We’ve all been there. You’re enjoying the post-workout glow that leaves your skin looking dewy and fresh — only to wake up the next morning, with a zit the size of Mt. Everest. Coincidence? Maybe. But there’s a good chance that blemish is related to your workout.
“Gym-related breakouts are a huge complaint I hear from my clients.” says Liz Donat, a New York State-licensed esthetician and consultant. “Sweat, spiked with haircare product residues, along with bacteria, oil, and cross-contamination from gym equipment, all play a part.” The good news is, most of these issues are preventable, as long as you take the time to give your skin a little love. Use these tips to prevent a future post-workout breakout.
Wash your face before you exercise
You may not want to take the time to wash off your makeup before your workout (especially if it means re-applying afterward), but this one step is your first line of defense against post-exercise pimples. Dr. Neal Schultz, NYC dermatologist, host of DermTV.com, and creator of BeautyRx by Dr. Schultz says, “Most people wash their face after they work out, but it’s much more important to wash your face before you exercise. When you wipe off your sweat during exercise, you unintentionally grind any makeup, oil, dirt, excess dead cells, debris, and so forth, into the pores on your face, which can cause the breakouts and clogs of exercise acne.”
Of course, if you don’t have access to a sink and your favorite face wash, this can pose a challenge. Dr. Shultz suggests toning and exfoliating before your workout by keeping pre-soaked makeup remover and exfoliation pads in your gym bag so you can quickly and easily wipe away makeup and oil with a toner pad. Then, follow with the exfoliant pad to remove dead skin cells. “These two easy swipes will leave your skin squeaky clean and ready for a workout that won’t break you out,” he says. No water required!
Wear a headband during exercise
Even if you always wash your face before you exercise, chances are you don’t give a second thought to your hair (aside from throwing it in a ponytail). Unfortunately when you sweat, any product you use on your hair is just going to drip down your face.
According to Donat, this isn’t going to do your complexion any favors. “Hair conditioners, sprays, gels and dry shampoos are unsuitable for the face,” she says,”And can alter the pH of the skin and clog pores — leading to breakouts.” It’s highly unlikely you’re going to take the time to wash your hair before you hit the treadmill, so Donat says the easiest solution is to simply wear a headband to prevent sweat from creeping past your hairline.
Wear lighter, loose-fitting clothing
If you’re prone to breakouts on your body, in areas such as your chest, back, or butt, Dr. Schultz explains this is often due to rubbing. “Anything that rubs against the acne-prone area of the body will induce breakouts in the affected areas. Sweat may or may not contribute to the breakout, but it’s the rubbing that drives the breakouts.”
And when you combine a sweaty body with tight-fitting clothing, you only make the rubbing worse. Of course, there’s no way to get around wearing a tight-fitting sports bra, but switching to looser, lighter-weight tops, pants, and shorts may reduce the skin-to-clothing friction that contributes to breakouts.
Wipe down equipment prior to use
In news that might make you rethink your gym habit altogether, a 2016 study performed by FitRated.com found that free weights at the gym carry 362 times more bacteria than public toilets. Disgusting, right? Just think of all those gym-goers who sweat all over the benches without wiping them down, go to the bathroom without washing their hands, and then just smear their germy hands all over the shared equipment. Eww. Then if you sit, touch, or lie on the equipment — bam! — those germs transfer to you.
Dr. Alan J. Park, board-certified dermatologist and the founder of DermWarehouse, says the solution is simple, “Wipe down your equipment before you use it.” If possible, use the pre-moistened wipes or sprays the gym provides, rather than your own sweat towel. It’s not doing you any good to wipe down the equipment with the same towel you use to wipe down your face.
Germ transference is just going to happen to some degree. You really can’t avoid it completely, but you can be aware of your surroundings — and the possible cross-contamination that can take place between yourself, and the items around you. For instance, Donat points out that draping your towel on a cardio machine that hasn’t been cleaned is a great way to transfer germs to your face whenever you wipe away your sweat. As an alternative, she suggests draping your towel around your neck.
Likewise, lying on an un-sanitized yoga mat (even if it’s your own) or touching your face after using a set of dumbbells are surefire ways to transfer germs to your skin. Avoid touching your face at all during your workout, and really think about how you sanitize your equipment before you get to work, to help reduce opportunities for cross-contamination.
Get out of your sweaty clothes, stat
The longer you sit around in your sweaty clothing after your workout, the more likely you’ll be to experience a body breakout. This is for two reasons: the chaffing, rubbing, and friction that takes place between your skin and your wet clothes, and, the possible build-up of germs and bacteria in the fabric.
Dr. Parks says, “Try to shower as soon as possible after you work out, or at the very minimum, get out of your sweaty clothes so your skin can breathe.”
Wash your hands before washing your face
Of course it’s a good idea to wash your face after you exercise, but make sure you wash your hands first! Donat points out that if you don’t thoroughly wash your hands with soap before washing your face, you’re just transferring those gross gym germs to your visage.
Wash your personal gear between uses
It’s really tempting to just roll up your yoga mat after a practice and forget about it until the your next class. Likewise, it’s easy to use your gym towel, throw it in your bag, and leave it there. The problem? Without a wash, germs and bacteria are able to fester and grow — later, transferring back to your body the next time you use those items.
Billy Lowe, a national beauty expert and the founder of Gloss & Toss says, “The biggest problem we see is that people don’t clean up after themselves. They throw the same gross towel in their bag with the promise of washing it when they get home, but they forget all about it, and use it the next day to wipe yesterday’s grime all over their faces.” Take one or two minutes to wipe down your mat immediately after class, and put your gym towels on rotation. Have a stack of them at home so you can easily change out the old towel for a new one, then do laundry once a week to keep your options fresh.
The clear solution
Really, it doesn’t take much to prevent post-workout breakouts. The most important things to remember, are to keep your skin as clean as possible, and to avoid as much cross-contamination as you can by wiping down equipment. And don’t forget to quickly shed those sweaty clothes after your workout — and keep facial cleansers on-hand for easy pre- and post-workout refreshment.
Simply being aware of your surroundings, and limiting unnecessary contact with germ-y surfaces, will go a long way to keeping your skin clean and clear. With a spic and span fitness routine, you’ll be glowing flawlessly any day of the week!