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," says NYC-based dermatologist Marisa Garshick, M.D. "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," she says. "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 blemish-causing debris and your complexion clear, no matter how hard you push yourself. Here, Dr. Garshick offers tips for before, during and after your sweat sesh:
BEFORE your workout
Come clean. Exercise with a full face of makeup, and your glands may struggle to secrete sweat properly. Be sure to wash your face before starting your workout. On the move? Pop some makeup remover towelettes, such as Yes to Cucumber Soothing Hypoallergenic Facial Wipes, in your gym bag or car, so you can wash up at a moment's notice. If makeup's a must, opt for lighter, non-comedogenic products that won't block pores, like Glo Skin Beauty Moisturizing Tint SPF 30+.
Get that hair out of your face. Leave-on conditioners and styling gels and serums that contain oils can run onto your face when you sweat, causing plugged pores and pimples on your forehead and around your hairline. Play it safe by pulling your 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, wear 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: Elta MD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 Facial Sunscreen.
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
Hit the shower. 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 prevent excess moisture from having prolonged contact with the skin.
Photo credits: Greg Rosenke/Unsplash (girl running); Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash (antibacterial wipes)