The question of whether the benefits of exercise for the skin outweigh the negatives of exercise for the skin is much-debated in the skindustry. This is the right time to answer this question as we all rush to buy gym memberships and leggings that will realistically only be worn to clean the windows or to pop to the shops… expectation management is the key to never being disappointed in yourself. But exercising, whether in the gym, at-home or out on the road, can have an effect on the skin – let’s be honest, nearly everything has an effect on the skin as it is an exposed organ.
Benefits of exercise on the skin
Exercise gets that blood flowing and that skin glowing
- When we exercise, our skin blood flow increases… you know that thing that we try to increase using facials, physical treatments and facial massages. Except that it’s essentially free – yeeee-haa. This is due to numerous factors, such as physical exertion itself and your body’s rising temperature. Increased blood flow means increased skin oxygenation. Of course you need oxygen as a human to survive but helping your skin to get more additional oxygen improves the skin’s healing and restoration process, stimulates collagen synthesis, is anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. So let’s lay this down again: bright, fresh-looking plump skin with fewer impurities and less inflammation? For free? And all it takes is a little bit of a workout every once in a while? I am sold, call me Serena Williams.
Exercise decreases stress and thus decreases stress-related skin concerns
- Stress is bad for your skin – FACT. Studies have shown that stress definitively triggers acne breakouts, rosacea flareups and psoriasis flareups and it is known to affect other skin conditions too. I notice myself that when I am stressed my skin begins to misbehave even though my skin is technically at optimal health. There is a link between stress levels and the sebaceous glands (AKA the glands that produce sebum, which hydrates the skin but can contribute to the formation of spots). Exercise brings down stress levels and in this may alleviate symptoms of stress-triggered conditions.
Negatives of exercise on the skin
It causes sweat, which is not always negative, but can be negative
- I struggle to say that sweat is bad for the skin because the process of sebum excretion is a necessary process of the skin. However, the excessive sweating that happens during exercise can be disastrous for acne-prone skin. Sweat sits on the face for the majority of the workout, causing pores to become clogged and possibly causing congestion. It is a double-edged sword because exercise can help acne but can also make it worse. Sweat can also be incredibly irritating to the skin, and I’ve had clients before report that their skin feels itchy and sore directly after exercising. It is not only about facial acne either – sweating can lead to congestion all over the body, whether it be blackheads, inflammatory bacne or ingrown hairs.
Exercise can cause repetitive chafing
- Going on a long run gives you that sweet, sweet endorphin, serotonin and norepinephrine rush that makes you feel like a glorious goddess but it can also cause the skin to chafe. Anyone with thighs who has worn a dress in the Summer knows the pain of chafing. Chafing is more likely to occur on wet skin…. like your skin when it is covered in sweat. When friction meets skin for a long period of time, it irritates the skin, causing redness and even blisters. Definitely something to be avoided whenever possible.
It MAY cause sagging
- This is a controversial one that has been battled about for years. Not all exercise is shown to cause sagging – regular intensity exercise for normal periods of time (including HIIT workouts, by the way, for the Kayla Itsines and Joe Wicks fans) should not cause skin sagging. However, high impact exercise for long periods of time, such as running 10km everyday for example, may cause damage to the skin’s structure (ie. its collagen and elastin). Skin sagging occurs naturally with age anyway, so it is not something to stress over, in my eyes. Besides, general health and general skin health is more important than aesthetics, especially later on in the game.
Combatting the negatives of exercise and the skin
We cannot stop sweating unless we decide to inject every single area of our body with botox which no respectful practitioner would do to you anyway. Besides that, your body NEEDS to sweat to regulate its temperature. The key is to buy moisture-wicking workout clothes and to shower ASAP after your workout – I mean leg it from the weights room and get your toned bum into that warm water. If you notice that you’re prone to congestion after getting active, your shower gel may need to get active too. Environ Sebuwash (€20.00) is technically a face wash but can be used as a shower gel. It contains tea tree and salicylic acid but is still mild enough to use on your body (I’d be wary of use in SOME areas). Tea tree and salicylic acid help to clear the pore of sebum and bacteria to reduce inflammation and infection… basically, it should put a halt to body congestion.
If you really cannot get to a shower directly after exercise-related sweat, give yourself a swipe with a Waxperts Wonder Pad (40 for €9.99), which are packed with the very same salicylic acid, and then still shower as soon as possible.
It is never okay to exercise with cosmetic makeup on. Most cosmetic makeup is comedogenic, meaning it clogs the pores – this includes BB creams and tinted moisturisers too. When the irritating sweat mixes with the cosmetic makeup sitting in the pore, it is a recipe for spots as it traps the sweat in the pore. I’d advise to go fully and completely without makeup whenever possible – this is easier said than done for some and I’m fully aware of that, however, if you already have a skin condition, this could make it much more inflamed and sore. How does one quickly and easily remove makeup before exercising? Do NOT say a wipe. My Cleanse Off Mitt (€5.95) is travel-friendly, product-free and easily hand-washable so that you can get it off in a jiffy.
Pure mineral foundations are technically okay to wear to the gym as they sit on the pore, rather than in the pore. The purest mineral foundation that I am aware of is the Jane Iredale PurePressed Base Mineral Foundation (€40.00), and they verify that it is fine to use whilst exercising in their training!
To avoid chafing, there are plenty of tips out there… many people swear by regular old talcum powder or roll-on deodorant but I fall under the belief that lubing up is more beneficial. Slick yourself down with a natural oil such as jojoba or coconut oil and it should (temporarily) stop chafing as it creates a protective barrier on the skin that will prevent friction – moisture-wicking workout gear will also provide some relief.
The nerdie verdict on exercise and the skin
Get out there and get moving! As long as your are sweat-savvy and wash yourself thoroughly, the benefits of getting that blood pumping very much outweigh the negatives.