Here’s something that we don’t talk about enough: Butt acne. A lot of people deal with it. And while it’s completely normal, it can be annoying and even painful. But with the right skincare routine, it can usually be treated at home. We caught up with Dr. Robert Finney, a dermatologist at Entière Derm, and Dr. Kathleen Suozzi, assistant professor of dermatology at Yale Medicine, to break down what causes butt acne and what you can do about it.
What is butt acne?
Plot twist: Butt acne — aka the red or dark bumps on your butt — may be one of a few different skin conditions. But it’s not actually acne. “The majority of time when patients are presenting with this complaint of butt acne, typically it is actually a [type of] folliculitis,” said Dr. Suozzi. “This is not really true acne like we see on your face. But instead, it's irritation of the follicles.”
Other possible skin conditions that may fall under the butt acne category are carbuncles and keratosis pilaris.
What causes butt acne?
The causes of butt acne generally come down to irritation, too much heat and moisture, and blocked follicles. But let’s get into the specifics of each type.
The most common case of butt acne is folliculitis. It can sometimes look like pimples. But the hair follicles are actually inflamed. (Yes, butts have hair too.) Typically because of irritation, an overgrowth of certain bacteria, or something that’s blocking the follicle.
The main culprit: moisture and friction from sitting in sweaty clothes. “Trapping in that moisture and occlusion in unbreathable or less-breathable workout wear is going to be a common driver,” said Dr. Suozzi.
And if you don’t change out of those clothes soon after finishing a workout, it increases the chance of irritating the hair follicles on your skin. “The longer sweat sits there and dries especially with tighter fitting clothing, rubbing on the skin, all those things contribute,” said Dr. Finney.
When a group of infected follicles turn into a boil, you get a carbuncle. It’s typically painful and contains pus. “That is a true infection,” said Dr. Finney. A small carbuncle can be treated at home. But if they’re big, they don’t go away with at-home treatment, or they’re on your face, a doctor might drain them and treat them with antibiotics. They could leave you with scars if they’re not treated correctly.
Keratosis pilaris (KP) are small, rough bumps that develop when there’s a buildup of keratin (the protein that makes up your hair, skin, and nails). The good news? The bumps are usually harmless. The bad news? It's based on your genetics. Which means "it's not something that you can cure," said Dr. Suozzi. But there are ways to reduce the appearance of it. (More on that below.)
Are some skin types more prone to butt acne than others?
Nope. Whether you have oily, dry, or combination skin doesn’t make you prone to folliculitis, carbuncles, or KP, according to Dr. Finney. It has more to do with your genetics and your activities. Like if you spend a lot of time in tight or sweaty clothes (hi, athleisure wear) — which may create an environment for bumps that look like butt “pimples.”
So, can you tell me how to get rid of butt acne?
Pro tip: Moisturizers may be even more effective butt acne treatment than cleansers, according to Dr. Finney. “It's always going to be more effective if you have a leave-on product as opposed to something you apply and wash off 15 to 30 seconds later.”
If you’re experiencing folliculitis bumps…Dr. Finney said salicylic acid or glycolic acid may help clear up smaller bumps that aren’t too inflamed. For larger, more inflamed folliculitis, he recommends body washes or moisturizers containing benzoyl peroxide.
For keratosis pilaris…both doctors recommend products that contain bump-smoothing ingredients like ammonium lactate, urea, or salicylic acid. Don’t know where to start? Dr. Suozzi suggests AmLactin or Eucerin Rough and Bumpy.
If you think you might be dealing with carbuncles…apply a warm compress to small boils to promote natural drainage. If they don’t go away, call up your doctor to talk about next steps.
And what about how to prevent butt acne?
To help prevent bumps and infections in the future, keep the area clean. Meaning shower regularly, change out of workout gear right after you exercise, and wear loose-fitting clothing. Also, if you shave, swipe in the direction of your hair growth to reduce friction.
Reminder: Bumps down there (and anywhere) can happen. Whether caused by genetics or by wearing tight-fitting workout clothes after exercising. Thankfully, most cases can be treated at home. But if you experience very painful and inflamed bumps, see a dermatologist for treatment.
Subscribe to Skimm Well
Sign up here to receive our wellness newsletter filled with actionable advice, expert-vetted content, product recs, and more — delivered directly to your inbox.