Today, it’s easy to find conflicting answers to the common question: does exercise cause acne breakouts? Some resources suggest that exercise contributes to breakouts on the face, chest, and back, while other resources claim that exercise helps control and prevent acne in the long term.
The complicated truth is that both answers are correct. Poor fitness habits – like wearing sweaty clothes after a workout – can lead to breakouts. But in the long term, exercise is beneficial for skin health, because it lowers production of stress hormones in the body, improves blood circulation, and opens skin pores.
Before you cancel your gym membership, keep reading to learn the whole truth about how exercise and acne are connected.
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How Does Exercise Contribute to Acne?
One of the most common myths surrounding exercise and acne is that sweat causes acne breakouts. But that’s not entirely true. Here’s a more accurate breakdown of how exercise can contribute to acne:
- When you exercise, your body products sweat. Sweat is a natural and essential bodily function – it helps regulate body temperature, so you don’t overheat. Sweating also causes your pores to open, which allows them to breathe and flush out dirt and oil. Sweating is beneficial to your skin because it naturally removes acne-causing agents.
- After a good workout, you may not shower, wipe down, or wash your face immediately. If you let sweat linger on the skin, it dries and traps bacteria, dirt, oil, and makeup in your pores. Clogged pores lead to acne breakouts.
The problem isn’t sweating – the problem is letting sweat collect and dry on your skin. You can prevent exercise-related acne from developing by practicing good hygiene before, during, and after a workout. Below, we discuss the best hygiene practices for exercising.
How Can Exercise Help Prevent Future Acne?
Regular exercise is good for your physical, mental, and emotional health, and it can benefit your skin health as well. Exercise improves your circulation and oxygen intake, which means your skin cells receive more of the oxygen, blood, and essential nutrients they need to be healthy.
Additionally, exercise reduces stress levels and the body’s production of the stress hormone cortisol. Since we know that cortisol causes sebaceous glands to produce excess oil, exercise directly helps control the amount of oil in your skin and decreases the chance of acne breakouts. Stress is a leading cause of hormonal acne, so find a workout you enjoy and take advantage of its ability to help prevent breakouts.
Even sweating is beneficial to your skin health because it causes your pores to open, breathe, and flush out acne-causing dirt and oil. Just be sure not to let sweat sit and dry on your face after a vigorous workout – that’s what leads to dirt, makeup, and bacteria becoming trapped under your skin.
5 Tips to Keep Exercise-Related Acne Under Control
Practicing good hygiene before, during, and after exercising can reduce your chances of acne breakouts. Keep these tips in mind the next time you head to the gym:
- Remove makeup before working out. Makeup is already a pore-clogging substance, and you risk further clogging if you combine makeup with sweat and face oils. Use a gentle, oil-free makeup remover to wipe off mascara, eyeliner, foundation, and concealer before exercising.
- Wear clean, loose-fitting clothes. Change into a fresh outfit for every new workout session. Wearing dirty, sweaty clothes will introduce more bacteria and dirt to your skin. Avoid tight-fitting gear like clingy sports bras, pants, headbands, and sweatbands. These are all areas where sweat is likely to stick and trap oil, dirt, and bacteria within the pores. Instead, opt for looser clothes made from sweat-wicking material.
- Apply sunscreen. If you’re exercising outside, apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30. Your skin will suffer far worse than acne breakouts if you skip the sunscreen. To minimize pore clogging, look for an oil-free product.
- Wash your workout equipment. If you’re at the gym, wipe down shared equipment before and after use. If yoga is your workout of choice, clean your mat after every session. If you play contact sports, wash helmets, guards, and pads after each practice and game.
- Remove sweaty clothes immediately after exercising. Don’t linger in your gym clothes post-workout. Strip off the sweaty clothes, wash your face, and take a shower after exercising. If you can’t shower, at least wash your face and wipe down your body with a gentle, oil-free cleansing wipe.
At Florida Dermatology and Skin Cancer Centers, our licensed dermatologists are experts in the field of skin, hair, and nail problems. If you experience persistent acne or frequent breakouts, we can develop a treatment plan that meets your individual needs and addresses the problem at its root cause. We have several clinics across the state of Florida – contact us today to schedule a consultation.