What is your body acne telling you?

There has been a lot of discussion on this blog about how face mapping can reveal underlying health problems through the location of acne on various “zones” that correspond to our internal organs. But this ancient science doesn’t end there: just as face mapping can tell what your facial pimples mean, mapping where you get pimples on the rest of your body can also help pinpoint (and thereby treat) internal imbalances that might be messing up your system.

So, on popular demand, I have gone back to the drawing board – consisting of ancient Chinese and Ayurvedic texts, as interpreted by 21st century’s cutting edge doctors – and distilled that knowledge into this easy-to-interpret “body map” of acne zones. Put simply, think of your body as a map and blemishes as X’s on that landscape. Spots in different zones correspond to different problems. Interesting, right? Try it out: here is how to decode breakouts in the basic body areas.

body-acne-meaningZone 1: Hormones

Like the jaw, acne on the neck might indicate that your adrenal glands (hormones) are in overdrive. Other options: stress or excessive sugar intake. That’s if you are not wearing shirts with tight collars or have greasy hair that constantly touches the skin in this area.

Zone 2 & 3: Stress

Shoulder acne could mean that you are overstressed, sensitive and vulnerable. Another alternative? Check whether your handbag strap is causing friction against the skin.

Zone 4: Digestive System

Are you wearing clothes that are not breathable – like polyester or nylon? Have you ruled out fungal infections (especially if you have little whiteheads on the chest that don’t respond to acne treatments) and allergies? If all these are clear, acne on the chest can point towards digestive troubles, like a poor diet, bad eating habits, having excessively spicy food or drinking too many cold beverages on a regular basis.

Zone 5 & 6: Vitamin Levels

Skin is coarser on the arms so you can get keratosis pilaris in this area. This appears as small spots that give skin a rough, goose-bumpy appearance. Keratosis pilaris is caused by poor circulation and overproduction of dead cells at the hair follicle. Try to treat it with regular exfoliation and moisturizers containing salicylic acid. If the problem persists despite this, it could be a sign of how efficiently your body is receiving and utilising vitamins from your diet.

Zone 7: Blood Sugar Levels

There are very few oil glands in this area, making stomach acne a rarer complaint. When zits do crop up here, it’s usually because of one of these reasons: tight fitting clothes or high blood sugar.

Zone 8: Hygiene or STDs

Utterly painful and pretty difficult to clear up because of this area’s high moistness factor, crotch or pelvic acne could crop up because of ingrown hairs from waxing or shaving. Then again, poor personal hygiene might play a role. More worryingly though, it could be warts or the symptom of an STD (especially if the spots itch, ooze or don’t show any signs of improvement after 3-4 days).

Zone 9 & 10: Skin Sensitivities or Allergies

Acne on the thighs and upper legs often comes up as a reaction to body lotions, shower gels, laundry detergent, fabric softener or dryer sheets. On the lower legs, there is the added factor of ingrown hair post-shaving or waxing. It’s best treated with a body wash that has salicylic acid (BHA) or glycolic acid (AHA) and a light, non-comedogenic moisturizer.

Zone 11 & 12: Nervous and Digestive Systems

This is the most common body area for acne and frequent reasons include allergies, excessive sweating, not showering after exercise, friction from athletic gear, clothes that are too tight and not breathable, backpack straps, irritation because of hair or body care products, reaction to laundry detergent, fabric softener or dryer sheets. If you have ruled out all these, evaluate whether your diet is loaded with fried and high calorie foods or you aren’t getting enough sleep… both could be contributing elements.

Zone 13 & 14: Digestive System

There are usually three reasons for acne to show up on the buttocks: underwear that’s dirty, not breathable or too tight; excessively dry skin; and poor diet or digestion, with too many cold drinks and too much spicy food. So if the zits don’t subside despite moisturizing your skin, wearing loose cotton clothes and keeping everything clean, start evaluating your dietary habits.

So the next time you break out on the back or shoulders, look to your body map: your skin is probably trying to communicate on behalf of the internal organs. However, do remember that, as with all medical issues, it is always best to see your doctor or dermotologist for a proper prognosis. I am not a doctor or a medical practitioner and this is just a general guide to head you off in the right investigative direction – just becuase you break out on the stomach doesn’t always mean you have high blood sugar!


  1. While this may be true more often than not, I think there are other causes of acne that haven’t yet been identified or some people are just doomed. I eat a crazy healthy diet (almost entirely organic), drink only water (70+ ounces a day), exercise regularly, practice good hygiene (even use an AHA body wash), wear looser, breathable clothing, don’t take any kind of medication, etc. I still have acne just about everywhere other than my feet, hands, calves and stomach. I’ve had hormone, vitamin, stress, kidney, etc., basically every test available done, and they all say that I am not only in the normal levels, but am EXTREMELY fit and healthy and nothing any dermatologist, allergist, or natural remedy has ever worked.

    1. Have you ever considered a diet designed for hormone balance? You might have already tried it but there’s a book which gives a great 30 day plan for restoring hormones. For me, having dealt with similar bouts with acne I have found this to be most helpful. Especially after I have had a baby when my hormones are really out of whack! Just a thought and maybe something to consider. I greatly empathize with you on this subject! I wish you well on hopefully finding some solution for you.

    2. @tmoose – yep sounds familiar! Ive tried just about everything I could think of. What’s funny is that my acne got better when I was on vacation and not working out. It also got better post surgery, again not working out. I guess my skin doesnt like sweat or contact with gym equipment. I notice a slight improvement if I shower immediately but sometimes that’s not possible depending on where you workout.

      1. Did they check to see if you were allergic to your own sweat? I know some one who is, might just be that you are causing the zits by getting the sweat on your skin even for a little bit.
        I also know some one who can’t sweat and it only takes them a few minutes in the hot weather to have issues.
        Or it could be that you are eating something that you are allergic to but you only eat a little of it so you don’t really notice the side effects, your skin being more sensitive when you sweat it gets irritated and shows the side effects.
        I was allergic to my laudnry soap, but only the more sensitive areas of my body showed it, the others did not, because it was only a mild allergy.
        And if it all fails, my friends use proactive and their faces cleared up in 3 months, and bad acne ran in their family (all 3 brothers had it).

    3. drs can’t always test for everything and often tests results are given by number ranges that are considered “healthy” or “normal” but for instance a “normal” range of hormones for your age and body weight and gender may be in the borderline areas that are not comfortable for you. It’s just like saying all women of the same age should be able to fit in the same size shoe. One lady is wears a 6 and the other an 8. Both shoe sizes are in the normal range but try wearing a 6 comfortably if you are a size 8. Same with hormones and only a specialist in endocrinology can specifically test for hormonal issues that regular doctors would miss and also there are such things such as skin mites and chronic bacterial or yeast or fungal or viral things going on that they have missed because they don’t have time to check for every single thing out there, just the stuff that is most common to check for and the most crucial. If you have serious acne all over there is something out of whack. Just because the drs haven’t figured out why doesn’t mean there isn’t a cause, just means they haven’t yet pinpointed it and there are a lot of things drs don’t understand like nutritional deficiencies or toxicities you could have that most likely only a nutritionist would understand. Drs generally have bigger fish to frie than acne so they have just tested you for whatever is standard to test and important to test and as long as they don’t see any major illness they shrug it off as nothing of concern but it doesn’t mean there is no real cause. I bet you have hormonal issues and or toxicity of some sort, either pathogens or even environmental or diet related.

      1. Yes fungus and mites were the cause of my so-called acne. After almost 20 years of suffering I had to figure it out on my own.

    4. It is the stress. I can sense your stress merely through your comment. Believe me. You have to get rid of the stress.

    5. Have you looked into nervous system dysfunction and acne? Eft also might be helpful. Basically learning how to call the nervous system through eft or aat can be extremely helpful in calming the fight or flight response (that we are often unaware of)

      Also chronic hidden infections (bacterial, parasite, viral or yeast) can cause this.

      Binders like chorella, charcoal can help too… Good luck!!!

      1. What is eft and aat??? I need help, I’m a nervous wreck! I know my issues are do to having strep most of my life, so I am in a constant state of fight or flight. I’ve tried to do calming stretching excersises but it just stresses me out more! I drink DMSO to kill the infection but nothing helps with this chronic stress, thank you! Prisca

    6. @tmoose You could try cutting out heated and processed vegetable oils. Stick to cold pressed oils if they are unsaturated (eg olive oil seed oils etc) and use saturated fats such as butter, coconut oil or ghee etc for cooking. To make sure you had tried this properly you would need to read the ingredients of everything you eat unfortunately as processed vegetable oil are in a huge a amount of processed and packaged food. It was the only thing that helped me, apart from magnesium supplements which helped.(This took about a month to make any difference) It meant I could some processed or heated vegetable oils without getting any spots or only a few that were much smaller and less painful than before. I had acne since I was 17, I still get it now (I’m 25) if I don’t follow this advice. Processed and heated vegetable oils can be a problem as they are less stable than saturated fats when heated and processed. When cold pressed they are beneficial and necessary. Heated or processed they are inflammatory and aggravating to hormones which would explain why they cause spots in some people. This may not be the problem for you,, but I though worth mentioned, as this seems relatively unknown and can be very helpful for some people.

    7. I am 36. I had what I thought was acne for about 25 years. When it actually was an overgrowth of demodex mites. After years of treatments, doctor visits, and me trying everything I could… I googled “face itching” and stumbled across demodex. I solved the problem in a few weeks by slathering zinc (in diaper rash ointment) all over my face amd body. It took about a month to see real results. My skin is gorgeous now.

      1. I finally figured out what it was! It wasn’t acne at all. Well, actually it was acne caused by a non-traditional source. Demodex mites. I used diaper rash ointment on my face and it killed them. Demodex mites are on are skin at all times, certain conditions in the body allow them to populate at high numbers. I hope this helps someone.

  2. oh yeah i have on my chest and also back of shoulders..and 13 n 14 …and also some after I wax and the new hair is bout to grow i break out..though i dont know what to do with the scars?any idea?

  3. -Me: What if I have 1-4, 11-14? And I’ve also had within the past couple of months: a pimple on my toe, armpit, and of course on my face.
    -Society: You should eat well and exercise.
    -Skin Care Companies: Try this new product, it’s unlike anything else on the market. Also you should exfoliate more.
    -Friends: You should try this product It worked for me. (I get a handful of pimples around my period.)
    -Family: You’ll grow out of it when you are out of your teens. (I’m 26.)

    -Me: I’m going to take Accutane.
    -Derm: Here’s some antibiotics ($15) and ($8) topical creams and ($70) my skin care line and lets put you on birth control and do some blood tests ($80). 10 products total. Don’t forget to pay me your copay ($40). It may or may not work. Even if it does work you may become used to it so we may have to change it in the future. Yay!
    -*Le sigh*

    1. I went on accutane and although they did want me to start birth control first to see if helped, it is also required while on accutane. I did not have any problems with the drug and you are required to go in once a month for an evaluation to make sure your not depressed or having issues with the medication. I can honestly say that it changed my life for the better. I was more self confident and happy. I do not know if that is still the protocol currently. I also just started seeing a homeopathic doctor who has helped me tremendously with my energy and allergies. My body is more balanced and feel 10x Better. Hope this helps

  4. I get usually one but often a crop of blemishes around my belly button about once a month. When I was taking birth control it was constant. I was surprised to see that this is considered to be related to high blood sugar. I eat a diet rich in fats and pretty low in sugar compared to the standard person. It’s possible that I’m having spikes in blood sugar but again, my diet is really solid and when I used to eat a lot more sugar I didn’t have this problem. I think it’s hormonal. Just as I get one big pimple on my chin once per month (now I know it’s about ovulation and not just a predecessor to menstruation – thanks beauty gypsy!), I seem to get one on my abdomen too. I am very curious if others have anything to say about this. Thanks!!

    1. Did you find anything to resolve it while it was happening. I get the same thing and I am on birth control which I am sure doesn’t help.

      1. I had it much much worse when I used birth control. There are a lot of reasons to try and get away from hormone birth controls if you can. When I get it now, more occasionally, I scrub gently and keep the area clean and moisturized (with pure oils). Good luck!

  5. yeah acne can pop up anywhere but I don’t think that tight shirts causes cane. I think acne comes more from the what you do or eat or it comes from generation to generation.

  6. Thank you so much!!! This was so helpful. I was wondering why I was getting a ton of acne on my shoulders and I was very very very stressed lately. So that explains it.

  7. My son had horrible back acne (red inflamed pustules with white heads) from the top of his back to midway down. After reading numerous home remedies, we tried using raw organic apple cider vinegar with “the Mother” (1 tsp apple cider vinegar to 1 tsp water) and wiped whole back with a cotton ball of this. Then, without rinsing, we squeezed white regular toothpaste into a small bowl , and I put the paste on his pimples with a qtip. Approximately 2 hrs later, his back was normal color and not inflamed at all! He put a shirt on over this “mask” and went to bed with it still on. It worked wonders!

  8. I have been suffering bad acne over most of my face for about 1 1/2 to 2 years, it kicked in about 12 months after going off the pill. I have looked at the Map and my areas are 11, 12, 13 and 14 (my worst – its depressingly ugly) and on the body map 1, 4, 2 & 3. I have a treated underactive thyroid condition. I am a bit of a stressed person but at 42 I’m wondering about my Hormones too, I don’t know weather to go to my GP, Naturopath, Dermotologist or maybe go back to the Endocrinologist?? regarding my Acne. It is the worst its been my whole life. I am embarrassed by my acne for a 42 year old 🙁

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