If you’re worried about how workouts impact hormonal acne, rest assured—a good sweat won’t necessarily cause you to break out. It may even lead to better skin in the long run. That’s because exercise opens your pores, reduces stress, and gets your heart rate up. This can help promote circulation to the skin. Your best bet? Avoid poor fitness habits such as lingering in wet workout clothes or exercising with a full face of makeup. Both tend to trap oil and dirt in your skin. Here’s how workouts affect hormonal acne, plus easy ways to stay zit-free.
A sweaty workout can trap oil and dirt in your skin, causing acne.
“Hormones known as androgens can increase the activity of our sebaceous glands,” explains Tania Elliott, M.D., a board-certified allergist and internist. “These glands are responsible for the production of an oily substance called sebum, which is meant to be our internal way of moisturizing and lubricating our own skin. When these glands go into overdrive, oil and dirt can get trapped under the first layer of the skin and contribute to the development of acne. Androgens can increase at various times in life such as in puberty, during the menstrual cycle, and during menopause.”
Another thing that can lead to high levels of oil in the skin? You guessed it—your workout. Because physical activity typically increases sweat production, Dr. Elliott says, it can cause bacteria to breed on the skin, creating acne. Fitness-related items can contribute to the problem as well. These items can include too-tight clothing, dirty gym equipment, pore-clogging face creams or sunscreen, hats, and sweatbands. If you’re already prone to acne, you may experience more breakouts when you exercise in general.
But good hygiene can help prevent pimples from popping up.
“Hormones are one piece of the puzzle,” Dr. Elliott says. “Other factors contributing to the development of acne include environmental and personal hygiene factors, including the use of soaps, detergents, and astringents, and frequency of bathing.”
Sweat itself isn’t the issue, as sweating helps your body cool down after a tough workout. But it becomes a problem when it lingers on your skin. If you’re used to dealing with breakouts on your face, chest, or back post-workout, then make sure you’re practicing good hygiene to minimize germs.
“After exercising, it is important to remove wet workout clothing to prevent it from sticking to the skin, trapping dirt and oil and leading to acne breakouts,” says Josh Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “It is important to wash your face after a workout for the same reason.”
In the long run, exercise can help make your skin better than ever.
“There is no data showing that exercise itself makes acne worse,” Dr. Zeichner says. “In fact, as a form of stress relief, some could argue that it makes acne better.” Workouts impact hormonal acne by decreasing the amount of cortisol, or stress hormone, in the body. So it can benefit those who suffer from chronic skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and acne. Some researchers even say that exercise can prevent premature aging.
“Stress and being overweight are two other factors that contribute to the development of acne,” Dr. Elliott says. “Exercise should be considered a good treatment for acne because it has been shown to be one of the best things you can do to reduce stress and maintain a healthy weight.”