Cause of Acne on the Arms:
Acne on your arms has very similar causes as acne everywhere else on your body. For a complete understanding of how a pimple occurs, check out our page devoted to the lifecycle of a pimple. In short, your hormones cause an increase in oil production in your follicle (or pore). The increased oil creates an environment for bacteria in your skin to replicate. This causes your pore to clog and a pimple is created.
How is Acne on the Arms different than Acne on the Face?
The skin on your arm is much thicker than the skin on your face. Thicker skin means much larger pores. The increased size of the arm’s pores makes it harder for them to clog; however, when they do, it will cause more severe acne on average than the face. Why? Because there is a much larger buildup of oil and bacteria.
The other major difference between face and arm acne is that your arms deal with the friction of wearing long sleeves. Your clothes consistently rub against your skin which can make it easier to trap dirt and oil in your pore.
How to Treat Acne on the Arms:
While it is rare, it is possible to get mild acne (whiteheads and blackheads) on your arms. Over-the-counter products like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are effective at treating mild acne if applied regularly. Most likely, you’re dealing with full fledged pimples and possibly even cysts. If this is the case, you need prescription medication to effectively clear your skin. Theses medications include topical retinoids and antibiotics, which can only be obtained from a licensed physician. The doctor will most likely combine over-the-counter products with prescription medication in your treatment plan.
Arm acne is annoying and unsightly, but it is treatable. Your best bet is getting a consultation with a dermatologist who can accurately diagnose your severity and create a personalized treatment plan including prescription medications. If you don’t already have a dermatologist, or if you want a more convenient way to get consultations, take a look at our online dermatology service (only available in California).
- Strauss, J et al., “Guidelines of Care for Acne Vulgaris Management.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 56.4 (2007): 651-63. Web. <http://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(06)02346-2/fulltext#back-bib88>.
- Thiboutot, Diane. “New Insights into the Management of Acne: An Update from the Global Alliance to Improve Outcomes in Acne Group.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 60.5 (2009): S1-S50. Web. <http://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(09)00082-6/fulltext>.
- Brodell, Robert T., MD. “Treatment with Adapalene-benzoyl Peroxide Improve Quality of Life in Patients with Severe Acne Vulgaris.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 8.4 (2013): AB19. Web. <http://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(12)01361-8/fulltext>.