Does Exercise Help Acne – Or Cause It? (Hint: It’s Both. So Here’s What to Do.)

Rachel MacPherson - The Upside Blog

by | Updated: December 17th, 2020 | Read time: 4 minutes

The relationship between exercise and acne is sometimes confusing. Sweat and dirt can block pores, leading to breakouts, but on the other hand, the increased blood flow from heart-pumping activity can nourish your skin.

Preventing workout breakouts is easier when you know the causes, how to avoid them, and what to do instead.

Post-Workout Woman Wiping Face With Towel Wondering Does Exercise Help Acne or Cause it |

How exercise can cause acne

Workouts can indirectly lead to acne due to sweat, dirt, and oil that cause bacterial growth and block pores. Workout acne can appear on your face but also on areas where your sweaty clothes rub against your skin, such as the bra line, shoulders and lower back.

Exercise can also cause an increase in certain hormones called androgens. Androgens are known as male hormones, mainly testosterone and androstenedione, but are also present in females. Androgens increase sebum and oil production and plug and inflame the pores, causing acne to form.

What’s more—dirty gym equipment and yoga mats can expose you to more acne-causing bacteria.

Prevent workout breakouts with these tips

Preventing workout acne is possible with some preventative action. Here are some ways you can maintain glowing, clear skin through your workout sessions.

Wash Your Face

Starting with clean, cleansed skin is essential. When you work out and sweat, any bacteria or dirt trapped on the skin can enter the pores. Exercise can open your pores and allow these acne-causing elements to enter.

It’s crucial to remove makeup as well. Cosmetics can get pushed into your open pores, blocking them and trapping acne-causing oils, leading to breakouts. If you must wear makeup during your workouts, be sure to choose non-comedogenic brands that don’t’ bock pores.

Besides makeup, face creams and sunscreens can also block pores. If you are exercising outdoors, sunscreen is still imperative, however. So, wash your face and apply fresh, non-pore blocking, oil-free sunscreen before your workout. Then, wash your face afterward.

Wash your equipment

It’s clear now that avoiding bacteria and grime is the best preventative measure for clear skin. One less obvious place where we encounter bacteria is on our equipment.

Gym equipment that is shared by others is ripe with bacteria. You can’t count on the previous user having cleaned it, so, especially on high-touch surfaces, it’s best to wipe down your equipment such as dumbbells, cable handles and cardio equipment handles.

Your personal equipment, such as yoga mats, can also harbor bacteria. Bring along a yoga mat cleaning spray and clean your mat, blocks, straps and other tools after each use.

Wear the right clothing

Trapped sweat and friction from clothing is a prominent cause of workout acne. Sweating pushes sebum, dirt, and bacteria out of your pores. Sweat also contains ammonia and urea, which—if left to settle on your skin—can irritate it, leading to breakouts.

Be sure to wash your dirty clothing after each use. If you believe you might be sensitive to fragrances, use a detergent brand free from perfume and harsh chemicals. It’s also wise to choose pieces that are breathable, loose-fitting or non-rubbing, and sweat-wicking.

Tight-fitting clothing can rub and irritate the skin, pushing bacteria into the pores, and causing inflammation that leads to breakouts. The best sweat-wicking fabrics are made from polypropylene, wool, polyester, micromodal, nylon, and bamboo. Avoid cotton, which absorbs and holds onto sweat, and anything plastic or rubber-based, which is not breathable.

Besides clothing, keep in mind that headbands, hats, masks, and helmets can also retain sweat and bacteria, causing breakouts. Keep these items clean and choose breathable materials, if possible.

Other tips to prevent workout breakouts

Other factors that can lead to breakouts include:

  • Hair products that drip onto your face when you sweat. Keep your hair out of your face and wear a clean, breathable headband to prevent this.
  • Keep cool and fresh. Try to work out in a well-ventilated, cool environment.
  • Be sure to bring your own clean towel to wipe the sweat off of your face and neck.

How exercise improves your skin

Of course, avoiding exercise is not the answer. Exercise actually helps improve skin in many ways.

Exercise helps balance hormones

Although your workouts could increase androgen production, they also decrease stress hormones like cortisol and provide anxiety relief. Stress and anxiety can lead to breakouts. Participating in healthy amounts of physical activity can reduce stress hormones that cause acne, helping to clear your skin.

Exercise increases circulation

When you exercise, your heart pumps more blood throughout your body, including the capillaries just under your skin. This blood flow brings nourishment to the skin, keeping it healthy and increasing healing. Increased healing capabilities mean that current breakouts disappear more quickly and are less likely to worsen with a bacterial infection.

Exercise clears your pores

As long as makeup, creams, or dirt do not block your pores, exercise will help clear them. Dead skin, oil, dirt, and bacteria are pushed out of your pores through the opening of your pores and sweating; this is a good thing, as long as you clean it off afterward.

Your skin will thank you

Your skin improves a great deal from keeping active and fit. Although workouts can contribute to acne, with some preventative measures and post-workout cleanliness, you can prevent the worst while still enjoying the benefits.