Running is good for you for so many reasons: it’s great for your cardiovascular health and it can help you reduce stress, boost your mood and get stronger. But for all its benefits, it does come with a few drawbacks, one of them being acne. Runners spend a lot of time sweating, and this can lead to breakouts if you’re not careful. The good news is you can control exercise-induced acne with just a few simple changes.
How does running affect your skin?
Running isn’t all bad for your skin. It can increase blood flow, which helps nourish your skin cells and keep them healthy, and since it can help you reduce stress, it can also help decrease the instance of stress-induced acne. Unfortunately, running can also create the perfect conditions for acne-causing bacteria and yeast to thrive, leading to breakouts on your face, shoulders and back.
Additionally, while running can help reduce stress and lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels, really intense running, such as that hard interval session you did last week, can actually worsen the health of your skin by causing more free-radical damage, and research shows that if you’ve been working out near your maximum heart rate for an extended amount of time, it can have a detrimental effect on your skin. Luckily, as your body produces more free radicals, it also pumps out more of the counteracting antioxidant enzymes, so regular exercise coupled with a diet that contains plenty of fruits and vegetables is usually enough for a healthy person to fight off excess free-radical production from exercise.
So why do runners get acne? We spend a lot of time sweating (even in the winter), and while sweat in and of itself doesn’t cause acne (sweat is actually sterile), damp running clothes create a warm, moist environment that’s perfect for acne-causing bacteria to thrive. Friction from rubbing workout clothes can also stimulate the production of excess oil, which can clog your pores.
Tips to prevent acne
The good news is, exercise-induced acne can usually be managed with just a few simple steps. Follow these easy tips to keep acne at bay.
Don’t sit around in wet clothes
Once you come in from your run, do your best to remove your sweaty workout clothes as soon as possible. Like we said earlier, sweaty clothes can create the perfect environment for bacteria to grow, and the longer you leave them on your body, the more opportunity they have to clog your pores.
Wear the right clothes
To avoid acne-causing friction, choose clothing that is loose, and is designed to wick moisture away from the skin. Tight-fitting clothes are more likely to trap moisture right next to your skin, creating the perfect conditions for an acne flare-up.
Remove your makeup
Increased blood flow to your skin while running causes your pores to open up, making it easier for dirt and makeup to get trapped inside them. Whenever possible, remove your makeup and cleanse your face to remove dirt from your skin before heading out the door. If your skin is acne-prone, a cleanser with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide can help control breakouts, but be sure to test these out on a small patch of skin first — they can be intense, and some people find that they irritate the more sensitive skin on their faces. If this is the case, try using a gentle, oil-free cleanser or micellar water instead.
Shower as soon as possible
Do your best to shower as soon as possible after your run to remove any sweat, oil and dirt that may have accumulated. If that’s not possible, at least try to wash your face, and bring a dry shirt with you to change into afterward until you can get cleaned up.
Talk to a dermatologist
If you follow all of the tips on this list and are still struggling with acne, it’s likely that there is another reason why your skin is breaking out beyond running. In this case, you should speak with a dermatologist who will be able to help you find the reason behind your acne and come up with a solution.