Can exercise cause acne?

Skin Health Advisor
Ask Felicity

10 July 2018

Can working out help your skin?

You’re often told that to maintain a healthy lifestyle you need to eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly to enhance your strength and stamina. However, if you suffer from a skin condition like acne, it isn’t always this simple. Many sufferers have reported that their skin seems to flare-up whenever they hit the gym or finish a class which can be really discouraging.  

So, is it really the exercise that is causing these flare-ups? The short answer is yes, but if you stick with this you are potentially ignoring all of the benefits that exercise has to offer for your skin. That’s why rather solely concentrating on the bad, I’m first going to discuss some of the benefits that exercise has, not only for acne-prone skin, but also your skin in general.

Exercising is a great mood booster! 

Stress is a major cause of inflammation and so it often plays a big role in stimulating an acne flare-up. You see, when your body experiences stress it has no sense of moderation – it can’t tell the difference between you rushing to meet a deadline and you racing away from a sabre toothed tiger! 

As a result, your immune system will initiate an inflammatory response that causes your body to redirect nutrients away from your skin towards other organs and your digestive system can easily become sluggish, trapping toxins and other impurities in your body. If you want to read more about stress and your skin, I’d recommend checking out my blog ‘Could stress be fuelling your skin condition?

However, exercise can help you to tackle stress. This is because when you’re working out, it triggers the release of feel-good neurotransmitters like endorphins and it can help to regulate your sleep patterns, allowing you to feel more relaxed and at ease.

Exercising enhances your circulation!

Your skin relies on you having a healthy circulation system in order to get a good supply of oxygen-rich blood and nourishing nutrients like vitamin C, zinc and selenium. It also needs your circulation to be in top shape to support your lymphatic system. Your lymphatic system acts almost as your body’s drainage system and transports a watery fluid called ‘lymph’ which contains plenty of white blood cells. 

These lymph cells can help to fight infections and enables your body to get rid of waste products and toxins. However, if you remain sedentary, both of these systems can become sluggish which means that not only will your skin not be getting the nutrients it needs, it also won’t be getting rid of any toxins either! This situation can easily cause flare-ups so it’s never a bad idea to get your blood pumping!

Exercise helps you to build up a sweat!

When it comes to your skin, sweat can be a bit controversial. Sweat, at least in the short term, can help to get rid of toxins that could potentially clog your pores and helps to open them up. That’s part of the reason why home treatments like steam are so popular! Not only does this help to prevent spots from appearing, recent research also shows that sweat may contain a natural antibiotic called Dermidin, which can help to fight off bacteria and infections.1  

Doesn’t sweating make acne worse?

So, if exercise has so many benefits for your skin, how does it negatively impact acne? Well, most of the major concerns about working out and your skin seem to come from sweat. Sweat is a valuable mechanism for keeping your body cool when your temperature starts to increase. It’s almost entirely formed of water however, it does contain trace amounts of other chemicals such as ammonia, urea, salts, sugar and potassium

Surprisingly, sweat itself does not give off an odour – it only acquires that tell-tale whiff after mixing with the bacteria that inhabits the surface of your skin! How does sweat affect acne though, and the rest of your skin in general? Well, let's take a look!

Sweat can encourage irritation!

Sweat, as I mentioned earlier, can help to get rid of all those impurities and toxins however there is a drawback – problems will definitely arise if sweat lingers for too long on your skin. Firstly, it can help to promote chaffing. 

Chaffing often occurs mainly due to the types of fabric you are wearing and how they react when they come into contact with friction. However, as sweat evaporates it can sometimes leave behind salt crystals that can contribute towards friction.2 Some areas of your body will be more vulnerable than others – your inner thighs, armpits and crotch, for example, are prime areas.  When your skin starts to chafe it can lead to irritation and inflammation, never good news if you have acne-prone skin!

Sweat can contribute towards a breakout!

Sweating is a great way to purge your body of toxins and pathogens but, if sweat is lingering on the surface of your skin, then all these impurities may be resting there too! Eventually these toxins will be reabsorbed into your body via your skin, which will almost certainly lead to a breakout and mass irritation and inflammation. Worse still though, sweat can interact with the yeast that exists on the surface of your skin, causing what is known as pityrosporum folliculitis, an overgrowth of years that usually manifests as an itchy, angry looking pink rash on your upper back, shoulders and chest!3 

Sweating can clog your sudoriferous glands!

Your sudoriferous glands, or sweat glands, are responsible for secreting sweat to cool down your body. However, these glands can become clogged if sweat is left to linger on the surface of your skin, which can cause a number of problems! Not only can it inhibit your body’s cooling mechanism, it can also cause miliaria. 

Miliaria occurs when your sweat glands become blocked, causing eccrine sweat to leak into your epidermal or dermal layers of skin.4 This can cause a hot, reddish rash to develop that can be very itchy and is often accompanied by small red spots or blisters. Of course this type of rash nearly always involves a degree of inflammation so it may also stimulate an acne flare-up in the affected area.

What can you do for acne-prone skin when working out?

Choose comfy clothing

When it comes to exercising, what you wear can have a real impact, not only on your performance but also on your skin! Ideally, you should be opting for breathable fabrics that help to encourage sweat to evaporate. These types of clothes are known as ‘sweat wicking.’ 

It isn’t just the type of fabric you need to consider though – how your gym clothes fit is also important and can vary depend on the type of exercise you are performing. Loose clothing might be appropriate for gentler forms of exercise but if you’re cycling or attending an aerobics class, you’ll probably want to go for something that’s a bit more form-fitting and offers a greater degree of flexibility!

Don’t wear any make-up

If you visit the gym regularly or attend an exercise class after work, you probably don’t worry too much about your make-up – in fact some of you may even top up your concealer before heading on to the treadmill! However, this definitely won’t be helping your skin and can contribute towards a flare-up if you suffer from acne. 

As I’ve discussed at length, sweat can help your body to get rid of toxins and impurities but, if you’re wearing make-up, your sweat glands may struggle to secrete sweat properly, which means that these toxins are still brimming just below your skin! You also have to consider that when you sweat and the sweat pores on your skin open, they can easily become clogged by make-up residue which can sometimes contribute to cases of miliaria. 

So, if you are planning on hitting the gym, I’d highly recommend removing all your make-up beforehand!

Wash away the sweat ASAP

The majority of the problems that arise after exercising with acne usually revolves around sweat being allowed linger on the surface of your skin. There is, of course, an obvious way to counter this issue and that’s showering or washing the sweat off your skin as soon as possible after a workout. 

This at least removes the risk of sweat becoming a problem. However, if you are prone to acne take care with how you shower. Always set the temperature for ‘lukewarm.’ If the water’s too hot it can sometimes encourage the sebaceous glands to produce more oil and, if you’re showering too often, it can also irritate your skin! 

Cleanse, tone and moisturise

I’ve already gone through the danger of wearing make-up to the gym so you may wish to give your skin a quick cleanse before hopping on the cross trainer. However, once you’ve had your shower and washed all the sweat away, you may wish to go through the basic three-step beauty routine of cleansing, toning and moisturising. 

Cleansing may help to remove any oily or sweaty residues while toning can help to balance your skin’s pH levels. I’d always opt for natural, organic skincare products – our friends over at Jan de Vries usually recommend using Dr Hauschka’s Clarifying Toner or, you could try Sukin’s Oil Balancing Gel Cleanse and Clarifying Facial Tonic. Both products have been formulated with oily skin in mind so they’re a good fit for acne-prone skin types. 

Finally, if you’ve been working up a sweat, your skin may be slightly more vulnerable to dryness, especially if you’ve followed that workout with a shower. I’d recommend using our Echinacea Cream, which has natural soothing properties to help ease inflamed, spot prone skin!

Stay hydrated

Arguably the most important thing to consider when you’re exercising, you should be keeping an eye on your fluid levels. If you’re building up a sweat, you’re going to be losing not only fluids, but also valuable electrolytes too! 

Now, you might think that if you have oily, acne-prone skin, losing a little water wouldn’t bethe worst thing, however, dehydration can have a huge impact on your body, affecting not only your circulatory system, but also your digestive system and cognitive function! If you have acne-prone skin, you need these areas of your body to be in top-top condition and, if they’re not, your complexion will definitely feel the consequences. 

Take water with you to gym and make sure you’re drinking plenty of it when you get home too. You could even try having a glass of our strawberry-flavoured Balance Drink after your workout as this fatigue-fighting formula helps to not only restore essential electrolytes like potassium and magnesium, it also gives your energy levels a nice boost too!





Echinacea Cream – Skin Soother


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Naturally soothes sensitive, troubled, spot prone skin
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