If one of your goals for the new year is to stick to a consistent workout routine, and another is to maintain a clear complexion, you may wonder if the two can peacefully coexist. It's understandable to not want to sacrifice skin health while prioritizing your fitness goals. But, does sweat cause acne? Working up a sweat in the gym could contribute to an increase in breakouts—but it doesn't have to.
Here's how sweat and acne are linked and what you can do to achieve your New Year's resolutions in perfect harmony.
Does Sweat Cause Acne?
Acne is a skin condition that occurs when pores become clogged, causing the formation of pimples. There are many acne breakout triggers, and sweat is one of them.
Sweating from a workout is to be expected. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) explains that physical exercise not only causes excessive sweating, but also a buildup of oil, dirt, and bacteria on your skin, which can all lead to acne. Sweat doesn't inherently cause acne, but leaving sweat on the skin creates an environment for acne to form.
When sweat becomes trapped on your skin, the chances of acne are even greater. Sports equipment and some types of athletic clothing allow acne-causing bacteria to thrive by trapping sweat and causing irritation from friction against heated skin, according to the AAD. Helmets, face guards, tight garments, and synthetic fabrics can all cause breakouts because they trap sweat and increase friction.
Pre- and Post-Workout Acne Prevention Tips
Here are some tips to help you combat acne before, during, and after an intense workout.
1. Remove Makeup before Physical Activity
Wearing makeup to bed isn't recommended—and neither is exercising in makeup. Sweat mixed with makeup is a recipe for acne because your pores are already clogged before the workout has even started. Some makeup products are formulated with comedogenic (pore-clogging) ingredients, adding fuel to the fire.
To prevent sweat-related breakouts, skip your morning makeup routine or remove your makeup if you're already wearing it. You can (and should) still use some skin care products before hitting the gym—but other than that, stick to a bare face.
2. Exercise in Clean Clothes
Many people are guilty of throwing on already-worn gym clothes. But whether it's your favorite pair of leggings or that one sweatshirt that's warm enough to withstand the cold and wind, be sure to wash them before your next workout.
Unclean clothes contain dead skin cells, bacteria, and oils from previous wears, which could clog your pores and lead to acne. Because unwashed activewear harbors more bacteria, it can also lead to skin irritation and infections.
Keep your fitness gear fresh, and better yet, try to stick to athletic clothing that isn't too tight or made with friction-causing fabrics.
3. Wash Your Face or Shower after Sweating
Skin care professionals generally recommend washing your face one to two times per day, depending on your skin type. It's also important to wash your face every time you sweat or exercise. Cleansing your skin as soon as possible after a gym session will help prevent sweat from lingering on the surface of your face. Use a gentle cleanser like the EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser at the gym if possible, or right when you get home.
Oil and sweat from strenuous exercise can lead to breakouts all over your body. In addition to washing your face after sweating, you might also consider showering to help keep blemish-free from head to toe.
4. Wipe Down Shared Equipment and Gear
If you share exercise equipment at a public facility or protective gear on a sports team, someone else's acne problem could become your own. Surfaces that come into contact with other people's skin could be full of acne-causing bacteria (and other germs) that then transfer to you.
It's best to avoid sharing protective gear like helmets and face guards altogether, but if that's not possible, wipe items like these down before using them. The same goes for workout equipment at a gym or class.
5. Use a Clean Towel to Remove Sweat
Sweat alone doesn't cause acne, but problems arise when it sits on your face too long and mixes with sebum, dirt, and bacteria. Keep a clean towel nearby to wipe sweat off your face during your workout. This minimizes the length of time it lingers on your face, decreasing its potential of forming an acne-causing alliance with dirt and bacteria.
Remember to always use a fresh towel and cleanse your face thoroughly after your workout.
Treating Breakouts from Sweat
When it comes to getting rid of post-exercise pimples, treating an active breakout from sweating is the same as treating any other case of acne.
Treating acne usually involves a combination of adopting healthy skin care habits and using over-the-counter and prescription medications. Over-the-counter active ingredients like Salicylic Acid and sulfur, for example, help break down blackheads and whiteheads. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology also showed that topical Retinoids are effective in helping to minimize acne.
To help maintain clear skin, make the following habits part of your routine:
- Use a mild cleanser regularly, especially after heavy exercise, and rinse with lukewarm water.
- Shampoo your hair often (possibly daily if you have an oily scalp).
- Avoid touching your face and don't rub or pick at pimples.
- Stick to oil-free and non-comedogenic formulations.
- Wear sunscreen daily to help prevent acne scarring. EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 is oil-free and suitable for acne-prone skin.
- Visit a board-certified Dermatologist. They can help you find an acne treatment plan that's right for you.
Workout-related breakouts can be especially frustrating. You put valuable time and effort into your fitness goals—so why should they make it more challenging to achieve your skin care goals? Luckily, with a little extra care, they don't have to. You have all the information you need to step into the new year feeling strong, confident, and radiant from the inside out.