Have you recently started working out? Working out can help you achieve your body goals and improve your overall health. However, while you may feel more muscular, slimmer, or stronger from your regular exercise routine, you may notice your skin acting up. As a result, you might see pimples and acne breakouts on your body. While ditching your gym and workout may be out of the question, there are various ways you can manage and prevent this. We're here to help you understand whether your workout is causing your acne and how to manage it effectively.
Can Sweat Cause Acne?
First of all, let’s analyze whether sweat can cause acne or not. Technically, sweat does not cause acne on its own. However, when it combines with other impurities, the outcome can be unfavorable for the skin. Workout-related acne results from the interaction of several factors that contribute to it. When you sweat during a workout, the moisture or sweat on your skin can mix with the skin’s natural oils, dirt, microbes, inflammation, dead skin cells, and other impurities, potentially clogging your pores. Clogged pores can create an environment that is more favorable for the growth of acne-causing bacteria and the formation of acne lesions on the skin.
Additionally, excessive sweating can increase skin irritation and inflammation, exacerbating existing acne or triggering new breakouts. Friction can further aggravate the skin, making your acne worse.
It’s important to note that sweating may exacerbate acne for many people. However, for some individuals, it's the other way around. This is because physical activity can improve the microcirculation of the skin and help clear the pores. On the other hand, some may notice that excessive sweat and insufficient hygiene practices can make their acne symptoms even worse.
How to Prevent Workout-related Acne?
If you’re struggling with sweat-induced acne, don’t worry. You don’t have to compromise your physical health and fitness to manage and prevent this problem. Follow the tips below to curb sweat acne and enjoy healthy skin and a healthy body.¹
Cleanse Before and After Workouts: Make it a habit to cleanse your face before and after exercising. Opting for a gentle, non-comedogenic, and alcohol-free cleanser is recommended to draw out dirt, oil, grime, and all sorts of impurities from your face before and after exercising. This aids in removing dirt, sweat, and excess oil from your skin, ultimately lowering the chances of getting clogged pores and acne breakouts.
Also, avoid formulas containing harsh or abrasive ingredients that can irritate your skin. You can invest in a face cleanser and body wash with AHAs and BHAs to reap the additional benefits of exfoliation.² Exfoliating cleansers will keep your pores clear of dead skin and other substances.
Don’t Wear Makeup: It’s best not to work out with makeup on. If you’re someone who loves applying heavy makeup every day, don’t forget to remove it before your workout. Most makeup products have pore-congesting, oil-based, and thick formulas that can lead to acne breakouts. If you still want to use makeup before going to the gym, choose makeup products with non-comedogenic, lightweight, and oil-free formulas that offer light coverage without blocking your pores. You can opt for a CC cream instead of a foundation.
Keep Hair Off Your Face: Always pull your hair back to make sure it stays away from your face. It’s best to tie up and secure your hair in a ponytail or bun to keep it clear of any disturbance during workouts. Hair care products and sebum from your hair can get transferred to your skin when your hair comes in contact with your skin. These substances can get trapped in your pores, laying the foundation for acne breakouts.
Clean Equipment That Touches Your Face: Make sure to wipe down all the equipment that comes in contact with your face while working out. If you enjoy music while exercising, regularly clean your headphones, as they can harbor bacteria, dirt, oil, and other impurities affecting your skin. Similarly, if you use sports equipment that touches your face, like a helmet or goggles, keep them clean too. Follow this step before and after every workout as a courtesy to your skin.
Wear Loose-Fitting Clothing: Your workout clothing can impact your skin. That’s why it’s essential to select your workout clothes carefully. Buy clothes that are not too tight and are made from moisture-absorbing fabrics.
Moisture-absorbing material will draw sweat away from your skin during a workout, allowing it to evaporate more easily. This can decrease the amount of sweat buildup on your skin. Loose-fitting clothing also helps to reduce acne breakout by reducing friction against the skin, which can otherwise cause irritation and redness.
Wipe off Any Shared Workout Equipment: If you have joined a gym where exercise equipment is shared, it’s imperative that you wipe it off before use. Although it would be a great scenario if everyone cleaned exercise equipment after each use, sadly, that’s not always the case. So, don’t count on others to clean the equipment to avoid risking your skin’s health.
Shared workout equipment can also be a source of dirt, bacteria, oil, and numerous other elements that can cause havoc on your skin. Many gyms provide you with cleaning materials, such as sprays and towels, to wipe off the equipment.
Don’t Wipe Your Skin Vigorously: As mentioned earlier, friction against your skin can also result in acne breakouts and inflammation. Therefore, it’s important to be gentle with your skin while wiping off the seat during or after a workout. While you may be habitual in cleaning off your sweat with your hand, shirt, or a towel during a workout session, fight the urge to do this because this might create friction and transfer bacteria to your skin, which does not work in your favor. A much better way of wiping off sweat while working out is to pat it away with a clean towel, preferably cotton.
Change Your Sweaty Clothes Immediately: To avoid acne, inflammation, and other skin issues, it’s suggested to change out of your sweaty workout clothes right after your workout. The reason behind doing so is the same as cleaning your workout equipment. Also, be sure your gym clothes are washed before you wear them again. This will help avoid pore-congesting dirt, oil, and germs that can be trapped in your clothes and can quickly transfer to your skin if you wear them again without cleaning them for your next workout session.
Shower after Your Workout: If you like to get into the shower right after your workout, you’re already on the right path. Make it a routine to shower as soon as possible after exercising to eliminate all the sweat, oil, dirt, and germs that build up on your body during workouts.
To ensure that your face and body are thoroughly clean, use gentle body and face cleansers encompassing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.³ These compounds cleanse pores, remove impurities, and eliminate acne-causing bacteria from the skin. Use lukewarm water to shower and remove the product from your face and body afterward. Last but not least, after your refreshing post-workout shower, use a clean towel to pat dry your skin.
If you’ve recently amped up your workout game and are noticing acne breakouts in addition to reaping the sought-after benefits of your workout, there is no need to panic. Unfortunately, many people face this issue as they work toward a leaner, toned, and healthier body. While it’s normal to have sweat acne from working out, nobody wants those pimples and blemishes on their skin. Sweat acne results from sweat, bacteria, sebum, and friction. All these elements lead to irritation and inflammation of the skin, leading to acne breakouts. However, following the above-mentioned precautions and proper hygiene during and after workout sessions can help to avoid this issue.
- S. Brooklyn. (2023). ‘Benefits of Exercising for the Skin’, Sundree, Accessed June 1, 2023. Available at: https://sundree.com/blogs/news/benefits-of-exercising-for-the-skin
- Santos-Longhurst, Adrienne. (2023). ‘What Does It Mean to Exfoliate? Why You Should and How to Start’, Healthline, Accessed June 1, 2023. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/meaning-of-exfoliating
- WebMD. (2023). “Benzoyl Peroxide Gel- Uses, Side Effects, and More’, WebMD, Accessed June 2, 2023. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-1344/benzoyl-peroxide-topical/details