Does Sweating Cause Breakouts?

One of the most contentious skincare topics on the Internet is whether or not sweating causes acne. If you’ve got acne-prone skin, you may have noticed that your breakouts tend to get worse when you work out, or during the hotter months. But some say that perspiration can actually help prevent pimples.

So what’s the truth: does sweating cause breakouts? What even is sweat, anyway? We’ve got all the answers, and some tips from Dr. Sandra Lee, aka Dr. Pimple Popper.

A woman sweating while working out


Where does sweat come from?

We’ve talked about pores before, but did you know that our skin contains more than one type?

  • Hair follicles contain both a sebaceous gland that produces sebum, and an apocrine sweat gland (see below).
  • Sweat pores connect to our eccrine sweat glands, and are present all over our skin, separate from our hair follicles.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll have noticed that we have two types of sweat glands:

  • Eccrine: these produce the sweat that naturally cools your body
  • Apocrine: these generate a thicker, milkier type of sweat and are found on the scalp, in our armpits, and near the genitals

Diagram of apocrine and eccrine sweat glands that can contribute to acne

Does sweating cause acne?

Remember that acne arises in the hair follicles from a combination of factors: excess sebum, dead skin cell buildup, and C. acnes bacteria. Eccrine sweat (released to regulate body temperature) is not connected to the hair follicles, and isn’t capable of clogging pores, so it doesn’t cause acne.

Sometimes, what seems like sweat-induced acne is actually a case of folliculitis (aka fungal acne). This happens when yeast infects the hair follicles in warm, sweaty areas.

But what about apocrine sweat? It does get released into the hair follicles, and can sometimes become clogged and inflamed. This condition is known as hidradenitis, and it can form painful cysts.

 A woman using SLMD Salicylic Acid Body Spray for acne

Can sweating make acne worse?

Now that we understand that sweating isn’t a direct cause of acne, let’s take a closer look at why sweating seems to make acne worse. This has to do with the environment we create when we sweat: a warm, humid zone is ideal for bacterial growth. And when there’s friction present (from tight clothing, or sports equipment, for example), that’s a recipe for a case of acne mechanica.

To avoid this type of acne, Dr. Lee has a few suggestions:

  • Shower right after a workout (or at least change clothes)
  • Keep all equipment clean
  • Change your mask often to prevent maskne
  • Use a max-strength product like SLMD Salicylic Acid Body Spray

If you’re experiencing chronic body acne, incorporate SLMD BP Body Wash as well to kill C. acnes bacteria and calm inflammation. Find this duo together in the award-winning Body Acne System.

Dr Sandra Lee

Dr. Lee's Last Word

Sweating does not cause acne — but it can be a contributing factor. The best way to avoid body breakouts is to keep the pores clear, to prevent acne from forming in the first place. Shower as soon as possible after sweating, and keep your clothing and equipment as clean as possible to avoid bacteria buildup.


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