What Caused My Upper Arm Acne and How I Got Rid of It

Updated on May 13, 2017
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TinyQuietDay is a corporate problem solver who loves to write about life experience, understanding, and exploration.


Is Acne Always Just a Skin Issue?

If you have been trying for some time to understand what is causing the blemish outbreaks on your upper arms, you have probably read or been told that pimples are most commonly caused by clogged pores, build ups of dead skin and oil in the hair follicles on your body, or bacteria and toxins left on your skin after sweating. The purpose of my writing you is not to discredit any of these causes. Any or all of them could very well be the cause of your upper arm acne. But none of them were the cause of mine, and so it was in vain that I spent three years and a small fortune trying out different popular topical treatments for acne. What I did not know then was that researchers have not yet found a single cause for acne, but they do agree that the causes can be rather complex and multiple, varying from person to person (When Acne Attacks, 2016). Furthermore, acne is not necessarily strictly a dermal issue, meaning clogged pores or hair follicles or bacteria and toxins from sweat are not always the root cause of acne.

Have You Tried Everything?

My upper arm outbreaks started about three years ago and coincided with an increase in the intensity of my daily exercise. When I checked online to see what could be causing these outbreaks, what made sense to me was that I was sweating up a storm in my t-shirts and not getting home and showering quickly enough to prevent the evil-acne bacterias from attacking my arms. So, I wore tank tops instead and made sure to shower right away (even using anti-bacterial wash on my upper arms) after my exercise. But the acne did not go away. Next, I tried some of the typical acne shower gels that have salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. These products did provide small and temporary improvements, but they did not eliminate my upper arm acne. I was so self conscious at this point that I'd already reverted back to wearing t-shirts in an attempt to hide the unsightliness of my upper arms.

Then, my family and I took a week's vacation to Florida a couple years ago and I noticed when I returned home that my acne was almost gone! It was like it had dried up or something. I was sure the combination of sun and salt was the ultimate remedy, so I tried to replicate it at home by ordering Dead Sea salt to exfoliate with while I showered. Let's just say it did not take long for my hypothesis to unravel. The salt did not keep the acne from returning, and it soon became a horrible idea to try to exfoliate my arms with the salt since my blemishes were more or less open wounds. Then a year ago, I decided to try the most aggressive products on the market. The level of salicylic acid in these products was enough to require neutralizing balms as part of the application, so I had high hopes that I would finally be free of my upper arm acne. But, after five months of using these products, I'll spare you the sad details and just cut to the chase. Nothing I tried worked.

Causes of Acne

Many things can cause acne.
Many things can cause acne. | Source

The Cause of my Acne was Unfiltered Coffee

I would say that the amount of caffeine we consume matters, but since I finally know for sure what caused my upper arm acne, I have to ask you if you drink unfiltered coffee (French pressed or Espresso) and how much of it. My daily consumption was just over 4 measured cups of bold French pressed coffee every single morning for at least three years. I'd started working from home and had a morning routine of preparing a nice piping French pressed pot and then just enjoying it over the course of the morning. Turns out that not having a coffee filter meant that I was consuming a lot of Cafestol, a substance that raises your body's LDL "bad" cholesterol (Coffee Kind, 2011).

My epiphany came when I began starting my mornings with a caffeinated replacement for my usual coffee routine. Within one week, the acne on my arms was mostly healed. There were no new blemishes, just some stubborn lingering remnants that were healing. I immediately made the connection. My sweaty t-shirts weren't the problem and nor was my bathing frequency. My stress levels and hormones were not causing it. I realized that my theory that sun and salt were the answer was missing a vital detail: I don't drink French pressed coffee when I am on vacation.

Is this the end-all-be-all answer to unrelenting upper arm acne? No, but in my research for the answer, I could not help but notice that there are many other people out there who are asking why they cannot seem to get rid of their upper arm acne. I would posit that the body communicates to us as best as it can when something is wrong. If all topical treatments you try only go so far, consider that the problem may be caused by something more complex than just an upper dermis issue. Consider what you are consuming every day and whether any of it may be contributing to or outright causing your skin issues.


  • Acne can be caused by a variety of reasons, including but not limited to clogged pores and hair follicles, oily or dry skin, bacteria and toxins from sweating, hormonal changes, food and drink sensitivity, stress and cortisol levels, and general hygiene issues.
  • If you have one problem area while otherwise being acne free, there may be another underlying cause for your acne. If you feel like you're doing everything right, conduct the process of elimination in your diet to see if you may have food sensitivities that are causing the acne.
  • Acne is not always the main problem, but may often be a symptom of something else that is going on. Listen to your body and take action.

Battling Upper Arm Acne

If you have acne ONLY on your upper arms, have you found a successful long term treatment for it?

See results


Anonymous. (2011). French Press -- Bad Press -- Addressed. Coffee Kind. Retrieved from: https://www.coffeekind.com/reading-room/french-press-bad-press-addressed/

Chaudhuri, R. K., Lascu, Z., & Marchio, F. (2016). When Acne Attacks.

Questions & Answers


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        2 months ago

        My arm acne covers from shoulder to wrist. I recently eliminated table sugar. And significantly reduced chocolate (because stevia or xylitol sweetened chocolate is EXPENSIVE, so I only eat chocolate when I'm "dying" for it). I do not know if it's the chocolate elimination, or the sugar elimination. However, I ran my hand down my arm, and it was almost completely smooth. I haven't felt that in years.

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        3 months ago

        It's funny reading these comments because I don't drink coffee, I don't eat gluten, and I actually take a vitamin D supplement already and this acne won't go away. What's strange is that it's only on my left arm and not on my right arm. It came on rather suddenly (within the last month or so) and I keep getting new pimples on the daily with no end in sight!

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        3 months ago

        Mind blown. The acne on my arms has come and gone over the years, but it went away for a while and then came back most recently rather vigorously. I just realized after reading this that I started drinking at least 16 oz of french pressed coffee every morning the past couple of weeks!! I stopped this week just because I wanted to get off caffeine for a while, so I am curious to see if it helps my arms at all.

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        4 months ago

        I’ve had success with taking Vitamin D to help with blackheads and I do notice that my acne seems clearer when I take it.

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        Charlotte Beard 

        7 months ago

        I'm 12 I have had upper arm ''acne'' I was told it was just the stages of life. I've had this for 4 years nothing works! I was recently told that if I go on a gluten-free diet will help and that's what I'm doing right now.

      • profile image


        8 months ago

        My 9 year old has it and was told it is

      • profile image

        Kathleen Locke 

        12 months ago

        The upper arm acne comes and goes


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