If you’ve been on an exercise roll this summer, you’re likely reaping the many physical and mental benefits. But you may have also noticed an unwelcome side effect of working out in all the heat and humidity: pimples on your face, chest, back or butt. Is breaking a sweat breaking you out?
Well, yes and no. Sweat in itself doesn’t cause acne. In fact, it may do just the opposite. During exercise, there's an increased blood flow to the skin, which causes the pores to open up and expel dirt and excess sebum from the body. There’s even research suggesting that that sweat has antibacterial properties.
The problem is when perspiration sits on skin for any period of time. There it can mingle with the body’s natural oils, dead skin, bacteria and dirt, potentially clogging pores and causing breakouts.
The good news is that a solid skincare routine can help keep your pores free of any blemish-causing debris and your complexion clear, no matter how hard you push yourself. Here, dermatologist-approved tips for before, during and after your sweat sesh:
BEFORE your workout
Come clean. Work out with a full face of makeup, and your glands may struggle to secrete sweat properly. Wash your face before starting your workout. If you can't get to a sink, have a makeup remover towelette on hand (stash a pack in your bag or car). Our pick: Yes to Cucumber Soothing Hypoallergenic Facial Wipes.
Get that hair out of your face. Leave-on conditioner and styling gels and serums that contain oils can run onto your face when you sweat, causing clogged pores and pimples on your forehead and around your hairline. Play it safe by pulling hair back with a moisture-wicking accessory like Lululemon’s Fly Away Tamer Headband.
Dress to express. Sweat combined with too-tight workout wear may result in acne mechanica, a type that typically occurs at the spot of repeated friction. To keep skin dry and your workout friction-free, opt for looser-fitting clothing in breathable or sweat-wicking fabrics.
Sport SPF. In addition to upping your risk of cancer and premature skin aging, unprotected UV exposure can inflame and dry skin, sending sebaceous glands into overdrive to compensate. To avoid the oily rebound, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to uncovered skin before going out. Look for lighter formulas labeled “oil free,” “noncomedogenic” or “won’t clog pores. One to try: Glo Skin Beauty Oil Free SPF 40+.
DURING your workout
Wipe all surfaces. Whether it belongs to you or it’s shared by others, fitness equipment can harbor all sorts of bacteria. Use a disinfectant spray or pre-saturated wipes to clean off machines, benches and yoga mats before using them.
Pat skin dry. Repeatedly wiping or rubbing the sweat off your face or body with your hand, shirt or the towel you can irritate skin and cause acne to flare. Instead, gently pat the perspiration from your skin using a fresh, clean towel.
AFTER your workout
Shower up. To prevent leftover sweat from aggravating acne, shower immediately after exercise. Use warm — not hot — water to remove sweat, dirt and oil from your skin, along with a blemish-fighting cleanser like Humane Acne Wash. The clean, nonfoaming treatment contains 10% benzoyl peroxide to unblock pores and destroy acne-causing bacteria.
Shed sweaty clothes STAT. Can’t hit the showers for a bit? At the very least, trading your damp workout duds for dry ones will help keep excess moisture from having prolonged contact with the skin.
Photo credits: Greg Rosenke/Unsplash (girl running; Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash (antibacterial wipes)