Don’t let niggling problems such as back acne, tan lines and scars bar you from shoulder-baring fashion. RUTH CHEW finds out how to achieve a smooth, unblemished back and decolletage.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
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Don’t let niggling problems such as back acne, tan lines and scars bar you from shoulder-baring fashion. RUTH CHEW finds out how to achieve a smooth, unblemished back and decolletage.

The bare- and off -the-shoulder trends are showing no signs of abating. (And let’s face it: shoulder-baring clothing and our tropical climate go together like copy and paste.) If you’ve been wanting to give them a go but feel self-conscious about imperfections such as scars, acne and blotchy skin on the back and decolletage, good news: they’re not hard to fix. Here’s how.


Back acne, similar to facial acne, occurs when excessive sebum and dead skin cells clog pores and hair follicles. This build-up of oil and dead cells leads to bacteria growth and inflammation, which then manifest as zits. Treatments for pimples on the back should be the same as those for the face. Dr Lynn Chiam, dermatologist at Children & Adults Skin Hair and Laser Clinic, recommends using topical creams with antibiotics, tretinoin or benzoyl peroxide to treat the acne by reducing the bacteria on the skin.

Dr Kenneth Thean, medical director at The Aesthetics Medical Clinic, advises: “See a doctor early if acne occurs on your back. Depending on its severity, you’ll need a combination of creams, peels, oral medication and other treatments. Treatments for acne should start as soon as possible to prevent scarring.”


Scars from blemishes are the results of the skin’s natural healing process. The size, colour and depth of scars define their severity and treatments. Superficial scars are skin discolorations and often fade over time. Mild discoloration can be lightened with over-thecounter creams that have vitamin E, witch hazel or arbutin.

Dr Chiam says: “I’d prescribe creams with hydroquinone or other lightening ingredients to reduce the look of blemishes. To see results, regular application over a few weeks is needed.” More severe marks may require lasers to lighten. Darker, flat pigmented scars that look like five-cent or 10-cent coins can be treated with non-ablative Nd:YAG lasers and infrared lasers, says Dr Thean.

“These would [even out the skin tone] within a few treatments.” Deep scars – pits on the skin or indented scars that are angular or wave-like in appearance – do not get better on their own. They respond well to resurfacing with ablative lasers, such as Erbium YAG, or carbon dioxide lasers, which work by removing the skin’s damaged outer layer and targeting specific areas of the dermis, helping to boost collagen production to give a smoother, more even skin texture, says Dr Chiam. Two to three sessions done a month apart are usually needed to see improvements.


That kick-ass swimsuit or sexy strappy top can result in unintended tan lines. Such instances of uneven skin tone will usually normalise with time, but Nd:YAG lasers can speed things up by targeting the problem areas with infrared light to stimulate cell activity and renewal. An easy way to prevent tan lines is to simply be conscientious about applying sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 30 over exposed skin when in the sun.

“Sunscreen should be reapplied every four hours in general, and every two hours if one perspires a lot,” says Dr Chiam. Bruises and insect bites can also cause hyperpigmentation. A gentle steroid cream can help with the itch and inflammation, but if the skin darkening persists, doctors may prescribe creams with actives such as hydroquinone and vitamin C. Creams with arnica, a herb known for its healing properties, may also help reduce swelling.


Dr Shiau Ee Leng, chief medical advisor of ClearSK Healthcare Group, says an immediate way to plump up and hydrate the skin is to go for Skin Booster treatments, where pure hyaluronic acid is injected all over the chest and neck. “Because [such treatments are] done using mechanised needles, the hyaluronic acid can be injected evenly and finely across the affected area,” says Dr Shiau. The result is reportedly dewy, soft and supple skin.

It is recommended to have three to four treatments carried out every four weeks. The needle marks may take two to five days to fade and results can last up to six months.



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Urban Decay Afterglow 8-hour Powder Highlighter, $39.00.

Lightweight with a super-soft, creamy texture, this long-lasting powder highlighter blends easily. Layer on for a richer look.

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Tom Ford Beauty Shimmer Shot, $60.

A liquid highlighter that accentuates the shoulders and collar bones. Flattering all skin tones, this lightweight product can also be added to liquid foundation for an all-over glow. In two shades.

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Make Up For Ever Water Blend Face & Body Foundation, $72.

A hybrid watergel formulation that offers sheer, longlasting and waterproof coverage that doesn't rub off on clothes. Apply with a moistened sponge for a natural-looking finish. In 20 shades.

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The Body Shop Spa of the World Brazilian Cupuacu Scrub-in-oil, $55.90.

This body exfoliator has a layer of oil and a layer of salt crystals, which can be used in different proportions to customise the intensity of the scrub to suit even the delicate skin on the decolletage.