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Skin & Exercise: 9 Facts About How Exercise Affects Us

While many of us spent 2020 lounging around in joggers and eating cheese (to each their own), some of us also used the extra time as an opportunity to get outside and begin exercising. Whether you ran, worked out at home to an online video or just upped your fitness game, we’ve been getting sweatier than ever as a nation.

Of course, working out and exercising has more than just physical benefits. It’s a great way to boost our mental health by letting rip with the dopamine and endorphins.

But exercising can also influence our skin, in more ways that you might imagine. Sweat, exposure to the sun and even the weight loss that we often see from exercising can have an impact, sometimes good, sometimes bad. And we should take each of these into consideration to keep our skin as healthy as it can be.


Pro: The Post-Workout Glow

woman with tanned, healthy skin

A regular fitness routine is an amazing way to improve the appearance of your skin by getting your heart pumping faster and boosting your blood circulation. Since your blood supplies nutrients and all-important oxygen to your skin, this can boost skin health by promoting such things as collagen production.

It can even promote the development of new skin cells, which will not only give you an awesome glow, but help prevent the signs of aging.

Getting a sweat on can also help to clear the pores and flush out toxins (provided you clean your skin afterward). A quick wipe down will not cut it, though. If you don’t thoroughly wash away the dirt that’s released from your pores as you sweat, it’ll just sit on the surface or settle back in.

But regular exercise can benefit us immediately, not just long term. Have you ever noticed you have a certain glow to your skin after you finish working out? That’s to do with the increased blood flow to your skin in combination with the endorphin boost. So there’s an immediate pro and a long-term benefit to exercising more often.


Con: Possible Sun Damage

man standing arms-out facing sun

Since March 2020, exercising outdoors seems to have exploded since, well, it’s just about the only time we’re allowed outside! Though getting some fresh air will always be considered a good thing, remember that good karma alone will not protect your skin from the sun.

It might seem obvious, but many of us don’t think to apply sunscreen before we exercise outdoors.

Just like any other time you step out into the sunshine, it’s important to remember that any exposed skin is vulnerable to damage from UV. Most of us should apply an SPF of 30 or above before we head out. No matter the weather or the time of day.

If that seems like a crazy idea, given how sweaty you’re likely to get. We understand. Look for a water-resistant sunscreen that’s oil free, as this should help the sunscreen stay put and prevent it from clogging up your pores while you get fit.


Con: Chafing

woman doing sit-ups

Though not always, many people find that exercising can get a little uncomfortable as time goes on. This is usually due to chafing and associated rashes that result from moisture build-up and friction as we move.

These sorts of skin problems can crop up almost anywhere that two parts of your skin are touching. Common areas include the inner thighs, under your breasts and your bum, as these are the places that stay damp for the longest as we move.

Don’t let the possibility put you off, though. A strong antiperspirant can help reduce sweating, and a layer of moisturiser can reduce chafing, so there’s no real excuse not to get back out there.


Con: Rosacea Flare-Ups

man running in sunshine

Some patients with rosacea find that a sudden change in exercise routine triggers a flare-up of the condition.Unfortunately, this is a side effect due to the increased blood flow associated with working out, that usually leads to redness.

That said, there are plenty of long-term treatments available for rosacea, including topical creams, oral medications and laser treatment. In the short-term, don’t give up on exercising all together! There are plenty of calming serums available that can help make you feel more comfortable.


Con: Wearing Make-Up Will Clog Your Pores

grey-haired woman lifting weights in gym

We’ve listed this as a con, but it seems to us that given the effects wearing make-up while exercising can have on your skin, it’s actually a pro. A pro that tells us we don’t need to be doing it, and no one is expected to look their best while working out. Real life isn’t Instagram, after all.

The truth is, of course wearing make-up can have an effect when we’re exercising. It’s an additional layer on our skin that prevents the release of sweat. Without this, everything gets clogged up and we’re likely to see breakouts and blemishes down the line.

Skipping make-up altogether is the best possible scenario. Most make-up removers don’t remove everything as thoroughly as investing in your full cleansing routine would, and it’s important to keep the barriers on our skin as minimal as possible so that it can breathe.


Con: Skipping the Shower Can Lead to Acne

muscled man in water at sunset, hands on head

We hope this isn’t news to anyone, but it’s important to shower after you work out. Even if your exercise routine is low impact and you don’t feel like you’ve really broken a sweat, you should still shower as soon as possible.

When sweat sits on the surface of our skin for too long, it clogs pores and attracts additional bacteria. Which means for those of us who are prone to acne and breakouts, prepare yourself, as this is likely to flare-up.

Still, this can be a pro too: anything we can do to encourage you to shower is a pro as far as we’re concerned.


Con: Your Workout Could Cause Issues with Your Scalp

braided hair

If you have an oily scalp, the increase in sweat on your scalp when you exercise can lead to irritation or itchiness.This is because the oilier your scalp is, the more likely yeast will grow there, which can lead to several skin conditions such as dandruff, redness and scaly patches.

Though this is something that can go away on its own, if you’re finding it to be a problem for you, an anti-dandruff shampoo can often help.


Con: Shared Spaces Can Expose You to Infections

man gripping barbell

While gyms have been open on and off recently, it’s still important to know the risks of working out in a shared space. If you’re the person who strolls into the gym and uses equipment without wiping it down first, think again. There are a whole host of infections you’re exposing yourself to, just by touching the equipment.

Though many of these infections can be easy enough to treat, we’re firmly on the side of prevention with our skincare. Common infections include impetigo, skin sores, plantar warts and ringworm, none of which are pleasant and all of which can be acquired more easily than you think.

Simply cleaning off any equipment you intend to use before you begin and ensuring you don’t share your towel with any other gym goers should be enough to prevent occurrences. That includes yoga matts for the record. And don’t forget, no bare feet in shared showers!


Pro: Exercise is a Stress-Reliever

woman meditating, low sun

Finally, another pro! But yes, many people who struggle with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression have found that regularly exercising can help to boost mood and improve our mind frames. But this goes for everyone – exercise really improves your mental health.

An additional benefit of this is what stress-relief can do for your skin.

The more stressed we are, the more our skin is affected, and the more likely we are to have flare-ups and breakouts or existing conditions. But provided you shower after exercising, the hormones that a good workout releases will not only have you feeling better mentally, but looking better physically, too.


The Bottom Line

You might be reading this post and thinking, well that’s a lot of cons for not many pros! But that really isn’t the case. Most of the negative side effects of exercise are easy to prevent and are generally related to our overall hygiene.

The possibility of a problem occurring should never be a deterrent to doing something that long and short term is actually one of the most beneficial things we can do for our minds and bodies as well as our skin.