Going to the gym is supposed to be good for us - so why is it that when we take up exercise, our skin often seems to go in the opposite direction?
On a basic level, the reason why is obvious - sweat and skin do not a happy mix make, so it’s unsurprising that we end up hitting a spotty low rather than a post-workout glow when we up our exercise routines. But whether you’re a runner, a swimmer, or even a weight lifter, there are several other surprising factors that could be bringing on the breakouts, too...
Your sweat towel
"Sweat towels can harbour a lot of bacteria, especially if that towel comes into contact with gym equipment", skincare expert Dr Rekha Tailor, of the Health & Aesthetics Clinic in Farnham, explains. "You can easily spread bacteria leading to acne and nasty skin infections by rubbing it on your face".
Even if you’re meticulous about keeping your towel clean, you’re still not immune because towels washed in harsh detergents can also make acne worse.
During your workout, Dr Rekha says you should try to avoid rubbing your face repeatedly, instead allowing the sweat to evaporate on its own, and then shower off properly when you’re totally finished.
"If you really can't live without a gym towel, use a microfiber towel as these are dirt resistant and absorb water quickly," she advises. "Whatever you use, wash in a fragrance-free, eco laundry detergent."
All of that sweat leaving your body can lead to another of skin’s worst enemies - dehydration - so you should always make a conscious effort to drink plenty of water both during and after your workout.
When it comes to benchmarks, the two litres line is a good rule of thumb, but the amount of water you actually need depends a lot of variants, from how active you are to the weather outside on that particular day.
If you struggle to get through enough, know that you don’t have to get it all in liquid form, either. Water-rich foods like cucumbers, celery, watermelon and iceberg lettuce can all help you to rehydrate after a hardcore session.
Yoga mats, bar weights, kettle bells… it’s easy to forget that every piece of gym equipment you handle has been used by a pretty disgusting number of other people before you. "Each time we touch a piece of gym equipment we are coming into contact with bacteria that can cause illness and can be easily spread, leading to acne and nasty skin infections," says Dr Rekha. "Wherever possible wipe down gym equipment with some anti-bacterial wipes, and never touch your face without washing your hands first."
Also, don’t forget that skin doesn’t necessarily just get damaged on your face. Dr Rekha adds: "if you are a lover of weight training, cycling or anything else where your hands play a important role this can leave you with dry, hard and cracked hands which are often very painful, and it's therefore important to invest in skincare."
Let’s be clear - working out outside is a glorious thing, and we’d much rather cycle a loop of the park than stare at someone else’s bobbing arse in an airless spin classroom. HOWEVER. Whilst we might love the feeling of the sun on our faces, our faces themselves might not, so it’s important to get some protection sorted before you start.
"If you like to exercise outside, make sure you apply a water-resistant broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least a factor 30 before heading out," Dr Rekha recommends. "UV exposure can seriously damage your skin and is the biggest cause of premature ageing, leading to a breakdown of collagen, not to mention the increased risk of skin cancer." So in summary, SPF SPF SPF, in that order.
Your swim sesh
It is not the exercise on land that can lead to problem skin. According to Dr Rekha, swimming can also have negative consequences. "The high number of chemicals in chlorine can lead to tight, dry, flaky skin and can further irritate conditions such as eczema and other dry skin complications," she says. "Chlorine gets into the skin cells, stripping away any water, natural oils and sebum causing the surface of the skin to dry and crack, leading to wrinkles and even small lesions."
This all sounds pretty scary, but there’s no need to stop swimming altogether - just be sure to shower thoroughly once you’ve thrashed things out in the pool. "Cold water is very beneficial after any exercise as it helps to prevent any swelling from the workout. It also helps to reduce your heart rate and increase your circulation which will help you to recover faster, and can help to relieve muscle soreness after a strenuous workout."
Your make up
We’ve all been guilty of leaving the day’s face on when we get to the gym (or actively reapplying it because we know that a certain someone is going to be there, tbh). But Dr Rekha says it’s one of the biggest no-nos of them all, so for the sake of our skin, we need to stop, and sharpish. ;
"Cosmetics will mix with the oil and perspiration from your skin, congesting the skin and preventing the pores from being able to release sweat – leading to breakouts, blackheads and more," she says.
That sounds like a pretty valid reason to add a good, nourishing cleanser to our usual kit. After all, if we’re going to work that hard to get our bodies looking and feeling fab, it’s only fair that we give our faces the best possible chance of doing the same.
You Might Also Like