Working out is not always the best for skin. It's true that there are a lot of ways exercise benefits your skin, but the act of working out can cause acne. Yes, exercising keeps stress levels lower. With lowered stress, you are less likely to suffer from stress-related wrinkles and acne. Basically a win-win right? But wait, there's more. Exercise also boosts circulation and promotes sweat, which can help the body rid itself of toxins and push impurities out of pores. Both of which results in making skin clearer and brighter. All of this sounds pretty great, but unfortunately, there are also ways that exercising can mess with your skin as well.
And what's worse is that these ways of messing with the skin can actually undo all of the benefits of working out if the proper precautions aren't taken. In other words, exercising can simultaneously help and hurt acne in certain situations. So to make sure you're really getting the most out of your workout for your skin, here are seven things to be wary of when exercising, and how to make sure they don't counteract all the skin benefits you'd normally reap.
1. A Dirty Yoga Mat
All parts of one's own body can touch every part of a yoga mat whether it's the hands, feet, or face. That means whatever bacteria and dirt is on the feet can end up on the face. And that's just from a personal mat. If one provided at the gym or studio is used, who knows what could be transferred from the mat to the skin. So you can meditate on your mat instead of stress about what it could be doing to your skin, make sure to wipe it down before and after every use. And if you're prone to breaking out, also make sure to shower right after your session to wash away any mat residue.
2. Other Dirty Gym Equipment
Just like a yoga mat, other gym equipment can harbor bacteria and dirt. To avoid contaminating the skin and prevent breakouts, always wipe down equipment before and after every use. Also try not to touch the face or other areas that are prone to breaking out while using those weights and machines.
3. Going Too Hard
Running too often and too hard can actually impact the elasticity in the skin. Some experts believe this is because oxygen and free-radical damage can be more likely to occur during excess cardio or while running. This damage can, in turn, possibly lead to elastin and collagen being damaged or broken. At the same time, exercise is believed to be good for your skin and body. "Blood carries oxygen and nutrients to skin and helps carry away free radicals," says dermatologist Dr. Shari Sperling, DO.
4. Sitting In Sweat
Sweat itself, of course, is good because it helps regulate the body temperature. However, because sweat can mix with natural body oils, whatever product residue might be on your skin, and the dirt it has already pushed out of pores; going for too long without washing it off can cause that nasty mixture to settle (back) into pores and lead to breakouts. This is especially the case if you prefer to wear tighter-fitting exercise gear (including a sports bra). To keep sweat from wreaking havoc on your skin, make sure to wear looser-fitting and/or sweat-wicking fabrics. Also try to take a shower ASAP after finishing a workout. "If you notice an increase in acne or breakouts after working out, make sure to wash your face shortly after," suggests Sperling. "For convenience, you can also use an over-the-counter facial wipe or antibiotic wipe."
5. Getting Too Hot
Heat rash, or miliaria, is a really annoying thing that can happen to some people when they work out (trust me, it's no fun). Miliaria is basically small, itchy hives that develop when the body temperature rises and sweat glands become obstructed. (Hives might be particularly prominent underneath a sports bra or other tight-fitting workout gear.)
"If your skin gets irritated, you can use a moisturizer prior to activity to decrease any irritation," suggests Sperling. "People with rosacea may get overheated and redness may flare, so swimming is [also' a good option for them — or be sure to cool yourself down right after exercise."
If these itchy bumps become too distracting during a workout, try to prevent them by keeping your body temperature down. You can do this by misting yourself with a cooling spray, or keep cooling wipes on hand. If that's not enough, try taking an antihistamine before working out.
6. Too Much Friction
Ugh, chafing. Something many of us have probably experienced at one time or another, skin or loose clothing rubbing against (other) skin can cause irritation and pain. Keep the top layer of skin on your body by wearing thinner, more fitted clothing that can create a barrier between body parts that might rub too much together. Or if you like your outfit the way it is, try a body lubricant instead.
7. Sun Exposure
Exercising outside can provide a nice break from the monotony of a gym or studio. However, sunscreen might not always be one of the first things we think about for an outdoor-workout checklist. But not only can sunburn lead to premature wrinkling and overall leathery skin, it can also lead to skin cancer. Before exercising outside (or spending any prolonged period in the sun), make sure you've applied sunscreen (and reapply as necessary).
This post was originally published on June 12, 2017. It was updated and republished on June 26, 2019. Additional reporting by Sara Tan.