What’s the Deal with Acne and Working Out?


Written by Mike Jones

With so much conflicting information at our fingertips, it’s hard to know what to believe. We all know the myriad of benefits that exercise provides: improved mood, stress relief, increased energy, disease prevention, and weight control. Working out can certainly do good things for your skin as well. It increases the blood flow, which carries essential oxygen and nutrients to skin cells. Working out also has been found to lower stress levels; since stress heightens the oil levels of your skin, exercise can be a preventative measure against acne.

As some can attest, exercise can also increase the likelihood of a breakout. The dried sweat left on the face after a workout is a delicious treat for bacteria. At the gym, we come in contact with weights or yoga mats that haven’t been wiped down. Chlorine is not great for skin, either. 

So, is exercise beneficial or detrimental to clear skin?

The answer is, unfortunately, a little bit of both. However, as long as we take some preventative measures, we should be able to reap the rewards of exercise without too many pimply reminders. 

Indoor vs. Outdoor Workouts

Indoor workouts are practical and common, especially in cold weather, or hot weather. When it comes to acne, working out indoors almost always gives us access to bathrooms, sinks, and showers, that allow us to wash immediately after sweating.

Then again, gyms are full of bacteria and sweaty people who don’t clean their machines or weights. Make use of the wipes that often dot your gym. We know you aren’t lifting that fumble with your face, but your hand is, and your hand will touch your face.

Home workouts are probably the safest for preventing fitness acne. Since we control the cleanliness of our own homes, we can be sure our mats and other equipment are sanitary before use.

Despite its many benefits, exercising outdoors will limit access to sinks and showers, which may make it difficult to keep skin clean. Additionally, we may encounter more uncontrolled variables and debris, making it even more important to get clean right away. Bringing wipes along will help lessen the chances of a post-workout breakout.

You swimmers, be wary. The effects of chlorine have also been found to have negative consequences for skin; it affects the skin’s ability to keep in moisture. Because of this, swimming is not recommended for those with easily irritated skin. 

Some tips to prevent post-workout breakouts, whether indoor or outdoor:

Always clean your face before and after

Working out with makeup on, or not removing make-up immediately after, is one of the top causes of post-workout breakouts. Makeup can block the skin’s ability to breathe naturally, which is a big contributor to acne. You need to pores to open up during exercise and let the sweat out; it’s what is supposed to happen. Leftover make-up, oil, and general debris can combine with sweat to block pores. Safe to say, it’s not good. If showering or washing the face right away is not a possibility, bring along make-up removing or salicylic acid wipes. 

If you’re not wearing makeup, still clean your face before you work out. Removing any residual bacteria can help prevent a breakout. Benzoyl peroxide is a good ingredient to look for in cleansers and moisturizers.

Avoid oily hair products

There are many oily conditioners or other hair products that move to the skin when your working out, either through sweat, or as you touch your hair and then touch your face.

Try not to touch your face

Your hands are always touching things. Try to stop the transfer of microbes to your face by washing your hands often, and by not touching your face.

Avoid nasty towels

Some people have their sweat towels which they use to wipe their face and arms. Don’t just set this towel anywhere. Don’t throw it on the ground. Be mindful of what you wipe your face with.

If possible, shower immediately afterward

If sweat remains on the body for too long, it can cause more pimples. Try to plan ahead, but if not possible, try the somewhat uncouth but effective cleansing wipe shower.

Wear natural fiber fabrics

Fabrics that breathe prevent sweat from getting trapped on the skin. Loose-fitting clothes made of cotton, hemp, or moisture-wicking fabric are most recommended to keep sweat from sticking to the body.

Choose the right sunscreen/moisturizer

Heavy or oily moisturizers can weigh down the skin and clog pores. Facialist Lili Menini suggests a moisturizer with benzoyl peroxide and aloe vera to both combat bacteria and to smooth skin. Important: Don’t apply moisturizer or sunscreen while still sweating.

Moisturize post-showering

After you clean your face post-workout, your skin is prone to be dry. Make sure you replenish the moisture of your facial skin to prevent future breakouts.

Monitor your body heat

If your feeling overheated, this can lead to breakouts. Of course you’ll be warm as you exercise, but take appropriate breaks, and drink plenty of fluids.

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