Last Updated on September 20th, 2019
Everyone knows that exercise is great for health and well-being, but few really talk about how amazing exercise can be for your skin. The average dermatologist and even fitness guru often talk about these great benefits that exercise provides, but most forget to include the details of how impactful it can be for the health of your skin, which happens to be your body’s largest organ.
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The reality is, your entire body needs healthy circulation to thrive, including your skin, which is exactly what proper physical activity provides.
When you exercise, you increase blood flow. Increased blood flow does two very important things for your skin. First, it allows your blood to carry more oxygen and nutrients to your skin cells, nourishing them and keeping them vital. Second, it allows your blood to flush away cellular debris1 like free radicals from your working cells. These waste products are often what builds up in the blood and surface on the skin. Although exercise doesn’t actually “detox” your skin, in a way, it cleans it from the inside-out.
The other benefit of exercise is that it eases stress and helps to reduce stress-related hormones like cortisol. These hormones exacerbate skin conditions like acne, increasing inflammation and redness. It even has a negative influence on your sebaceous glands, the glands in your body that produce the oily substance sebum. Exercising helps to reduce these negative effects and regulates your hormones.
Finally, exercise is known for its weight-managing and muscle-toning benefits. Though these are not directly related to skin, being overweight actually increases your chances of acne. Exercise helps to tone and firm your muscles, which in turn helps to regulate your weight. By keeping your weight healthy, you increase your chances for improved skin2.
While exercising has many great benefits for your overall health and appearance, there are some risks to be wary of when you have skin-related issues. Being aware of these dangers will help you to protect your skin during exercise, which, fortunately, is very easy.
If you exercise outdoors, the main danger to worry about is sun exposure. Sun exposure can quickly lead to sunburn, which is known to increase the risk of skin cancer3 and rapid aging of the skin. This can easily undo any benefits that exercise has on your skin, to say the least. The best way to avoid this problem is to avoid exercising in the sun during peak times, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. If you find yourself out in the sun between these times, your best bet is to use a generous amount of sunscreen.
Many people are hesitant to use sunscreen because it tends to run into their eyes and mouths when they sweat, which can sting and be bitter. However, there are PH-balanced sunscreens available that don’t present the same stinging effects. For those who are worried about adding an oily substance to their already-oily skin, there are gel-based and oil-free sun protection products available, too, including powders laced with SPF protection.
Whether you exercise indoors or out, a healthy workout should make you sweat. That being said, sweating outdoors presents a greater risk to your skin when in direct sunlight. Not only does sweating remove your sun protection and leave you vulnerable to sun exposure, it actually increases the chance of you getting sunburned4. After a person sweats, it becomes much easier to burn from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. In fact, it takes 40% fewer rays than it would if your skin wasn’t sweaty. This could be due to the increased amount of salt that layers on your skin when you sweat. Nonetheless, it is best to wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible, including a hat to shade your face, when you exercise under the sun.
Chafing is a problem that can happen whether you work out in the sun or not and can cause rashes and irritation. For people with acne-prone skin, tight-fitting workout clothes can cause increased perspiration and irritation that leads to a form of acne known as acne mechanica. Acne mechanica is a type of acne that anyone can get as it’s triggered by excessive heat, pressure, and friction from clothing on the skin5. It can be developed on your face or body, such as your shoulders, back or butt.
There are three key ways to prevent this problem. The first is to wear clothing that pulls moisture away from the body, known as moisture-wicking clothing. These are usually made from polyester blends and other synthetic materials that don’t retain moisture to hold it against your body. Another way to prevent chafing is to wear loose-fitting clothes when you exercise, so your skin has room to breathe. Most importantly, always shower immediately after you exercise and sweat, to remove the oils, salts, and dirt that settles on your skin after a workout.
When you exercise, your pores open up and let sweat out. But they can also become clogged with dirt and other things on the surface of your skin. For best skin care practices, make sure your skin is fairly clean before you exercise to prevent the clogging of pores that lead to acne. Also, if you’re the type to cover up your acne to hit the gym, don’t. Makeup tends to settle into your pores and can clog them6, causing acne to get worse. The best way to care for your skin is to keep it clean before and after a workout and to use a soothing skin moisturizer or powder that prevents skin irritation.
For those who have dermatological conditions like acne, psoriasis or rosacea, you may need to take extra steps to protect your skin when you do exercise. However, this is no reason not to get active.
In some cases, those who suffer from more extreme skin conditions may experience bouts of flare-ups during or after exercise. These conditions include eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea. However, many dermatologists say that these short-term struggles are far outweighed by the long-term benefits that exercise can give. In order to get the most from your exercise routine, there are a few simple strategies you can apply to work out and minimize resulting problems.
For eczema and psoriasis sufferers, flare-ups after a workout are usually caused by the salts deposited on your skin from perspiration. The best way to combat this is to apply moisturizer to your skin before you exercise, as this helps protect skin from your salty sweat. Places where your skin folds need extra attention, like the insides of your elbows, armpits, groin and behind the knees, as chafing from salt and sweat, can exacerbate these skin conditions. Also, be careful not to over-wash your skin, since this dries your skin out7 and makes eczema and psoriasis worse.
Rosacea sufferers often experience flare-ups caused by increased body temperatures and skin flushing due to exercise. To combat this, exercise in a cool environment8, such as a gym with proper AC. Another option is to choose an activity like swimming since water can keep your skin cool even though your internal temperature rises. But remember to moisturize well after swimming in a pool with chlorine, as this chemical has a drying effect on the skin.
If a gym or pool isn’t within your options for exercise, try taking brisk walks through air-conditioned malls, or exercising in the cool early morning or late evening hours. If you work out and find yourself flushed or overheated, use a cool compress to apply to your skin’s problem areas after your workout.
Again, exercise might be a challenge for those suffering from acne and other skin conditions, but the short-term problems will eventually give way to the long-term benefit, which is improved skin.
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