Pimples on your buttocks are unsightly, annoying … and, believe it or not, typically are not considered acne. “True acne on the buttock is rare,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and the director of cosmetic and clinical research in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Another board-certified dermatologist, Jamie MacKelfresh, MD, an associate professor of dermatology at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, concurs. “Acne on the buttocks is not like the true acne you get on your face, chest, or back,” Dr. MacKelfresh says.
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In general, acne is defined as plugged pores, pimples, and cysts (which go deeper under the skin than pimples) that occur on the face, neck, shoulders, upper arms, and upper back or chest. “Acne is caused by a buildup of oil trapped within the follicles, leading to overgrowth of acne-causing bacteria and subsequent inflammation,” says Dr. Zeichner. “There are high levels of oil glands on the chest, back, and upper arms, and that explains why acne may develop there,” he adds.
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Bumps on your bum, on the other hand, are likely due to other causes. And while the exact number of cases is unknown, so-called butt "acne" may be on the rise, because, as the market research firm NPD notes, more people are wearing tight, clingy clothing. This type of clothing, termed athleisure, may contribute to these skin problems due to its tightness, especially when you work out and keep the clothes on afterward, dermatologists say.
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Read on to discover what may lead to these annoying bumps, and what you can potentially do to help get rid of them.
Pictures of ‘Buttne’ Types: Getting to the Bottom of Your Skin Problem
Sometimes referred to as “buttne,” an outbreak of pimples on the buttocks may be caused by the following problems. Find descriptions and pictures of each below.
“Acne-like bumps on the buttocks are caused by inflammation of hair follicles, which is called folliculitis,” says MacKelfresh. Folliculitis can be caused by an infection from bacteria, yeast, or fungus, irritation of hair follicles, or blockage of hair follicles, she says. Often, notes the Mayo Clinic, it is caused by Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria on the surface of human skin.
Folliculitis appears as shallow little bumps, and can feel itchy and sore, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“I most commonly see a condition called folliculitis,” Zeichner concurs. “Folliculitis on the buttocks typically develops because of friction between clothing and the skin, combined with sweating, which disrupts the outer skin layer,” he says.
A cluster of boils, a carbuncle feels like a painful knot of pus under the skin, similar to the way an acne cyst feels, according to an article in American Family Physician. They can occur when folliculitis gets out of control and starts to become a deeper infection, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center.
FYI: Having acne does not affect your risk of having either folliculitis or carbuncles. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, though acne and folliculitis (or carbuncles) may look similar, they are indeed different skin conditions. Having severe acne on your face and torso does not mean you are more likely to have folliculitis or carbuncles on your buttocks. Both carbuncles and folliculitis can lead to scarring if not handled correctly, notes the University of Rochester.
Good news — these small bumps that appear on the buttocks (almost resembling goose flesh) generally don’t hurt or itch, and are typically harmless, according to the Mayo Clinic. The Mayo Clinic notes that they’re caused when a protein called keratin — which usually protects the skin — ends up blocking the follicle opening. Experts aren't sure why this occurs, but keratosis pilaris may appear in conjunction with other skin conditions or genetic diseases. If you find similar bumps on your outer arms and legs there's a good chance those butt bumps are keratosis pilaris, according to the Mayo Clinic.
According to doctors at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, bumps on the buttocks may be due to an allergy caused by the chemical preservative MI (methylisothiazolinone), found in moistened flushable wipes. For some people, these wipes can cause allergic contact dermatitis, according to research published in JAMA Dermatology.
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Treatment Options for Getting Rid of ‘Buttne’
Your treatment will depend on whether you have folliculitis, carbuncles, keratosis pilaris, or an allergy.
Here’s what to expect.
Folliculitis treatment Most of the time, folliculitis eruptions go away on their own. If not, a dermatologist can prescribe a combination of products to clear up your skin. “Often, ‘butt acne’ can be treated with a topical antibiotic cream or an antibacterial wash such as one that contains benzoyl peroxide,” says MacKelfresh. Rarely, you might need an oral antibiotic or an antifungal medication.
“Look for cleansers that contain 10 percent benzoyl peroxide, an ingredient that lowers levels of acne-causing bacteria and reduces inflammation,” says Zeichner. “Let the cleanser lather on the skin while you sing the alphabet before rinsing off — this ensures enough contact time for the active ingredient to do its job.”
Carbuncle treatment Because carbuncles go deeper, treatment is more intensive. You may be given an antibiotic (oral or topical) to fight the infection, according to MedlinePlus. Your healthcare provider may also need to lance, or pierce, the boil to drain the accumulated pus in a safe, sterile setting. The area will then be covered with a bandage. Never try to drain a carbuncle yourself at home.
Keratosis pilaris treatment Because the condition is painless, and often considered just a variation of normal skin, according to the Mayo Clinic, it can’t be prevented, though moisturizer may help if you’re dealing with dry patches.
Allergy treatment Hold off on using any moistened wipes for one month. If you only abstain for a week or two, you may not see your skin clear up, say doctors at the Ohio State University.
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How to Help Prevent ‘Pimples’ From Popping Up on Your Buttocks
“You can prevent ‘butt acne’ by staying in good health overall,” says MacKelfresh. Try taking these precautions:
- Wear loose clothing whenever possible. Tight clothing, especially when combined with sweat, can cause skin irritation that leads to folliculitis. Be sure to change your clothes and take a shower after exercise. Also, the Mayo Clinic advises using a fresh towel and washcloth after bathing.
- Work with your doctor to bring any chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, under control. Chronic health issues can make it harder for your body to fight off infection.
- If you do get folliculitis, make sure you get it promptly under control to avoid carbuncles and the need for more aggressive treatment.
- Avoid moistened flushable wipes, especially those made with MI.
Additional reporting by Leslie Barrie.