Whether it’s hitting the gym, crushing your favorite fitness class, or working up a sweat in the great outdoors, committing to a regular exercise routine is always a win. Except, of course, when those workouts lead to face and body acne. When sweat mixes with dead skin cells and debris — especially under tight clothing — it can cause breakouts and acne mechanica.
So how do you work out without breaking out? Don’t sweat it: we’re here with the solutions, straight from Sandra Lee, MD (aka Dr. Pimple Popper).
Dr. Pimple Popper’s Pre-Workout Tips
Exercise with clean skin
Sweat, oil and makeup create the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and clogged pores, says Dr. Lee. So forgo looking glam at the gym — your skin will thank you for it. Before your session, wash your face and make sure you’ve showered recently.
Try: SLMD Salicylic Acid Cleanser, which removes excess oil without stripping skin.
Protect existing pimples
If you’re already dealing with a pimple on your face or body, the last thing you want is to expose it to more sweat, bacteria or friction while you’re working out. Apply an adhesive acne patch to protect pimples that are covered by tight clothing — like sports bras or beneath waistbands. This will guard against irritation and the tight fabric should help keep the patch in place. For pimples in exposed areas that tend to sweat a lot (like your face), dab on a clear spot treatment before heading out to the gym.
Use a lightweight moisturizer
Increased body temperatures and elevated humidity from sweat can tempt skin to produce more oil. Applying heavy cream or lotion before hitting the gym isn't the best idea — unless you're trying to clog your pores.
If you're going to put moisturizer on before you work out, opt for a lightweight, non-greasy one that will boost hydration without causing comedones.
Try: SLMD Facial Moisturizer, a lightweight lotion with added antioxidant vitamin C.
This is non-negotiable. Working out is how you maintain your body’s health, applying SPF is how you maintain your skin’s health. UVA and UVB rays can cause irreparable damage to your skin, especially if you’re spending a good chunk of time out in the sun. UVA rays can penetrate glass, so yes: you need to wear sunscreen to the gym, too. Look for one that’s formulated especially for acne-prone skin, so you don’t clog your pores.
Try: SLMD Dual Defender SPF 30, a moisturizer and sunscreen combo that won’t exacerbate acne.
Dr. Pimple Popper’s Post-Workout Tips
Wash your face AND your body
The longer sweat sits on your skin, the greater the chance it will clog your pores, trapping bacteria and dead skin cells. This is also why it’s so important to change out of your sweaty clothes and take a shower asap after a workout. Use products that contain salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and/or benzoyl peroxide, to exfoliate, unclog pores, and inhibit acne-causing bacteria.
Exfoliate your skin
Once you’re done cleansing, it’s time to exfoliate that dead skin buildup from your face and body. This will help keep dead skin cells — one of the major components of clogged pores — from building up and leading to pimples down the line. Take care not to overdo it, though, says Dr. Lee, since too much exfoliating can damage your skin barrier, leading to redness, irritation, and possibly more breakouts.
Replenish hydration and moisture
When you sweat, your body becomes dehydrated — including your skin. And when your skin dries out, its natural barrier function diminishes, leaving it more susceptible to acne-causing bacteria. While most people think that oily or acne-prone skin doesn’t need moisturizer, this is a myth, says Dr. Lee. Just look for products that are lightweight and formulated for acne-prone skin.
Try: SLMD Hyaluronic Acid Serum works best for normal, dry, or combination skin, while Facial Moisturizer is ideal for oily/acne prone types. For body, seal in moisture with Glycolic Acid Body Lotion.
Reapply your SPF
We may sound like a broken record… but wearing SPF and reapplying it is key. Even if you’re planning to be inside most of the day, exposure to radiation through windows or from screens can both age skin and make it more susceptible to breakouts. Applying sunscreen is a simple way to add to the health benefits of an intense workout — so don’t skip it.
Try: SLMD Dual Defender SPF 30, which is lightweight enough to reapply without leaving skin greasy feeling.
Clean your gear
Sports and gym equipment — everything from football pads to yoga mats — can harbor acne-causing bacteria. So wipe down your gear, wash your clothing (including hats!) and towels regularly, and spritz everything with a salicylic acid acne treatment spray in between washing. Check your acne spray label carefully: benzoyl peroxide can bleach fabric.
Try: SLMD Salicylic Acid Body Spray can be used both before and after a workout…also works great on masks, inside hats, and on bra straps or waistbands.
Dr. Lee's Last Word
Working up a good sweat is not only good for your body, it’s also great for your skin…it gets your blood pumping and can give you that healthy glow. Just make sure you keep your skin clean before and after, and use the right products if you’re acne prone. As always, don’t forget the sunscreen!