Acne and athletics

Exercise is one of the most important things you can do for your body, but sometimes you may develop acne from working out. Finding the time and motivation to keep up a consistent exercise routine is hard enough without also tacking on the added pressure of avoiding acne! Let’s explore why athletic activities and gear can contribute to acne issues and how to best prepare and take care of your skin for your sports and other sweat sessions.

Why does working out cause acne?

Generally speaking, acne forms when the excess oil in your skin (sebum) mixes with dead skin cells to clog your pores leading to blackheads and whiteheads. Acne-causing bacteria can also then infiltrate the clogged pore to transform it into the characteristic red bumps we associate with acne.

Sweat from exercise creates the perfect environment for this acne-causing bacteria to thrive. Additionally, clothing can rub against your skin during a workout, causing friction which can contribute to irritation and seal the sweat against your skin. This all adds up to a warm, damp environment, the ideal conditions to prompt a breakout. However, there are things you can do to help avoid or lessen acne from athletics.

Workout prep to fight acne

  • Remember to remove your makeup before working out.

    This is extremely important, because when sweat mixes with makeup and your skin’s oil, your pores get clogged.

  • Make sure you’re working out in clean clothing.

    While it may seem relatively harmless to rewear clothes, especially workout clothes that are supposed to be "breathable," you increase your chances of exposing your skin to acne-causing bacteria. By wearing workout clothes that are already sweaty, you could end up creating an even worse, damp environment that allows acne to break out.

  • Cleanse morning and night – and right after sweating.

    The ProactivMD® 3-Piece System comes with an Ultra-Gentle Cleanser that washes away dirt, oil and debris that can mix with sweat to clog pores. By using the cleanser in the mornings before a workout, you help remove the pore-clogging oils and dead skin cells before the sweat arrives.

    Finally, if the day’s exercise takes you outdoors, remember to apply (and reapply!) sunscreen throughout the day. Sunscreen can be one of the most overlooked steps of a skincare routine, but also one of the most vital. The sun’s UV rays can damage the skin if left unprotected.

Skincare to prevent acne after a workout

  • Get your post-workout wash in

    In order to prevent acne from appearing after working out, always shower or at least wash your face as soon as possible after exercising. Not only does it feel great to refresh your skin by rinsing it off, but it can also sweep away the acne-causing sweat and bacteria from your skin.

    Over-washing can cause your skin to produce more oil, and actually cause more breakouts, so remember to use products that are designed to be gentle on your skin and wash your face morning and night. (But, it’s okay to get a third face wash in right after working out!)

Workout clothing – can it contribute to body acne?

Workout clothing is often extremely tight-fitting, but this can actually be a major detriment when it comes to acne. Tight clothing packs the sweat onto your skin and contributes to the damp, warm environment that acne-causing bacteria love. If fending off breakouts is the goal, whenever possible, wear clothing with a looser fit that will allow heat to escape. Loose clothing can also cause less friction, meaning less irritation on potential breakout areas. If you only get breakouts after working out in specific areas on your body, you can consider wearing clothing that fits looser around those areas so your vulnerable skin can breathe. And, if you prefer the tight workout clothes, at least change ASAP when you’re done and shower or wipe off your body.

Does swimming affect acne?

You might assume that if sweating can lead to more acne, taking a dip in the pool might help prevent that, but chlorine can actually lead to acne in a different way. Chlorine tends to dry out the skin. Your skin’s natural response to drying out is to produce more oil to hydrate itself. When this happens, there is more oil to mix with dead skin cells and clog your pores. Depending on your skin type, chlorine can also irritate the openings to your pores, which can lead to additional clogging. Fortunately, this usually only occurs when you spend a lot of time in the water, so just make sure to limit your exposure and, if you are using the ProactivMD 3-Piece System, compensate by properly applying the Ultra-Hydrating Moisturizer morning and night – and again after swimming.

The bottom line

Can working out cause acne? Absolutely, but it’s an important piece in a healthy lifestyle. As long as you give your skin what it needs to defend itself with the proactiv acne treatment system that’s right for you, you can continue to confidently work out while also hopefully reducing the frequency and severity of your breakouts.