Backne: Not What You Think It Is

The word “backne” is a take on acne; specifically, it refers to those pimple-like breakouts on the back although breakouts can also happen on the shoulders, arms, buttocks, stomach, and elsewhere on the body.

Most people think the blemishes in these areas are the same as facial acne and caused by the same bacteria. Backne, however, is a result of bacteria that causes the growth of yeast. The technical name for the condition is Malassezia (pityrosporum) folliculitis. You can see why the term “backne” has caught on.

Acne and Backne are not the Same

Malassezia folliculitis may look like acne or blemishes; with backne there are no comedones as there are with facial acne although there can be cysts. Also, their causes are different. Acne is caused by clogged hair follicles caused by excessive oil production, dead skin cells, bacteria and the overproduction of certain hormones.

Yeast organisms (Malassezia) that feed on the sweat and body oils contribute to backne. The bumps and cysts they form can look like acne blemishes.

People can have backne but no acne or facial blemishes, or they can have acne with no Malassezia folliculitis. It’s also possible to have both.  Backne is related to seborrhea and candidiasis which are caused by the body’s flora being out of balance in favor of yeast producing microorganisms.

The Reason for the Overgrowth of Yeasts

Backne is due to bacterial imbalances with the skin’s flora and imbalances in the body. This can lead to an overgrowth of yeast organisms. Yeast can develop from many things, such as:

  • Medical conditions like diabetes and autoimmune diseases.
  • Hormonal changes from pregnancy or puberty.
  • Antibiotics, steroids, and cortisone.
  • Dead skin not removed through bathing, particularly after sweating.
  • Diet, especially those high in carbohydrates.
  • Skincare products, such as cosmetics, lotions, sunscreen can mix with sebum and create a sympathetic environment for the yeast to grow.
  • Genetics

Clearing Up Backne

Healing backne needs a multi-pronged approach because several things can exacerbate it or create the conditions for the growth of the Malassezia yeast. Here are some things you can do to heal backne.

  • Keep the areas clean, especially after activities that make you sweat.
  • Harsh detergents (bacterial soaps and shower gels) can worsen Malassezia folliculitis because they strip the skin of the good bacteria and oils. While you want to be clean, overzealously scrubbing the skin will not improve it.
  • The skin on the back is thicker and denser so exfoliation is beneficial because exfoliating removes the dead skin cells.
  • Wear clothes that breathe and can absorb sweat.  Tight clothes and items that rub against the skin such as backpacks can aggravate the backne and cause the yeast to spread.
  • Update your diet to include fresh vegetables and fruits, especially dark green leafy vegetables. Include probiotics, such as kimchi and omega-3 foods. Garlic, onions, seaweed, rutabaga are some other foods that are said to be help with the overgrowth of yeasts in the body. Reduce carbohydrates and simple sugars; yeasts feed on these foods.
  • Essential oils and herbs with fungicidal actions can help with backne. Geranium, lemongrass, patchouli, tea tree, and neroli are a few oils that have anti-fungal properties. Don’t apply them directly to the skin; they need to be mixed with a carrier, such as plant oil or witch hazel.
  • Rosemary, pot marigold, ginger, thyme, and neem are herbs that are anti-fungal.

Backne or Malassezia folliculitis may look like acne, but they differ in what causes them. However, they do share some of the same at home treatments that can help improve them, such as eating healthy foods, keeping the skin clean, changing the bedding frequently, and avoiding harsh skincare products.


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Rubenstein, Richard, MD, et al. Malassezi (Pityrosporum) Folliculitis (March 2014). Retrieved from

Sweeney, Sarah, MD. Malassezia (Pityrosporum) Folliculitis (July 10, 2017). Retrieved from

Yaneff, Jon, CNP. Top 10 folliculitis Home Remedies (February 27, 2018). Retrieved from

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