Who Is at Risk for Acne Mechanica?

Updated December 15, 2014.

All About Acne Mechanica:

Acne mechanica is a form of acne common in young athletes, students, soldiers, and others. It is triggered by excess heat, pressure, friction or rubbing of the skin. Acne mechanica can occur anywhere on the face or body. Those who are already prone to body acne are more likely to develop acne mechanica.

What Does Acne Mechanica Look Like?:

Acne mechanica varies in appearance from small, inconspicuous comedones to inflamed papules and pustules.

In the beginning stages the skin may feel rough or bumpy, even if no breakouts are easily visible. As the source of the friction continues, these tiny breakouts become irritated and progress to more obvious, inflamed pimples.

The Cause of Acne Mechanica:

Anything that traps heat against the body for a prolonged period of time, rubs or puts pressure on the skin, can trigger acne mechanica. Athletic equipment is a prime culprit, especially among teen boys. Football or hockey pads, baseball caps, sweatbands, and helmets can elicit a breakout on the face or body of athletes. Sports gear traps heat and sweat against the skin, which can easily lead to acne mechanica.

Soldiers are another group commonly affected by this form of acne. Packing heavy gear for long periods of time puts pressure on the skin, causing irritation and breakouts. Those soldiers stationed in hot, humid areas have a higher chance of developing acne mechanica.

Tight clothing and undergarments can also cause acne mechanica. It’s not uncommon for acne to develop under tight bra straps, the inner thighs, or on the buttocks of sufferers.

Other causes include backpack or purse straps, playing a musical instrument (for example, tucking a violin under the chin), and excessive phone use.

Treatment of Acne Mechanica:

Most cases of acne mechanica respond well to over-the-counter salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide treatments. Try a facial cleanser or body wash containing one of these ingredients, and use it daily. Thoroughly cleanse the affected areas, but do not scrub. The added friction caused by scrubbing away at the skin can actually worsen breakouts. It’s best to use a soft washcloth or your bare hands.

Instead of a cleanser, you can also try benzoyl peroxide lotions. Apply to all areas affected by acne. Begin by applying just a few times per week, and gradually work up to twice a day. Allowing your skin to acclimate to the treatment will help prevent uncomfortable dryness and possible peeling of the skin.

Also, be aware that benzoyl peroxide will bleach fabric. Wait until the product is completely absorbed before getting dressed or wear old clothing you don’t mind getting stained.

Wearing synthetic fabric seems to worsen acne mechanica because they trap heat against the body. Whenever possible wear natural fabrics, like breathable cotton. Since most sports uniforms are made from synthetic fabrics, make it a habit to wear a cotton t-shirt underneath. This is especially important under athletic pads, to help reduce the amount of friction on the skin. Athletes suffering from acne mechanica should always shower immediately after sporting activities as well, to rinse away irritating sweat.

Maybe the best treatment of all is to avoid the cause of acne mechanica, if at all possible. Try a handheld bag instead of a backpack. Don’t wear hats or caps for long periods of time.

Some causes of acne mechanica you can’t realistically avoid. Soldiers can’t stop packing gear. Athletes shouldn’t stop playing sports. The best you can do is limit the amount of heat and friction on the skin when you can, and focus on clearing acne with topical treatments.

See your doctor if you are having trouble controlling acne mechanica after several weeks of using over-the-counter products. He will have additional suggestions to help clear your skin.

Next Steps:

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“Acne Mechanica.” American Academy of Dermatology. AcneNet. Access 4 Dec 07.

United States. NIAMS. “Questions and Answers About Acne.” Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, 2006.