A good, sweaty workout is beneficial for your entire body, from the organs beneath the skin to the outer pores themselves—even if you have acne.
Many adults with problem skin worry that exercise will cause a breakout or worsen an existing flareup. As cited in a previous post, workouts may affect hormones and the skin, but the long-term benefits generally outweigh the risks, especially when you pay mind to simple preventative tips.
According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, exercise increases blood flow to the surface of your skin and brings oxygen and nutrients to your whole body—and your complexion reaps the benefits.
Sweat is made mostly of water, with small amounts of ammonia, urea, salts, and sugar. When you sweat, these impurities are flushed from your skin. Ensuring your body eliminates dirt and germs without clogging pores is a matter of proper cleansing—both before your first rep and after the last mile.
Just like the effects of a steamy shower, the heat a body produces during a workout signals pores to expand and breathe. Open pores are ideal after exercise when you’re ready to cleanse away the impurities your face attracted during that invigorating CrossFit session.
However, forgetting to wash your face before you lace up those tennis shoes invites the day’s dirt and bacteria to mingle with your sweat and seep right into those open pores—the perfect cocktail for acne.
Before you stretch those muscles, prep your face with a quick, no-fuss wash, being mindful of your skin’s sensitivities.
Over-washing can lead to dryness and irritation, especially for adult skin with acne. Stay away from cleansers that contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), an ingredient that can strip natural moisture.
Try an anti-bacterial formula with tea tree oil like S.W. Basics or a mild, milky cleanser like Cetaphil to gently remove makeup, dead skin cells, and pollution.
Cleaning wipes can also come in handy, but be wary—many brands concentrate more on cost than quality. Look for wipes that are fragrance-free and include toning and light moisturizing benefits, like Boots No7 Beautiful Skin Quick Thinking Wipes or Noxema’s Clean Moisture Makeup Removal Cloths.
Of course, if you'll be in the sun, apply a sunscreen moisturizer at least 20-minutes before going outside.
Feeling like exploring a DIY option? Erin Akey, a certified personal trainer and water fitness instructor, suggests making your own gym bag-friendly concoction.
“One tip I give all of my runners is to buy a bottle of witch hazel and a pack of alcohol-free baby wipes—preferably with aloe. Pour the witch hazel into the pack of wipes so that they’re all soaked through. Before each run, wipe your face well,” she says. “This is a very inexpensive way to keep your face clear and glowing.”
When you’ve really hit your stride on the elliptical or find yourself sweating profusely in a Warrior II Pose, don’t be afraid to pick up a clean towel to dry off. Just remember to dab, not wipe, your face. New York dermatologist Dr. Hilary Reich acknowledges that towels are an essential part of a tough workout, but proper use is key.
“Gently pat the skin to remove excess sweat. Vigorous rubbing can irritate pores, causing inflammation and breakouts,” she says.
Hit the shower post-workout for a proper head-to-toe cleansing and hold off on applying too many products.
“Research shows that most gym-goers don’t shower after a workout,” says New York City dermatologist, Debra Jaliman. “So they’re literally sitting in bacteria both on their bodies and on their skin.”
Save the serious acne treatments for bedtime and instead let the natural, purifying benefits of the hot water and steam wash away the grime. Considering calming your skin with a toning face mist, like Pangea’s Italian Green Mandarin with Sweet Lime Facial Toner, a pore-tightening formula with soothing herbal extracts and an invigorating scent.
Be sure to follow up with a moisturizer to replenish and protect your pores—they deserve a hydrating hi-five for all that hard work. Go team!