Shoulder Acne 101: Understanding the Root Causes

Feeling frustrated with stubborn shoulder breakouts? We’re discussing exactly what causes shoulder acne, and what you can do to banish these pesky body breakouts for good.

Shoulder Acne 101: Understanding the Root Causes

Feeling frustrated with stubborn shoulder breakouts? We’re discussing exactly what causes shoulder acne, and what you can do to banish these pesky body breakouts for good.

Feeling frustrated with stubborn shoulder breakouts? We’re discussing exactly what causes shoulder acne, and what you can do to banish these pesky body breakouts for good. 

What Causes Shoulder Acne?

The shoulders are prone to different forms of acne, varying from mild to severe. This includes whiteheads, blackheads, pustules, papules, and cysts – basically the works. 

But exactly why does shoulder acne occur? Just like with acne on the face, there’s a long list of potential triggers that could be causing your breakouts. We know – it’s super frustrating! 

To help you get down to the root of your breakouts, let’s talk about some of the most common causes of shoulder acne. 


It might come as a bit of a surprise, but friction against the skin is one of the top triggers for breakouts on and around the shoulders. This type of breakout is referred to as acne mechanica

Unlike acne vulgaris, which is tied to hormones and other internal influences, acne mechanica is directly caused by friction, pressure, or stretching of the skin. This might come in the form of tight-fitting clothing, a sports bra digging into your shoulders, or a purse strap or backpack rubbing against your skin. These external factors can aggravate the area, increasing your risk of experiencing breakouts. 

The Remedy: When possible, avoid wearing tight-fitting clothes that may irritate the skin. Ladies, make sure your bra straps are not digging into your skin, and loosen them a little if they are. If you use a purse or backpack that rubs on the skin, consider adding shoulder pads to the straps to reduce friction. 

Heat and Sweat

Another factor that adds fuel to the acne mechanica flame is heat. When you break a sweat, anything rubbing against your shoulders – whether it be from a sports bra, a backpack, or something else – traps the sweat (along with pore-clogging debris) in the skin. This is why so many athletes and active individuals tend to battle with breakouts around the shoulders. 

Even when there isn’t any friction against the skin, sweat alone can trigger acne. This is especially true when sweat is kept on the skin for longer periods of time, as the sweat buildup can hold bacteria, dirt, dead skin cells, and other debris to the skin, increasing the likelihood of clogging the pores. 

The Remedy: In addition to our tips for reducing friction against the skin, be sure to shower as soon as possible after breaking a sweat. For an extra precaution against breakouts, consider washing your skin with an acne-fighting body wash.  

Synthetic Fabrics

On a similar note, synthetic fabrics (think nylon, polyester, and rayon) are also huge external triggers for shoulder breakouts. Compared to natural materials, these types of fabrics are far less breathable. They trap heat and sweat against the skin, further increasing the risk of clogged pores. Wear a tight-fitting shirt made out of synthetic fabric during a sweaty workout, and you have the ultimate environment for breakouts.

The Remedy: For the back and shoulder acne-prone, avoid wearing shirts made with unbreathable synthetic fabrics, especially when working out. Instead, reach for natural fibers, such as cotton, hemp, and bamboo-based fabrics. And don’t forget to shower and change right after your workout! 

Shoulder acne and back acne causes

Pore-Clogging Lotions

If you’re battling acne on the shoulders, you should take a moment to assess your body lotion. Many formulas are made with comedogenic ingredients – AKA ingredients that are known to clog pores. While the list of pore-clogging ingredients is (unfortunately) endless, some examples of common culprits found in body lotions include coconut oil, avocado oil, lanolin, and cocoa butter. 

The Remedy: Take a look at your go-to body lotion, and see if it is made with any known comedogenic ingredients. Pay special attention to the first ingredients on the list, as ingredients are listed from highest to lowest concentration. Repeat the process for any other topical products you use on your shoulders, such as sunscreen. 

Whey Protein

If you use a whey-based protein powder, it may be playing a role in your shoulder acne. Whey protein increases the production of insulin-like growth factor 1 (AKA IGF-1). While this hormone can be beneficial for building muscle, research suggests it may also increase sebum production and inflammation levels – both of which are problematic when it comes to maintaining clear skin. 

Research has suggested that there is a strong correlation between acne eruptions and whey protein, particularly back and body acne. For example, in one small study, researchers found that six teenagers with truncal acne (that is, acne on the chest, back and/or shoulders) who used whey protein saw improvement in their skin after they stopped taking the protein supplement. A similar pattern was reported in another small case study of five athletes with acne. Researchers found that four of the participants saw acne lesions completely clear after they stopped using whey. 

The Remedy: Swap out your whey protein powder for a plant-based alternative. Hemp protein is a great option. Bonus: it is packed with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for post-workout recovery and your skin. It’s a win-win! 

Gut Imbalance

An unbalanced gut microbiome can trigger facial acne – and there’s a chance it may extend down to the shoulders. Researchers have found that acne patients tend to have less microbiome diversity when compared to patients with clear skin, and that they may have reduced levels of beneficial bacteria strains, including lactobacillus and bifidobacteria strains.   

Further research has revealed that certain probiotics can help reduce acne breakouts. For example, in one study, researchers had acne patients supplement with gut-friendly bacteria Lactobacillus rhamnosus SP1 for 12 weeks. They found that this regimen reduced back breakouts for 80% of the participants, and this improvement was believed to be due to the probiotics impact on IGF-1 (the hormone we talked about above) and by normalizing skin expression of genes involved in insulin signaling. It’s important to note that insulin resistance is believed to have a role in breakouts

The Remedy: Support gut health and bust breakouts with Glow Biome – the first and only probiotic on the market made with Lactobacillus rhamnosus SP1. The daily supplement is formulated with 6 clinically validated probiotic strains that help improve microbiome diversity to balance the gut and help clear the skin from within. 

Several customers and clinical trial participants have noted improvements in their body acne after they started taking Glow Biome.

Probiotics for shoulder acne

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