Does exercise reduce or cause acne?

Despite the many health benefits of exercise, some people worry that exercise can cause acne. It’s understandable, given that sweating can feel as though it’s clogging your skin. So, does exercise help reduce acne, or worsen it?

Cardiovascular exercises like running, cycling and aerobics pump oxygen-rich blood around our bodies. This causes our blood vessels to dilate, giving skin a plumped, healthy glow. While sweating may not make you feel gorgeous in the short term, shedding liquid in this way flushes surface dirt from pores and detoxifies the skin. It also helps to protect our complexions from bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus and E. coli. It does this by treating the skin with a dose of Dermcidin, a natural antibiotic which attacks bacteria on the skin. 

An intro to acne

Many people worry that exercise – or sweating specifically – might cause acne. While this technically this isn’t true, it could indeed worsen already-existing acne if not done properly. Acne isn’t caused by a lack of cleanliness. Most acne we see is in fact hormonal acne. This is caused by a change in hormone levels, most commonly triggered by puberty, periods, the pill (coming off it specifically) and pregnancy. Other acne may be diet or stress-related. When any of our hormones become off-balance, it can cause our glands to overproduce oil (sebum). This then throws the skin’s usually harmless skin bacterium (P. acnes) out of whack. Making the pores inflamed. Add any dead skin cells and hair follicles into the mix, and pores become blocked. And that, is your breakout. 

Does exercise reduce or cause acne? XCaring for sensitive skin while exercising.

Exercise and acne

According to the NHS, ‘Regular exercise cannot improve your acne, but it can boost your mood and improve your self-esteem. Shower as soon as possible once you finish exercising as sweat can irritate your acne.” This bit is key. Even though lack of cleansing didn’t cause your acne, in the case of exercise, it can make things much worse.

Exercising with makeup on in particular will only add to that already-blocked pore situation. Even if you’re not wearing any makeup it is important to wash your face both before and after exercise. That means when you get to the gym, do it just before you leave the changing rooms, and again straight afterwards, even if you’re showering properly at home later. While we usually recommend not over-cleansing acne (as it can cause further irritation), the exception to the rule is when sweat is left on the skin.

Katie Grey - Founder of Kind By KG o caring for skin and exercise
Katie Gray – Founder of kindbykg.com

Katie Gray – Personal Trainer, Pilates Instructor and founder of ‘Kind by KG’ explained to us recently; ‘ Double cleansing has changed my life! Dramatic, but true. Our sweat also contains Ammonia and Urea, which when left on the skin too long can cause irritation and inflammation.’

What about exercise and other sensitive skin conditions?

Other aggravated skin conditions may be triggered by intensive activity. Urticaria, for example, often breaks out when the body overheats, and Rosacea can appear worse when blood flow increases. Rosacea is also notoriously worsened by exposure to sunlight, so if you’re exercising outdoors be sure to keep your face in the shade by wearing a cap.

In cases of these conditions, lower impact activities like yoga may be more suitable. With its emphasis on relaxation, yoga makes an ideal exercise for stress-triggered conditions like Eczema and Psoriasis. 

3 simple rules for exercising with sensitive skin

  1. Never wear makeup when working out – it mixes with sweat and can block pores, making those breakouts much more likely.
  2. Shower as soon as possible after exercising. Physical activity encourages cell renewal throughout the body. This is a good thing provided the excess dead cells are washed away, keeping pores clear and revealing the fresher skin underneath.
  3. Avoid tight-fitting clothes or head wear as this can cause Acne Mechanica, a form of acne caused by heat or constant pressure. Opt for loose-fitting cotton clothes instead, which will also stop the skin from suffocating or overheating.


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