Working out is great for your body, but can be tough on its biggest organ: Your skin. Sunscreen, sweat, and plain old gym grime can stuff up pores and lead to acne and other blemishes on your face and body. But never fear, LIVESTRONG.com is here. We reached out to dermatologists, trainers and beauty experts to find out how to keep breakouts at bay. Here’s what they said.
Cleansing (Quickly) Is King
“Cleansing the skin immediately after working out is the most crucial step to preventing workout-related break outs,” explains Beverly Hills-based dermatologist Dr. Haleh Bakshandeh. If you don’t, she says pores can get clogged with a sticky cocktail of sweat, makeup, oil, and debris. “Moisture combined with junk trapped in pores creates the perfect breeding ground for the proliferation of acne-causing bacteria and inflammation.”
Sal Is Your Pal
If you aren’t able to immediately clean your skin after working out, Dr. Bakshandeh suggests using a salicylic acid-based toner or facial wipes. “Use them right after finishing the workout,” Bakshandeh says, “to clean away dirt and prevent breakouts and inflammation.” Salicylic acid has proven to be highly effective in breaking down the material or ‘glue’ deep inside pores that can lead to pimples, according to Bakshandeh.
Gotta Be Oil-Free
“Once you’ve cleansed the skin, apply an oil-free anti-acne moisturizer that is non-comedogenic (won’t clog pores),” suggests facialist Lili Menini, who has worked on celeb clients like Kate Walsh and Katy Perry. “Look for ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide to kill bacteria and aloe vera to reduce inflammation. Definitely don’t choose a thick, heavy moisturizer. And try to steer clear of any products with synthetic color additives and fragrances. They can aggravate acne.” Finally she counsels, “Don’t apply the moisturizer until you’ve stopped perspiring.”
Heavy Makeup = Big-Time Breakout
“If you can avoid wearing heavy, oil-based face makeup while exercising, that is a bonus for the skin,” Menini says. “On a makeup-free face, sweat can exit the pores more easily.” And that sweat has an important job to do. “When sweat has a clear channel to exit,” she explains, “it helps to flush out the yucky stuff inside our pores that leads to blackheads, whiteheads, irritation and redness.” If that channel is obstructed, “it not only traps the dirt, oils and bacteria the skin wants to flush, but it also traps in other toxins the body is trying to remove.” If you must wear makeup, Bakshandeh says, “it’s best to wear breathable, mineral-based loose-powders.”
Let It Breathe
“The type of workout clothes you choose makes a big difference for people who suffer from body breakouts” asserts Menini. She says you should always choose breathable active-wear made of natural fabrics, such as cotton or hemp. If you get really sweaty, drenched, and damp and cotton won’t cut it, then Menini recommends moisture-wicking fabrics that help absorb moisture but don’t hold on to it. Finally, she says, “Less clothing is more! Avoid tight-clothes wherever you have the body breakouts. It helps a lot.”
Celeb trainer to the stars Andrea Orbeck always advises her clients to exfoliate the body and face two to three times a week. “My clients who work out a lot but don’t always have time to shower say this helps to beat and prevent breakouts,” Orbeck says. Why does it work? Exfoliation lifts away dead skin cells that otherwise would trap bacteria that breed and cause acne. Plus, “Exfoliation has a ton of benefits,” Menini says. “It smoothes out the skin, can brighten a dull complexion and lighten pigmentation.” Look for gentle exfoliators, such as those with enzymes or alpha-hydroxy acids, that won’t irritate or inflame the breakouts. “And absolutely never scrub hard with a washcloth, loofah or nut-based scrub on body-acne,” Menini says. “That can further irritate your skin, and lead to infection.”
One of the most effective ways to avoid breakouts is also one of the most simple – and most often overlooked. “Keep your hands away from your face during a workout,” Orbeck says. “When you think of how dirty and bacteria-laden all the gym equipment is touching your face is like giving yourself an acne-facial.” She advises clients to always bring a towel and use it to wipe the sweat off of your face and chest. Even better: Bring two small towels. Use one to protect your skin from the equipment, and the other to wipe off your face and chest. Orbeck also recommends washing your hands occasionally during a workout – and always wash them just before leaving the workout facility.
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