Acne is a very common skin condition, affecting nearly everyone at one time or another. While acne is most common on the face, many acne sufferers also have breakouts on other areas of the body. These can appear on the back, shoulders, chest, buttocks, arms and legs. Body acne poses no threat to health, but can be very uncomfortable and embarrassing for those who suffer such outbreaks.
As with facial acne, the exact causes of acne on the forearms or other body acne are not known as of 2010. Modern medicine can, however, explain how acne develops. Three factors contribute to the development of acne, the Mayo Clinic explains on its website: overproduction of sebum, or skin oil; irregular shedding of dead skin cells resulting in the irritation of hair follicles; and the build-up of bacteria. Acne occurs when the excess oil and dead skin cells form a soft plug in the hair follicle, which leads to the formation of acne lesions.
Acne lesions can appear in a number of forms. These include light and moderate forms, such as comedones, which are hair follicles clogged by sebum and dead skin cells; papules, which are small raised bumps that may be red and tender, indicating inflammation or infection; and pustules, which are red, tender bumps tipped with white pus. More severe forms of acne include nodules, which are large, painful lumps that form beneath the surface of the skin, and cysts, which are painful, pus-filled lumps under the skin similar to boils. People prone to body acne may have breakouts in areas where clothing or other items rub against and irritate the skin.
Mild or moderate acne on the forearms may respond to over-the-counter acne treatments, such as topical creams that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. More severe body acne or stubborn mild to moderate cases may require the assistance of a dermatologist to resolve. Among the treatments a medical professional can prescribe are prescription-strength topical treatments and systemic acne medications like antibiotics or isotretinoin.
The AcneNet recommends showering immediately after athletic activities to help prevent outbreaks of body acne, as well as wearing cotton clothing to absorb perspiration and reduce friction to the skin. The Mayo Clinic recommends washing acne-prone skin once or twice daily with a gentle cleanser and using oil-free, water-based skin-care products to reduce acne outbreaks.
No acne treatment will yield instant results. It can take four to eight weeks to see improvement with most acne treatments, the Mayo Clinic advises, and your acne may get worse before it gets better. Topical acne treatments can have side effects, such as skin dryness and irritation. Isotretinoin is associated with severe birth defects, so women who are or might become pregnant should avoid it.