Athletics and acne

Breakouts after workouts? Don’t sweat it.

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We’re here to tell you what we know, but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider about your specific health concerns.

Exercise has so many benefits for your body and for your mind that breakouts shouldn’t get between us and our workouts. That said, it’s frustrating to deal with acne as a “consequence” when you’re making a healthy choice like exercising. We’ve got you! In this guide we’ll go over the best products, tricks, and tips to take care of your skin, so you can spend more time with your eyes on the prize.

Acne-proof workout prep

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  1. If you have makeup on, remove it. During exercise, sweat can mix with makeup and oil on your skin, which can clog your pores and lead to breakouts. Try micellar water to easily remove makeup before working out. Just soak a cotton pad with micellar water and swipe the pad over your face for a quick cleanse.

  2. Make sure to wear clean clothes while working out. Tempting as it is to skip laundry day on a busy schedule, don’t re-wear your workout gear without cleaning it. Wearing already damp or sweaty clothing may lead to more breakouts!

  3. If exercising outside, apply sunscreen. Check out our sunscreen guide for acne-prone skin for routine and product recommendations, including water-resistant sunscreens you can wear while swimming and sweating outdoors. Re-apply sunscreen every 2 hours or so, especially if you’re going in and out of the water or sweating/wiping your face a lot.

Pro Tip: Solbar Zinc SPF 38 is a relatively affordable sunscreen that can be applied to the body for outdoor sports, swimming, and sweaty activities. It has an oil-free base and can last up to 80 minutes in the water. It tends to be more “rub-resistant” than other sunscreen products, and it’s gentle on the eyes, so it can be used on the face as well as the body.

Care for your skin during and after a sweat session

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Lather, rinse, repeat. Nothing feels better than a refreshing shower after working up a sweat, so don’t skip this step!

If you really need to dash home to take your dog out or grab groceries, the best strategy is to splash water on the face and neck after exercise. Many cleansing wipes tend to irritate the skin, so we advise against them—but if you simply must, we recommend the Olay Sensitive Makeup Remover Wipes with Hungarian Water Essence or the e.l.f. hydrating water cleansing cloths.

Workout clothes and gear

In addition to the acne-causing bacteria Cutibacterium acnes, other microorganisms like pityrosporum (also known as malassezia, a type of fungus that is normally present on our skin) thrive in warm, moist areas, and these guys can contribute to breakouts and inflammation. If you tend to have a sweaty back, for example, pityrosporum will love it—and they might celebrate by giving you body acne! No fun. Tight clothing that doesn’t let your skin “breathe” can give acne microbes an even better environment to thrive in. Opt for clothing with a looser fit that won’t trap heat or cause friction on your skin. And most importantly, cleanse your skin ASAP after breaking a sweat to wash away those gnarly microbes.

Same goes for any gear you wear on your bod, like ankle weights or protective gear. Give it a good wipe-down (depending on the material, cleaning instructions will vary) after you’re done so it’ll be ready to go when you are.

Swimming: does chlorine affect acne?

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Whether you’re a pro swimmer or you just like to cool off in the pool on a warm day, beware of the drying effects of chlorine. While seawater or chlorinated water may help reduce bacteria that can contribute to breakouts, chlorine exposure can dry out skin and may lead to irritation, which can in turn lead to acne. Chlorine may also contribute to breakouts by irritating the pore openings, which can lead to clogged pores. An increase in sebum production can also occur after prolonged water exposure. This increase in oiliness is sometimes referred to as “swimmer’s shine.” But your skin’s specific response to lots of time in the water depends on your skin type and other factors.

Does sweating cause acne?

Sweating from exercise doesn’t directly cause acne, but it does create an environment in which acne-causing bacteria can thrive. Combine friction from your clothing while you’re working out (think the rubbing of a bicycle helmet on your forehead, or a sports bra on your back) and a warm, moist sweatiness that bacteria love... you’ve got the perfect recipe for post-workout breakouts.

The body wash that beats bacne

Try adding an acne body wash with salicylic acid to your routine—like the Acne Body Wash by Curology. You can use its lightly foaming goodness every day. A splash of our dermatologist-designed body wash treats and helps prevent acne, plus washes your pores of regular dirt and grime. Our body wash is formulated with 2% salicylic acid—just enough to be tough on acne but kind for all skin types.

More products for body acne

You can also try adding a zinc pyrithione soap to help get rid of body acne. Zinc soap helps cleanse the skin of acne-causing bacteria and fungus that live on the skin and thrive in a sweaty environment. Some people see a difference after just a few weeks of replacing their normal body cleanser with a zinc soap!

Try one of these zinc soaps:

How to use zinc soap for acne:

  1. Before you rinse, give the zinc soap at least a minute to sink into your skin and get to work. If you’re unsure how long a minute is while you’re in the shower, try singing happy birthday to Oprah (or your random person of choice), 3 consecutive times.

  2. Keep your zinc soap on a perforated holder so it can drain and dry in between uses. You can also give the bar a quick rinse before using it.

  3. If the zinc soap alone doesn’t do the trick, then you might consider adding in a benzoyl peroxide (BP) cleanser for an extra kick, alternating between both of them.

How Curology can help

Treating acne is kind of our thing. Okay, it’s totally our thing. If you’re struggling with acne-prone skin, we’re here to help. Your custom Curology acne-fighting formula is specifically for acne-prone areas of your face and neck, so we made the acne body wash for the rest of your skin!

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Subject to consultation. 30-day trial. Just cover $4.95 in S&H.
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Our perfectly calibrated 2% salicylic acid formula cleans pores of acne-causing gunk, like old skin cells, dirt, and oil. You can try it for free when you start your Curology free trial (just pay $4.95 plus tax to cover the cost of shipping and handling).*

• • •

We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.

Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Trial is 30 days + $4.95 shipping and handling.

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