I have never suffered from acne. My skin is oily and prone to the occasional whopper of a spot, but I’ve never really experienced full-blown acne. Really, if we’re going to get pernickety, we’ve all experienced acne in some form, as all spots are just acne in varying degrees. But if we’re talking about acne in the cystic form that we all envisage it as when we hear the word uttered, then no, I’ve never had acne.
Something that I have experienced though, is really severe breakouts on my chest. However, these breakouts aren't made up on just any normal spots, and I think a whole bunch of you will know what I mean. You see, when I took to my Instagram stories a couple of weeks ago asking for help about the red bumps and congestion that plagued my chest, I was swamped with replies from friends that have been experiencing the exact same thing.
Unlike the spots I’m used to getting on my face, the ones that crop up all over my chest in the summer aren’t squeezable. They’re like plugs of congestion that fill my pores and just sit there, getting redder and more irritated with every bit of friction that comes their way until, eventually, they disappear. So having received the confirmation that I am most definitely not alone in my chest spot woes, I booked in a virtual appointment with Lauren Hamilton, aesthetic doctor and founder of Victor & Garth, and this is what she had to say.
It turns out that the spots on my chest are formed in exactly the same way as any other spot. “It’s just oil and dead skin cells getting trapped in the hair follicle, which causes a comedone to form. Comedones on the chest are a common problem, but people just don’t talk about it a lot because they assume nothing can be done,” says Hamilton.
But things can be done, and it’s actually very simple. The most effective way to prevent spots on the chest? Extend your skincare products down the neck and onto the décolletage morning and night. “Cleanse twice a day, exfoliate once or twice a week and use an acid, like salicylic acid, to help decongest,” she advises. However, if you’re using a physical or AHA exfoliator on your face, it’s best to stick to a BHA on the chest area. Hamilton advises, “A BHA like salicylic acid acts as a chemical exfoliator that removes all of the dead skin cells and debris to unclog pores and stop the comedones forming.”
One thing that I have definitely noticed over the years is that my chest breakouts are far worse in the summer, and I wondered if this is because of something I’m doing differently. “It could just be that you’re noticing it more because you’re wearing more tank tops and the area is more exposed,” Hamilton says.
However, there are also more scientific reasons that chest breakouts seem to be more prominent in hot weather. She explains, “In the summer, things like sweat and SPF can cause congestion and breakouts, especially if you’re not cleansing the area properly at the start and end of the day. Our diets also tend to change in the summer. If you’re eating more sugary foods, it can trigger breakouts.”
During our consultation, I mentioned that the thing that really irritates me is the scarring that I experience post-breakout, but the truth is, I knew what the response would be. Because they’re not squeezable spots, I’m prone to picking them. And trust me—as a beauty editor, I know that you shouldn’t even touch, let alone pick your spots, but something about my chest spots brings out the demon in me. “It’s key that you try not to pick or squeeze. It will always exacerbate the problem and lead to worse scarring,” Hamilton confirmed.
One insight that Hamilton did give on the matter, though, is one surrounded hyperpigmentation. “Because you have a lighter skin tone, you might not experience this,” she told me. “But for darker skin, in particular, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation can be a real pain when it comes to the skin on the chest. As an area, it’s very prone to it.” The solution? It comes back to bringing your skincare all the way down again. “You want a product that will help even out skin tone. If you notice scarring, vitamin C serums and creams are great. Also, resurfacing peels can exfoliate, revive dull skin, even out skin tone and minimise the appearance of discolouration,” she advises.
I know that this is something that crops up in almost every beauty article about every skin concern ever, however, when it comes to treating your summer chest breakouts, Hamilton explains that it’s more important than ever to wear SPF. It’s easy to feel like slathering on SPF will only worsen breakouts, especially when they’re sore, but sun damage will only worsen the scarring and pigmentation.
“Applying SPF to the décolletage is a key thing we forget,” says Hamilton. “We realise we have neglected our faces for so long and slather our faces in suncream but then forget about other areas. Using acids to treat breakouts makes it more important than ever to use SPF, as they increase sun sensitivity.”
With that being said, applying SPF makes it even more important to cleanse the area thoroughly at the end of the day to avoid it congesting the pores further. Hamilton explains, “It might take some time to find the right formula for you, but to help prevent further breakouts, all you have to do is make sure you wash it off.”