Body acne is an extremely common skin condition that affects a staggering amount of people. In Australia, 93.3 per cent of people aged 16 to 18 experience acne, while international studies have shown that acne occurs in 85 per cent of people aged 12 to 24 years .
It's also common to get acne on your legs and thighs. Depending on the type of red lumps and raised bumps that appear on your thighs, near your groin or lower legs, you may be able to treat these breakouts in a similar way to facial acne.
But, in certain cases, what looks like a pimple on your leg may be another condition that requires a different treatment.
Is it normal to have pimples on your legs?
To put it simply, any person and any body part with hair follicles and oil glands can get pimples. And, while it's not uncommon to get leg pimples, it's likely to be a different form of acne to what you would experience on your face, chest, arms or back.
The medical term for breakouts on these body parts is called acne vulgaris. It is generally referred to as common acne because it is the most prevalent skin condition that causes pimples .
This type of acne is caused by a natural overproduction of oil. The oil, also known as sebum, travels from the oil gland and up the hair follicle to the surface of the skin.
Too much oil can clump together with sweat and dead skin cells and clog pores. When the clogged pores become infected, they turn into red, swollen acne pimples. Acne vulgaris is usually limited to your face, back and chest because that's where your body has the most oil glands, though it is possible to experience it in other places.
Pimples on your leg are likely to be a slightly different skin condition called acne mechanica or acne inversa, which have different causes to common acne.
What causes pimples on your legs?
The first potential cause of pimples on your legs is acne mechanica. This is a distinct type of acne that is triggered by something rubbing, pinching or putting pressure on the skin, or blocking your skin from air exposure .
Ance mechanica looks like small red bumps on the skin, similar to common acne. While it can be annoying, it does not usually develop into severe acne . Another skin condition that can cause small bumps on your legs is acne inversa (alternatively known as hidradenitis suppurativa).
This is a chronic skin condition that is characterised by abscesses, usually near body parts that have sweat glands . Abscesses are pus-filled bumps and in this case, they arise because of blocked hair follicles.
There are several risk factors that relate to acne inversa, such as family history, obesity, smoking, other chronic illness and skin conditions, or certain medications. However, the exact cause of acne inversa is unknown.
Why does acne appear here?
One common scenario that skin experts see as a cause of acne in between the legs or acne on the back of the thighs is wearing non-breathable clothing while working out or playing sports.
Non-porous material, combined with the excess heat and friction that builds up while exercising, causes sweat and oil to block your pores in this area .
This type of acne mechanica is commonly experienced by any person that is highly physically active, but particularly athletes or soldiers who have to wear specific equipment and uniforms .
In the case of acne inversa, what appears to be pimples on the inner thighs and near the groin may actually be abscesses. They can occur here as this is where some of your sweat glands are located.
You also have sweat glands near your armpits and breasts, so these are other body parts where acne inversa may develop. Both genders can be affected by this condition, although it occurs in more females than males .
Is it folliculitis or acne?
If you've got breakouts on your leg but it doesn't sound like it's acne mechanica or acne inversa, it may not be acne at all but rather, folliculitis.
Hair follicles are the openings in your skin from which your hair grows. You develop folliculitis when your hair follicles become infected and form small red, yellow or white bumps. These pus-filled blisters may break open and form crusty sores.
Folliculitis is typically caused by a bacterial or fungal infection, most commonly staph bacteria . You can develop folliculitis on any body part where you have hair, meaning you can get it on your legs.
Shaving, in particular, can lead to folliculitis because of cuts, scratches or irritated skin. Ingrown hairs that make skin red and itchy, also known as razor bumps, are also a form of folliculitis.
Another way the hair follicles on your legs can become infected is by constant skin irritation from tight clothing. Pools or hot tubs can also put you at risk of folliculitis if they're not cleaned properly or have enough chlorine.
You'll need to consult your doctor in order to work out whether you have leg acne or folliculitis. They may swab one of the red bumps and get it lab-tested to diagnose the infection .
How to get rid of sweat pimples on my legs
Athletes who experience acne mechanica usually find that their breakouts clear up on their own once they've finished their competitive season. But thankfully there are treatments for those of us with leg pimples caused by regular workouts or just generally being sweaty and wearing tight clothes.
The first option is a body wash that clears away acne-causing bacteria with salicylic acid. Software's Salicylic Acid Foaming Wash does just that — it works to slough away dead skin cells, unclog debris and trapped oils in the pores and inject hydration, which helps to reduce the formation of acne.
And, you can use this low-irritant formula across the body, including on your legs, thighs, butt, back, chest, arms, neck and face — just to name a few places.
If your acne needs a little more TLC, you might want to consider a personalised treatment created for your specific skin concerns. Software's prescription acne treatment can be used to treat body acne, as well as facial acne, and is custom formulated to suit your skin needs.
While each formula is prescribed by a local Software doctor and is designed to suit your skin concerns, you can expect to see medical-grade ingredients like prescription retinoids and niacinamide within your treatment as these work to unclog pores, reduce bacteria and oiliness and calm swelling and redness.
Ways to treat other red bumps on your legs
Other types of bumps on the skin such as acne inversa or folliculitis require a different treatment approach.
In some cases, oral antibiotics may be required, or medicated creams with benzoyl peroxide can be helpful. Your doctor can advise you on the best course of treatment here .
There are also some general measures you can take to minimise your risk of acne inversa or prevent it from becoming worse. These include quitting smoking, losing weight and wearing loose clothing.
When it comes to folliculitis, your doctor will let you know what kind of treatment you require, depending on what is causing the infection.
A bacterial infection may require an antiseptic cleanser or cream, topical antibiotics or antibiotics tablets, as well as careful hygiene. Folliculitis caused by fungal infection would need oral anti-fungal medication .
If your hair follicles are irritated because of shaving, it's recommended that you have a three-month break from hair removal to allow the irritation to settle and give your skin a break. Alternatively, using an electric shaver is preferred as they are generally more gentle, particularly for sensitive skin, and can help prevent folliculitis,
Can you prevent leg acne from coming back?
Had enough of leg acne? We don't blame you. Wearing loose, cotton clothing is recommended to prevent acne mechanica, and if possible, change into a new set of clothes when you get hot and sweaty .
When exercising, it's also recommended that you wear cotton underwear beneath your activewear as it is more breathable and moisture absorbent. Synthetic materials can tend to suffocate the skin .
Showering straight away after a workout is also advised to help clear away sweat, oil and dead skin cells and prevent them from clogging pores. Washing with an over-the-counter cleanser that includes salicylic acid also helps to keep your pores clear.
So, as nice as it may be to grab a coffee with a friend after a workout class, it's probably better to shower and change out of your activewear first.