6 Tips for Avoiding Post Workout Breakouts

does working out cause acne

Let’s face it. We exercise not just to benefit our health, but to improve our appearance, right?

Exercise helps us keep our weight under control, and also gets the blood pumping, which gives us that healthy flush. Dermatologists know that stimulating circulation keeps skin looking vibrant, while reducing stress and its damaging effects on the skin.

How discouraging, then, to dedicate time to working out, only to breakout afterwards.

Science Says It’s Not the Sweat

It was back in 1975 that researchers first described a type of breakouts that seemed to develop from mechanical forces in the skin found to be common in football players. They reported that breakouts developed in areas where the helmet or uniform padding rubbed on the body. The idea is that heat, pressure, friction, rubbing the skin, and sweat—when combined—can all result in breakouts.

The idea spawned a rumor that’s potentially damaging to health—that exercise causes breakouts. Over time, the perception in people’s minds was that exercise produced sweat, which worsened clogged pores.

Is it true? A small 2005 study attempted to find out. They split 23 men into three groups:

  • Group one did no exercise at all.
  • Group two exercised, breaking out in a sweat, in a 100% cotton T-shirt, and showered four hours after exercising.
  • Group three exercised, breaking out in a sweat, in a 100% cotton T-shirt, and showered within one hour of exercising.

The groups that exercised did so five days a week for two weeks. After each period, investigators examined any breakouts that developed. They found that though the men developed clogged pores, it did not have anything to do with exercise, time of sweating during exercise, or the time interval between exercising and taking a shower. Those who exercised developed no more breakouts than those who didn’t.

The researchers concluded that exercise had no bearing on breakouts.

So if you were hoping to avoid exercise with the excuse that it causes clogged pores, you’re out of luck!

In fact, would you be surprised to learn that sweat can actually be good for your skin?

What Increases Risk of Acne with Exercise?

There are other factors at work. As the researchers originally found in the 1970s, it’s not the sweat that’s the problem, but what else it comes into contact with. In the case of the football players, the helmets and padding were the culprits.

Clothing that is tight or restrictive may cause similar issues. These types of clothes can irritate skin, and spread bacteria into pores. Anything that rubs is also a bad idea. Looser clothing may solve the problem.

Certain materials can also be irritating. Polyester and other man-made fabrics, for instance, can trap oils and bacteria next to skin, increasing the risk for breakouts. Look for fabrics that wick moisture away and help it to evaporate, or choose cotton and other natural materials.

How do you feel in your clothes? Anything that is itchy or irritating can aggravate skin. Choose comfortable items that feel good.

Tips to Help You Reduce Your Risk of a Post-Workout Breakout

  • Workout without makeup. Cleanse skin before hand, apply a non-clogging moisturizer, and go bare to be sure makeup ingredients don’t clog your pores.
  • Keep your hands away from your face. Your hands touch exercise equipment, which likely has bacteria on it. Try to keep your hands away from your skin until you clean up after your workout.
  • Cleanse after your workout. Though the study above noted that it didn’t matter when participants washed off sweat, cleansing after a workout is a good idea in case you collected any bacteria on your skin. Exercise equipment, your hands, and cloths used to sop up sweat can all be sources of bacteria.
  • Exfoliate more often. If you’re sweating and washing regularly, step up your exfoliation and see if that helps. Dry skin brushing can be helpful.
  • Exercise in a cooler environment. Try walking or jogging in the cool hours of the morning or evening, or swimming.
  • Choose your moisturizer wisely. Common moisturizing products may contain fragrances, preservatives, and other ingredients that can aggravate and irritate skin, increasing risk of breakouts.

Exercise is Good for Skin!

We hope that you don’t let post-workout breakouts discourage you from exercising. It’s not only critical for your long-term health, but it improves the health of your skin! Here are just a few of the benefits:

  • Increases circulation.
  • Dilates pores, allowing sweat to expel trapped dirt and oil.
  • Regulates hormones.
  • Prevents free-radical damage.

In fact, recent studies have revealed that exercise actually helps reverse the skin’s aging process. In 2014, researchers from Ontario found that participants who performed at least three hours of moderate or vigorous exercise every week had skin closer in composition to 20- and 30-year-olds than others of their age, even if they were past the age of 65.

In a follow-up study on participants 65 and older, researchers found that those who worked out twice a week by jogging or cycling for 30 minutes for three months had skin similar to 20- to 40-year-olds. Researchers commented that the results were remarkable, and that the skin “looked like that of a much younger person, and all that they had done differently was exercise.”

Don’t rob yourself of this anti-aging secret because of acne. Try our tips above and keep moving!

Have you struggled with breakouts after exercise? Please share your story.

Sources:

Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology – Debunking the Exercise and Acne Myth: A Single-blinded Randomized Study on the Effect of Exercise-induced Occlusion on Truncal Acne

Pediatric Dermatology – A Single-blinded, Randomized Pilot Study to Evaluate the Effect of Exercise-Induced Sweat on Truncal Acne

Science Daily – Acne May Prevent People From Participating In Sport And Exercise, Says Research

Scientific American – Scientists Find an Antimicrobial Protein in Human Sweat

The Journal of Immunology – Deficiency of Dermcidin-Derived Antimicrobial Peptides in Sweat of Patients with Atopic Dermatitis Correlates with an Impaired Innate Defense of Human Skin In Vivo1

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  1. Nicole Ehlert says

    I started working out again about 4 months ago. 2 HIIT classes and multiple times in the gym on the treadmill and doing some weights. This is when my acne started ONLY on my jawline/neck. I had NO idea what was causing it. I eat healthy, I sleep well, next to no stress, and workout. I washed my face before the gym, had face clothes for when I sweat, and washed after. I used topical creams, oral antibiotics – nothing. The ONLY thing that stopped my jawline acne was when I stopped going to the gym. I’m super upset, the gym made me feel so good, so happy and I was noticing great changes in my body. Anybody else?

    • Genesis says

      I feel the same way. The gym makes me feel so good but lately I’m thinking it could be the cause to my acne. The similarity that I see with you and I is that I also use a face towel. I swear a LOT and I use my towel very much and a apply a lot of pressure to my face when I’m drying my sweat off. I’m thinking of letting go of all my towels. Hopefully that makes a difference.

  2. Helix says

    I breakout on my face when I workout to the point of sweating. I’ve tried washing in cold and hot water afterwards…but neither makes a difference. My face doesn’t like my sweat 😢

  3. Pam says

    After many years of doing nothing, I started spinning and Piloxing 4 days a week. Right away I started developing horrible acne. It was acne like I’d never experienced. Big, painful bumps, rarely came to a head. They took weeks to go away often leaving a small bump behind which would often become inflamed again continuing the cycle. My gym closed unexpectedly and I’ve been just over a week without working out and my skin is clearing up… so disappointing as exercise makes me feel wonderful except for my skin 😞

  4. Rebecca says

    Wow Thanks for the comments. I thought I was the only one this was happening to! Although I have always exercised, I recently increased the intensity and am sweating a lot more and yes I have acne on my shoulders, chest and back! I usually keep on my workout clothes and drive home and shower so maybe I should try taking off my sweaty clothes before heading home and see if that changes anything.

  5. Jake says

    Thanks for the article. There’s no question that my acne breakouts correlate with exercise. It could be from wiping the sweat off with my hands, or using my shirt. I’m going to try and be more conscious and maybe pinpoint it. I also get nauseous after harder workouts, and sometimes dizzy and faint (and, to be clear, these are never especially intense workouts). What I’m trying to say here is that I’m absolutely no fun to work out with.

  6. B says

    I started getting cystic acne on my chin and jawline from working out. Stopped working out, acne disappeared. I never sweat enough to have to wipe my face, since I did it all at home and was relatively low intensity…but I also showered less than an hour after working out. It’s really discouraging when you want your body to feel healthy but your skin looks like absolute crap. In a week after stopping working out, my waist increased by almost 2 inches…which I worked so hard to get off. It just feels awful.

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