When it comes to acne, there are ways to treat and prevent new and existing breakouts. By far, of all skin conditions, acne is the most common in the United States, affecting about 50 million people around the country, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Although teenagers and young adults often face acne, adult acne is also a problem and the number continues to increase.

Finding information on facial acne – whether it’s a popular new mask or hormonal acne – is pretty easy, but specific body acne tips are a bit hard to find, which means it are often overlooked and stigmatized. While body acne is nothing to be ashamed of, like any other skin condition, it’s something that needs to be monitored and treated if needed. Our bodies deserve the same care as our faces and one of the most effective ways to treat body acne can be found in topical retinoids.

What are retinoids and how do they work?

Retinoids, like retinol, are a derivative of vitamin A. However, as board-certified dermatologist Stacy Chimento, MD, explains, Teen magazine, “Retinols are a much weaker version of retinoids.” Today, there are both prescription and over-the-counter retinoid treatments on the market, and they are commonly found in acne and so-called “anti-aging” products. But how exactly do retinoid creams and serums work?

“Topical retinoids increase skin cell turnover to generate healthy new skin cells, promote collagen, and improve the overall quality, texture and tone of the skin,” explains Dr. Chimento. “Retinoids are a great treatment choice for acne because it increases cell turnover to remove dead skin cells and debris that have built up on the skin.” In contrast to alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid, which are exfoliants commonly found in acne treatments, “active retinoids” much deeper in the skin to induce more significant cell turnover and to promote collagen production,” says Dr Chimento, adding that retinoids can be used “virtually anywhere on the body”.

So whether you want to treat acne on your face, neck, chest, arms, shoulders, back or buttocks, topical retinoids could be the ingredient you’re after. (Be extra careful around sensitive areas, though, and as Dr. Chimento advises, if you’re using them on your face, always avoid lips and eyelids.)

Can anyone use retinoids?

For the most part, yes, but, like with any skin care ingredient, it’s best to check with your dermatologist before including retinoids in your body acne routine. Chimento warns: “Although most people can benefit from using a retinoid, it should not be used by patients with very sensitive skin such as rosacea or eczema-prone skin,” Dr. Chimento warned.

Whenever retinoids come up in a skincare conversation, questions about at what age they should be introduced almost always arise. However, Dr. Chimento said “there is usually no age limit for retinoid use.” If you have acne, a retinoid (prescription or over-the-counter) is often used during or even slightly before puberty. (For reference, as of 2016, Adapalene, a topical retinoid, is FDA-approved for over-the-counter use in adults and children 12 years of age and older.)

Is there something causing acne on my body?

While our approach may be fundamentally different, in reality, body acne and facial acne are quite similar. Just like acne on the face, acne on the body can also be affected by external factors. “One thing we often see is that acne caused by wearing tight pants or tights can create folliculitis in the buttocks or groin,” says Dr. Chimento.


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