Once we're off our booties and at the gym, there seems to be no downside to getting in a good workout — that is, unless some post-workout pimples appear. No one wants to ruin their skin when working on their body, so it's essential we know all the ways to prevent post-exercise breakouts. Luckily, you're not doomed to acne-filled skin just because you hit the gym frequently — you just need to take the proper steps to maintain the best skincare that will keep your skin free of dirt and other bacteria.
Surprisingly, exercise alone does not trigger acne, found a study by Stanford University. Instead, it's the combination of dead skin, clogged pores, and bacteria that build ups during exercise that leads to acne breakouts.
"Exercise has been shown to be good for the skin," says dermatologist Fayne L. Frey, MD, FAAD over email. "It increases blood flow and benefits many organs like the heart, lungs and and skin. With all that being said, there are things one can do to try to prevent the aggravation of acne."
To help you get in shape and still have the clearest skin, I consulted with Frey and a few other dermatologists to come up with the best ways to prevent breakouts from working out.
1. Take Off All Your Makeup
"Having makeup on your face while you sweat is about the worst thing you can do and is the main reason for acne breakouts after the gym," says dermatologist Dr. Kally Papantoniou over email. "The makeup blocks the pores and prevents most of the sweat from coming out, causing it to build up under the skin. In turn, bacteria grows, and you get breakouts."
2. Wash Your Face Before Working Out
"I recommend to patients to wash their face prior to working out, even if they are not wearing makeup," says Dr. Debbie Palmer, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Replere® skin care. "This gentle exfoliation can remove the buildup of makeup, oil, bacteria and dead skin cells, helping to diminish the chance of breakouts."
3. Moisturize Your Skin
"Although it may sound counter intuitive, athletes should moisturize the skin twice a day, as moisturized skin has been shown to minimize acne breakouts," says Frey. "Perhaps skin with a high water content has a more difficult time developing a clog, one of the initial steps in acne formation."
4. Always Wear Clean Gym Clothes
Yes, that means more laundry, but it also means smoother skin. "The old sweat that accumulates in your dirty, used gym clothes creates a build up of bacteria," says Papantoniou. "Always put on a fresh pair of gym clothes, especially bras and shorts to avoid back and butt acne, two areas that are especially susceptible."
5. Wipe Down Your Equipment
"Most gym equipment is cleaned at the end of the day, which means that unless you're the first person in at sunrise, you'll come into contact with other people's sweat and bacteria that will cause you breakouts," says Papantoniou. "Make good use of the antibacterial wipes they have at your gym, and wipe down each machine before use."
6. Stay Hydrated
Water is not only good for the skin, but it also plays a role in how much you perspire. "Stay hydrated, as dehydration leads to more concentrated sweat," says Frey. "This may predispose the skin to more clogged pores."
7. Don't Touch Your Face
It's hard not to wipe the sweat off your face when you're on the treadmill, but it's the dirt on these objects that can lead to breakouts. "Try not to touch the face when exercising, especially when using gym equipment or other objects that may pass bacteria from person to person," says Frey.
8. Shower Right After Working Out
"Letting the sweat and dirt linger on your skin for too long after a workout is another big reason acne appears after exercise," says Papantoniou. "Wash your face and other problem areas right after your workout."
9. Apply Acne Medicine Right Away
Come prepared with any skincare products you may need when you're done with your workout. "If you suffer from frequent post-gym breakouts, always take salicylic acid pads to the gym along with your wash," says Papantoniou. "This little extra step goes a long way to keep your face and other problem areas acne free."
10. Work Out At Cooler Times Of Day
"Exercising outside, especially during the summer and during high humidity can increase oil production, blocking pores and leading to increased acne," says dermatologist Dr. Seth Forman over email. "Try working out during cooler time periods throughout the day — either first thing in the morning or later in the evening."
11. Fuel With The Right Foods
"Poor food choices such as a diet high in 'bad fats' and excess sugar significantly increase your chances of developing acne," says Forman. "A bad diet causes inflammation, leading to increase of oil production, which causes acne."
Exercise is beneficial for both your overall health and your skin health, so don't let the fear of pimples stop you from hitting the gym!
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