Whether you're working out indoors or outdoors, protecting your skin is essential to prevent acne or irritation. Discover how sweat, the climate, and makeup can cause unwanted skin issues during exercise. Luckily, you will learn helpful tips for protecting your skin while working out and a post-workout skincare regimen to maintain healthy, clear skin.
Exercise and skin health
If you don't protect your skin properly while working out, whether you're inside or outside, you could end up with acne, blackheads, or dry, irritated skin.
One of the biggest causes of these unwanted skin issues is sweat, especially if you are acne-prone. Due to sweat mixing with dirt, bacteria, or makeup, it can form a substance that can clog your pores and cause an acne breakout or blackheads. Temperature is also important. Cold or warm weather during outdoor workouts can lead to dry, irritated, or sun-damaged skin.
Luckily, regardless if you sweat or are working out outdoors, you can avoid some of these skin issues by taking simple steps to treat your skin before, during, and after your workouts.
Working out in cold weather: skin protection
When exercising outside in the cold or winter months, your skin is more at risk of becoming dry or irritated because there is less moisture in the air, which can even result in cracked lips.
A study examining the negative effects of colder temperatures and low humidity on the skin concluded that this type of climate can weaken the skin's protective barrier. When this happens, your skin is stripped of its natural oils, making it dry, itchy, flaky, red, and irritated.
Tips for protecting your skin in the cold weather
Here are some things you can do to protect your skin while working out outside in the cold weather.
- Wash your face before and after your workout. Working out with a clean, makeup-free face is best to avoid clogging your pores. Make sure to thoroughly cleanse your face after a sweaty workout to help keep your pores clear.
- Use a thicker moisturizer. Use a thicker moisturizer, ideally formulated to nourish the skin barrier. Look for products containing nourishing ingredients like ceramides and fatty acids, such as stearic acid. Apply it both before and after your workout.
- Wear a sweatproof sunscreen. To protect your skin from sun damage, apply a sweatproof, oil-free (or 'non-clogging') sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, even on cloudy days.
- Shield your face from the elements. Especially in windy conditions, wear a scarf over your face or a face covering when you're outside to protect against windburn.
- Use a gentle cleanser. When washing your face, use a gentle cleanser, or one made for sensitive skin, that won't strip the skin of natural oils.
- Avoid long, hot showers or baths. Avoid taking long, hot showers or baths because the heat from the water can strip the natural oils from your skin and dry it out even more. Try warm, shorter showers instead.
- Avoid irritating skincare products. Avoid using harsh, irritating, or drying skincare products, such as exfoliating acids, to keep your skin barrier from drying out. If you need to use these products, use them sparingly if possible.
Working out in warm weather: skin protection
When exercising outside in the warm or summer months, the main causes of skin issues are sweat contributing to acne breakouts, and the sun's UV rays resulting in sun damage.
A study that looked at seasonal acne flare-ups found that breakouts happened more often in the summer due to people sweating more when it's hot and humid.
Tips for protecting your skin in the warm weather
Take these steps to protect your skin while exercising outside in the warm weather.
- Cleanse your face before and after your workout. Start with a clean, makeup-free face to prevent clogged pores and an acne breakout. Make sure to thoroughly cleanse your face after a sweaty workout, especially if you're acne-prone.
- Wear a sweatproof sunscreen. Choose a sweatproof, oil-free, or 'non-clogging' sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to protect from sun damage. Reapply every 2 hours, or more often if you're sweating a lot.
- Avoid strong UV hours. Try to schedule your outdoor workouts for early mornings or late afternoons to avoid peak UV times when the sun's rays are the strongest.
- Keep your skin dry. Keep your skin dry during workouts by wiping away sweat with a clean towel.
- Wear sun-protective clothing. Wear a wide-brim hat and UV-blocking sunglasses to help shield your face and skin from the sun.
- Keep your hair off your face. Keep your hair tied back to prevent transferring oils and dirt to your facial skin.
Skin protection for indoor workouts
Just like in outdoor workouts, sweat is the main cause of skin issues when working out indoors. To keep your pores from getting clogged, it’s best to work out with a clean, makeup-free face and wipe away sweat with a clean towel.
After your workout, it's important to immediately rinse off the sweat from your skin to try to prevent an acne breakout. It is also good practice to keep your hair off your face to prevent the transfer of additional oil and dirt, which can contribute to acne.
What happens when you wear makeup while working out?
Not everyone will experience the negative effects of wearing makeup during a workout; however, those with blemish-prone or sensitive skin may experience issues such as blackheads, acne, and irritation. This is due to the interaction of makeup, sweat, and bacteria forming a substance that can clog your pores and irritate your skin.
If you wear makeup, washing it off before exercising is ideal to keep your skin healthy and clear. If you cannot rinse your face or are in a time crunch, you can wipe the skin with micellar water or oil-free makeup wipes instead.
Another potential skin issue from wearing makeup while working out is the increased blood flow and heat can cause the ingredients in the makeup to penetrate deeper into the skin. This may cause skin irritation, redness, or itching, especially if you have sensitive skin.
Helpful makeup tips for workouts
Even though exercising with a clean, makeup-free face is best, some people may not feel comfortable going in public with a bare face.
If you wish to wear makeup while you workout, try some of these tips to help keep your skin healthy and clear:
- Wear oil-free, non-comedogenic ('non-clogging') makeup products. These products are specifically formulated not to clog pores, reducing the risk of acne breakouts.
- Wear light face makeup only. Only apply makeup to your problem areas instead of a full face of heavy makeup.
- Wear a tinted moisturizer or a tinted SPF instead of full-coverage foundation. These products provide light coverage without being too heavy.
- Immediately cleanse your skin after a workout and reapply your makeup. It is always recommended to wash your face thoroughly after exercising to remove the mixture of sweat, bacteria, and any makeup residue.
- Keep a regular skincare routine. Maintaining a regular skincare routine is key to keeping your skin healthy and clear. Ingredients like salicylic acid can be helpful in reducing acne and blackheads for those who tend to get outbreaks.
Remember that if you have blemish-prone skin, wearing makeup while you sweat still puts you at risk for blackhead formation or an acne breakout.
Post-workout skincare tips for healthy skin
The key to healthy skin after a workout is to make sure your skin is clean from sweat and bacteria and then follow up with your regular skincare routine for your skin type.
For breakout-prone skin types, try using acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, which can be found in cleansers, toners, serums, or treatment pads. If your skin tends to get red or flushed after your workouts, try a calming or cooling serum to help soothe the skin.
Avoid exfoliating or scrubbing your skin too hard immediately after a workout. When the skin is heated up and gets more blood flow from exercise, it can become more sensitive and susceptible to injury.
Make sure to always moisturize with a moisturizer made for your specific skin type, and apply an SPF of 30 or higher if it's daytime.
Maintaining clear, healthy skin during workouts requires proper care and protection. Whether you're exercising in the cold or warm air outdoors, or sweating it out indoors, your skin needs special attention before, during, and after exercise to prevent unwanted skin issues.
Can you wear makeup while working out?
It depends. Wearing makeup while exercising can clog pores and cause breakouts, especially if you’re acne-prone. Makeup-free is best or try oil-free, lighter makeup options instead.
How do I prepare my skin before a workout?
Starting with a clean, makeup-free face is best to avoid clogging your pores. Adapt your skincare routine to your workout setting, like SPF, if outdoors or extra moisture during the winter.
Should I wash my face immediately after a workout?
If you sweat during your workout, yes. Wash your face immediately after sweaty workouts to remove sweat, bacteria, and dirt, preventing acne and keeping your pores clear.
Whether working out indoors or outdoors, it’s always best to exercise with a clean, makeup-free face to prevent clogged pores and an acne breakout.
During cold weather workouts, use a thicker moisturizer and avoid activities and products that will strip the natural oils from the skin and dry it out.
During warm weather workouts, wear sweatproof, oil-free sunscreen and choose early morning or late afternoon sessions to avoid strong UV rays.
If wearing makeup when exercising, select non-clogging products and try a tinted moisturizer or tinted sunscreen instead of foundation.
- Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereol. The effect of environmental humidity and temperature on skin barrier function and dermatitis.
- Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. Seasonal aggravation of acne in summers and the effect of temperature and humidity in a study in a tropical setting.
- The Journal of Cutaneous Medicine. An Investigation of Makeup Ingredients and their Effects on Acne Cosmetica with Dermatologic Practice Recommendations.