skin irritation and inflammation characteristic of an acne breakout.” If you already experience hormonal acne on your face in tandem with your menstrual cycle, there’s a chance those breakouts can develop on your butt, as well.
Sex hormones aside, cortisol also has the potential to contribute to the development of butt acne. “An increase in cortisol during stressful events causes the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum,” says Dr. Green. The result: more buildup and a greater likelihood of breaking out.
As is the case with facial and body acne, an unhealthy diet (think: sugary foods and drinks, highly processed foods, and fast food) can trigger or exacerbate butt acne.
Unfortunately, some of us are more likely to be acneic on account of our DNA alone. “Genetics play a large role in acne. Some are naturally more prone to acne breakouts than others,” Dr. Green shares. While we can’t change our genes, the good news is that we have the power to reduce the severity of breakouts via a mix of hygiene, diet, and lifestyle practices… plus a few key ingredients that are ideal to kick butt acne to the curb.
How to Get Rid of Butt Acne
To be, well… less bummed out about the breakouts on your bum, follow the expert-vetted tips and tricks below.
1. Address the Main Causes of Folliculitis
If you’re experiencing folliculitis rather than acne, it makes sense to target the key causes of folliculitis and plan your protocol from there. To reduce the chances of trapping buildup on your bottom, Dr. Green advises:
- Wearing loose, breathable clothing to minimize friction
- Prioritizing movement throughout the day, since “sitting for a long time can cause friction and contribute to sweat and bacteria buildup, leading to infected and inflamed hair follicles”
- Washing your bottom in the shower, especially directly after exercising or sweating
- Considering laser hair removal, which she says can help prevent ingrown hairs and folliculitis in the long run
2. Use the Best Ingredients for Butt Acne
The right ingredients and products can make a major difference in your quest to get rid of butt acne. Dr. Green recommends using an acne-fighting body wash while showering—namely one that includes benzoyl peroxide (to kill acne-causing bacteria on the skin and within the hair follicles) or salicylic acne (to deep clean pores and reduce flares).
(Note: While physical exfoliators like grainy scrubs and manual devices may yield noticeably softer skin after use, some can be harsh and may even inflame the skin even more. Tolerance and results will vary from one person to the next, but just take care to use a light hand to avoid making your butt acne worse.)
If it’s actually KP that you’re dealing with, Dr. Green says that salicylic acid can also come in handy. So, too, can AHAs like lactic acid, as well as urea, which she explains can loosen and remove keratin and the buildup of dead skin cells. But that’s not all. “Retinoids are commonly used to treat KP because they promote skin cell turnover and prevent clogged hair follicles,” she adds.
Need some product recs? Consider checking out:
- Naturium The Perfector Salicylic Acid Body Wash
- StackedSkincare TCA Multi-Acid Body Peel
- Versed Back-Up Plan Acne-Control Body Mist
- Soft Services Carea Cream Daily Toning Lotion
While active ingredients are potent enough to keep your bumps at bay, Dr. Green warns that they can be drying. With that in mind, always remember to moisturize after using them. Moreover, exfoliants and retinoids heighten photosensitivity, so don’t forget to apply sunscreen when wearing shorts or swimwear outdoors.
3. Modify Your Diet
There are infinite benefits of sticking to a healthy, balanced diet—with the potential to get rid of acne (on your butt and otherwise) among them. “Highly processed foods and foods high in sugar cause a quick increase in blood sugar levels,” Dr. Green explains. “When blood sugar levels increase, the body produces insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1),” both of which she says are associated with the heightened production of sebum and thus more breakouts.
Moreover, according to a 2022 review, “High glycemic index, increased glycemic load, and carbohydrate intake have a modest yet significant proacnegenic effect.” (Dairy consumption may also spur breakouts in some people, as well.)
According to Dr. Green, foods worth limiting to avoid these spikes and ensuing breakouts include the likes of:
- White bread
- White rice
- Sugary drinks, like soda and fruit juice
- Processed snacks, like potato chips and cereal
- Fried foods
4. Consult a Dermatologist
Hopefully, the tips and methods above will steer you in the right direction to help clear up your butt acne (or folliculitis or KP). But if you’re still battling angry bumps and pesky buildup on your bottom, you’ll likely want to visit your derm for a personalized protocol.
“If consistent use of OTC acne products and lifestyle changes are not clearing your butt acne—and if the butt acne negatively affects your mental health and self-esteem—it is time to seek help from a board-certified dermatologist,” says Dr. Green. Your derm can determine if it’s actually butt acne or another issue that you’re dealing with. From there, they can determine the most effective treatments to soften, smooth, and clear up the area. “A physician can also prescribe oral and topical medications like Accutane, spironolactone, and antibiotics [as needed],” she continues.
Although butt acne can put a damper on your summer plans and self-esteem, know that it doesn’t have to. By making a few easy lifestyle modifications, using the right bump-busting ingredients, and limiting certain triggering foods from your diet, you can anticipate at least some improvement in your flare-ups. If you need more assistance and/or want to fast-track your way to a smoother, clearer bum, don’t hesitate to discuss your symptoms and options with a professional. No matter which route(s) your take, we hope you’ll be feeling peachy in no time.