The Athletes and Acne Connection
Plus useful skincare tips for gym-goers
Most athletes know that working out can have a detrimental affect on our skin, especially for those who are acne prone. “Acne Mechanic, a condition prompted by pressure, friction and heat is more common in athletes and active people compared to sedentary individuals," says Dr. Sejal K. Shah, a dermatologist at Smarterskin Dermatology in New York City. Areas that are covered by tight workout clothes are particularly prone to breaking out (think back, chest and shoulders), while your face is trigger zone due to sweating. Here, some expert advice prevent the problem.
Clean is key
“Before exercising, it’s really important to cleanse the skin, even if you’re not wearing makeup,” says Dr. Sejal. Washing your face pre-workout removes bacteria, makeup, and excess oils as well as other impurities that can reduce the risk of clogged pores that usually results in acne. Sejal recommends a gentle cleanser for your face (She says Dr. Dennis Gross all-in-one cleansing foam is a good one) and a cleansing cloth (try CLEANSE by Lauren Napier) for other areas of the body. The chest, back and shoulders are especially prone to folliculitis (the inflammation of hair follicles) so washing with a mild-acne fighting ingredient can be beneficial, according to experts. Try to avoid anything too harsh or drying, which can irritate the skin during the course of your workout routine. After cleansing, Sejal recommends a hydrating oil-free moisturizer like Kiehls Breakout Control Acne Treatment facial lotion and SPF, especially if you plan to be outdoors.
Don't sweat it
Peripheral factors such as dirty hair and work out equipment can have a huge impact on the skin’s appearance, says Sejal. If you have medium to long-length hair, secure it back to help reduce skin irritation. Silicone agents in shampoos and conditioners can result in clogged pores along the hairline. Also take note to wipe down any equipment that comes in direct contact with the body. A dirty workout mat, for example, is a mighty culprit for exercise-related breakouts. Throughout your workout use the “tap it back” approach when it comes to wiping away sweat, says Michael Pollack, co-founder of Heyday facial spa in New York City. Pat your face gently, rather than completely wiping the sweat off of your face or body. “Sweat is a natural defense for your skin and leaving a bit on the skin is how your skin regulates your bodies temperature as well as fluid needs,” he says. The pros at Heyday also recommend balancing your water intake with your sweat output. “Hydrating from the inside out is one of the best recipes for glowing skin,” they say.
Dress for success
Skin produces more oil in the summer, so you may be at a higher risk of developing acne in the warm weather months, but plunging temperatures in the winter can also wreak havoc on your skin. Gearing up in tight, occlusive clothing can trap sweat, prompting skin rashes and acne flare-ups. Opt for moisture-wicking athletic gear and performance fabrics to help your skin breathe.
Warm, damp clothes are also the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, so hanging out in them post-workout will largely increase an athlete’s risk for acne on areas like the back and shoulders. Sejal suggests changing out of sweaty clothes immediately after any kind of workout. Showering is a best-case scenario in order to remove oil, dirt, and bacteria, but when showering isn’t an option go for cleansing cloths or antibacterial wipes.