Acne mechanica is a form of acne typically brought about by excess heat, pressure, or friction on the skin. It can occur anywhere on the face or body when these factors are present. It is particularly common in young athletes, students, soldiers, and others. As well, individuals who are already susceptible to body acne are more likely to develop acne mechanica.
Acne mechanica varies in appearance from small, inconspicuous comedones (a.k.a. “blackheads”) to inflamed papules and pustules. In the early stages, the skin may feel rough or bumpy, even if no breakouts are visible yet. As the source of the friction continues, these tiny breakouts become irritated and progress to more noticeable, inflamed red pimples.
Anything that traps heat against the body for a prolonged period of time, rubs or puts pressure on the skin, can cause a breakout of acne mechanica. In the case of teenagers, – especially boys – athletic equipment such as football or hockey pads, baseball caps, sweatbands, and helmets is a prime culprit. This is due to the fact that sports gear traps heat and sweat against the skin which is the prime factor leading to the development of acne mechanica.
Wearing synthetic fabric seems to make acne mechanica worse. This is because they trap heat against the body. To avoid or minimize outbreaks of mechanica, one should wear natural fabrics, like breathable cotton whenever possible. Since most sports uniforms are made from synthetic fabrics, try to at least wear a cotton t-shirt underneath – especially under athletic pads – to help reduce the amount of friction on the skin. Athletes suffering from acne mechanica should always make sure to shower immediately after sporting activities in order to rinse away any irritating sweat.
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. Soldiers who are stationed in hot, humid areas have a higher chance of developing acne mechanica. Tight-fitting clothing and undergarments can also lead to acne mechanica. It’s not uncommon for acne to develop under tight bra straps, the inner thighs, or on the buttocks of sufferers. Other common causes of acne mechanica include playing a musical instrument (for example one that has to be tucked under the chin like a violin) and excessive phone use.
Most cases of acne mechanica respond well to over-the-counter treatments such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide Sufferers should 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, as the added friction caused by scrubbing away at the skin can actually make the acne worse. Use a soft washcloth or bare hands instead. Lotions containing benzoyl peroxide have been known to work well too.
While perhaps the best treatment of all is to avoid the cause of acne mechanica (such as backpacks and hats), for some, this is not exactly a realistic option. A soldier for example can’t just stop packing gear, and an athlete can’t just give up sports. The best one can do is limit the amount of heat and friction on the skin whenever possible, and focus on clearing the acne with appropriate treatments. If an outbreak of acne mechanica has not responded to treatment after several weeks however, a physician should be consulted.