Fortunately for acne sufferers, doctors know enough nowadays to finally clear up some long-standing acne myths. For example, vigorous scrubbing and harsh cleansing makes acne worse, not better. And acne seems to have almost nothing to do what you eat, and almost everything to do with the type of skin you have and what you slather on it (good news for fried food lovers). But what about the notion that exercise aggravates or even causes acne? Do you have to give up your morning run if you want clear skin?
As it turns out, while there is some evidence that very vigorous exercise may contribute to acne, moderate exercise doesn’t cause or aggravate acne. In fact, it actually helps clear the skin of acne sufferers.
There are several reasons for this. First, exercise makes your heart work harder and your blood flow faster. Faster-moving blood carries more oxygen to your skin and carries more waste products away, which nourishes your skin and protects its overall health. Second, while it doesn’t necessarily detoxify your body, exercise does flush unwanted cellular debris out of your system – mainly as you sweat.
That said, exercise can aggravate or promote acne in some indirect ways. For example, equipment or clothing that is too tight and doesn’t allow your skin to “breathe” can trap impurities, such as bacteria and dead skin cells, against your skin. It can also create friction, which can lead to chafing and a type of rash called acne mechanica. If you exercise outdoors, the very sunscreen that protects your skin from toasting can clog up your pores and cause breakouts. And because it quickly breeds bacteria that can settle in your pores, sweat can promote acne if it stays on the skin too long.
Fortunately, there are a number of preventative measures you can take to lessen the chances of exercise-related breakouts.
- Begin with clean skin. Having clean skin before you exercise lessens your chances of bacteria and debris buildup in your pores.
- Wear loose clothing made from natural, breathable fabrics like cotton. Avoid lycra and polyester fabrics, even if they’re blends. Any tight-fitting clothing, such as a hat or headband, should be made from fabric that wicks moisture away from your skin.
- Choose an oil-free sunscreen labeled “non-comedogenic.” This term means that a product does not contain ingredients that clog pores or contribute to acne.
- When drying your sweat from your face or body, always pat, and never rub.
- Remove sweaty clothing as soon as possible.
- Shower immediately after exercising.
- Use a medicated exfoliating cleanser to clean your skin. Don’t rub your skin too vigorously, and don’t apply harsh toners. It seems counterintuitive, but drying out your skin can cause your sebaceous glands –those that produce your skin’s protective oils – go into overdrive.