It’s no secret we all want to see results from our hard work in the gym. But sometimes the physical results of sweating it out aren’t exactly what we’re expecting. We’re talking about unwanted breakouts that pop up on our bodies from time to time. We chatted with two top dermatologists to further explore the relationship between breakouts and workouts.
Sweat and bacteria lead to breakouts.
Hate to break it to you, fitness fans. Although sweat might be your personal badge of honor, it’s also a serious player in the breakout game. Not only does bacteria love sweat—the mixing of the two leads to that wonderful body odor, explains Rachel Nazarian, MD, FAAD at Mount Sinai Department of Dermatology and Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City—but if it’s left unwashed on the body or face, it can clog pores and cause serious skin irritations.
“Sweat combines with dead skin cells on the surface of the skin and causes the blockage of pores—one of the first steps in pimple formation,” explains Dr. Nazarian. What’s more, this blockage can occur anywhere. In fact, S. Manjula Jegasothy, MD, board-certified dermatologist, CEO and Founder of Miami Skin Institute says these breakouts or irritation can occur in any hair-bearing area that sweats. We’re talking the thighs, back, face, chest, and yep, even bum.
Your clothes may be part of the problem.
Stocking up on new workout gear can sometimes be just as satisfying as finishing your favorite Aaptiv class—well, almost. But depending on what kind of clothes you’re wearing, you might not be doing your skin any favors.
“The skin is filled with tiny glands and pores which secrete oils and sweat while you’re working out, all in an effort to cool the skin and balance electrolytes,” explains Dr. Nazarian. “Tight clothing makes it difficult for these glands to do their job and blocks the outlets of the pores.” This means the oil and sweat you produce during that 10K essentially get trapped under your skin and can cause a cycle of inflammation, which leads to breakouts.
Let your skin breathe.
There is truth to “letting your skin breathe”—especially when working up a sweat. Dr. Nazarian suggests to avoid clothes that cling too tightly to the skin (sorry, spandex) and opt for looser, lighter weight clothing to help keep skin cool and dry.
But it’s not just how tight your new sports bra or leggings are that can cause problems, it’s also the fabrics. “Many fabrics worsen heat rashes and irritations, including acne, by trapping heat and sweat against the skin,” Dr. Nazarian says. If your goal is to help keep your skin free of excessive perspiration, opt for lightweight and natural fabrics such as cotton, which absorbs sweat without trapping heat.
Dr. Nazarian also explains that most synthetic fabrics, such as rayon or polyester, are generally poor choices. “Not only do these fabrics poorly absorb moisture, especially when mixed with spandex and skin-clinging styles, they also trap heat and sweat close to the skin which can flare acne breakouts, heat rash, and even sensitive-skin conditions such as rosacea, which worsens with increasing temperatures,” she says.
Thankfully, you don’t necessarily have to go through a whole new wardrobe change. Many of the top workout clothes on the market are made from sweat-wicking material to help combat this exact problem. In fact, Dr. Jegasothy says it’s generally believed that sweat-wicking fabrics or those with Dri-Fit technology may prevent sweat from clogging the pores just as much as other less technologically-advanced fabrics. Just check your labels to make sure.
Think twice about putting off laundry.
“I only wore that top for one class yesterday. I can re-wear it today!” Raise your hand if you’ve had that internal dialogue more than once. Unfortunately, re-wearing your dirty workout clothes might not be such a great idea if you’re concerned with breakouts.
According to Dr. Nazarian, it’s not really “dirt” on your clothes, but rather the sweat and bacteria leftover post-workout that cause the problem. Sadly because both can stay on clothes for a while, it’s really best to forego the second-day rule and opt for wearing clothes that are clean and dry each time.
Dr. Jegasothy explains that because dirty clothes may harbor bacteria or even yeast, they can exacerbate clogged pores, causing larger cystic pimples, or worse. They may even cause a little-known rash called pityrosporum folliculitis, which mimics acne and looks like tiny pink bumps all over skin’s surface, namely on the back.
“In general, it is always better to wear clean clothes,” she explains. “I also tell my patients to try to remove their workout wear and shower at least within two hours after exercising.”
Bottom line, as much as we view sweat as a mark of a workout well spent, we’ll skip the possibility of pimples and take our dirty gym clothes straight to the hamper!