Share on Pinterest
Exercise can create the perfect conditions for acne-causing bacteria and yeast to thrive on your skin, but following some simple tips can help stop breakouts before they start. Getty Images
  • Exercise has many benefits for the skin, such as increased blood flow and reduced stress-related acne.
  • Exercise can also create the perfect conditions for acne-causing bacteria and yeast to thrive.
  • Keeping the skin clean and dry can help.
  • Over-the-counter medications are also helpful.

In many ways, exercise can be very good for our skin. It can increase blood flow to the skin cells, bringing in nutrients and oxygen and taking away waste, which may aid healing.

It can also help reduce stress.

However, working up a good sweat in the gym can also create the perfect conditions for acne-causing bacteria and yeast to thrive, causing more frequent breakouts.

To prevent post-workout acne, dermatologists recommend the following 10 tips.

Dr. Susan Massick, a dermatologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, recommended cleansing your face prior to working out to remove makeup.

During exercise, there’s increased blood flow to the skin. This increased blood flow causes the pores to open. Makeup can cause sweat and bacteria to become trapped in the enlarged pores. Over time, this can lead to clogged pores and acne.

The American Academy of Dermatology also suggests that an oil-free makeup remover towelette can also be used if washing isn’t an option.

Massick said you should keep long hair pulled back and off your face.

Natural oils from your hair and hair care products can be transferred to your skin.

Hair can also trap moisture on your skin.

This can clog pores and encourage fungal growth, contributing to breakouts.

Clean any equipment that will touch your face, said Massick.

This includes headphones, if you enjoy listening to music or a good podcast during your workout.

You should also clean any sports equipment that touches your face, such as helmets or googles.

Cleaning them will remove oil, dirt, and bacteria that can contribute to breakouts.

Massick recommended wiping down all shared exercise equipment prior to use.

While it would be great if everyone was as considerate as we are and cleaned after each use, we can’t really count on this.

Wiping down equipment prior to use will help remove some of the troublesome bacteria, dirt, and oils that might find their way onto your skin.

Massick also suggested making a habit of not touching your face with your hands during a workout.

Any bacteria, oils, or dirt that you’ve touched can get transferred to your skin, contributing to clogged pores and infections.

Sweaty, tight-fighting clothes trap moisture next to your skin, creating the perfect conditions for acne flares, said Massick.

A type of yeast commonly found on the skin called Malassezia can thrive in the warm, moist conditions created by your workout clothes.

When this yeast overgrows on your skin, it can cause a type of fungal acne to develop.

This type of acne is often misdiagnosed as bacterial acne, leading to improper treatment.

Skin breakouts due to yeast overgrowth require oral antifungal medications.

Dr. Elizabeth M. Damstetter, FAAD, assistant professor of dermatology, Rush University Medical Center, suggested that you should change out of your sweaty clothes after your workout for much the same reason as above.

Be sure to launder your clothes before wearing them again since pore-clogging oils and dirt can get trapped there and be transferred to your skin the next time you work out.

If possible, shower after your workout to remove any sweat, oil, dirt, and bacteria that may have accumulated.

Damstetter recommended using face and body cleansers that contain benzoyl peroxide to cleanse acne-prone skin.

Benzoyl peroxide can reduce the amount of an acne-causing bacteria called Cutibacterium acnes.

If benzoyl peroxide is too harsh for your skin, you can alternatively use a gentle, oil-free cleanser or micellar water to remove bacteria and oils after your workout, she suggested.

If it isn’t possible to shower after your workout, at a bare minimum you should be washing your face.

According to UW Health, retinoids are vitamin A derivatives that are often used to treat acne and reverse wrinkles.

They’re usually available in either a cream or gel formulation and come in a range of strengths.

Over-the-counter retinoids like adapalene (Differin) can increase skin cell turnover and reduce inflammation when applied daily, said Damstetter.

This helps unclog pores and clears up acne.

For stubborn acne, stronger retinoids, such as tazarotene (Tazorac) and tretinoin (Retin-A), are available by prescription.

Damstetter recommended seeing a board-certified dermatologist if self-care measures aren’t keeping your acne in check.

A dermatologist can prescribe medications to help treat your acne.

They can also treat excessive sweating, which may contribute to post-workout acne for some people.

Finally, a dermatologist can help if your skin has become discolored or scarred due to acne breakouts.