Working out can improve the health and look of your complexion. Give your skin the love it deserves by sticking to these pre- and post-workout habits.
Just as working out is good for muscles, it’s also good for the health of your skin. A study published in August 2015 in Aging Cell proposes that both endurance workout and high-intensity aerobic training may help prevent and reduce signs of aging in the skin.
Stress reduction is a key reason to stay fit. A review from December 2016 in Current Behavioral Neuroscience Reports noted that exercise can help fight stress — which, when chronic, can contribute to skin aging and exacerbate skin conditions such as psoriasis and acne, according to another review, published in June 2014 in Inflammation & Allergy Drug Targets.
Now that you are aware of just what working out can do for your complexion, you’ll want to maintain the skin-care habits that prevent acne, improve hydration, and reduce irritation and damage. Going that extra mile — in the gym or with your skin — can help turn back the clock.
We talked to two dermatologists about what you need to do to prep your skin before and after exercise.
1. Believe It or Not, Don’t Worry About Washing Off Your Makeup Pre–Sweat Sesh
This may come as a shock, but Dr. Hooper says it’s okay to skip washing your face before a workout. “You’ll sweat and it’ll get a little messy, but it’s not bad to have makeup on your face during exercise,” she says. That means it’s totally fine to schedule a lunchtime workout and head straight for the treadmill.
One thing you don’t want on your face as you suit up to sweat: a heavy moisturizer. “Some moisturizers put a barrier on skin that prevents the evaporation of water,” says Charisse Dolitsky, MD, a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Long Island, New York, and a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate. Not only is there a pore-clogging concern, but it’s the evaporation of sweat that cools you down. So if you’re tempted to add more moisturizer before working out, don’t.
2. Before You Break a Sweat, Don’t Forget to Apply Sunscreen
If you’re going outside, don’t forget to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30, says Deirdre Hooper, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Audubon Dermatology in New Orleans and an associate clinical professor in the Department of Dermatology at Louisiana State University and Tulane University. Here’s the thing: This advice applies even if you’re working out in a gym with windows that let light in. “Anytime there’s visible light, you’re exposed to some part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Growing evidence is showing that all light is important when it comes to skin damage and aging,” she says.
Because you’ll likely be sweating, and especially so if it’s hot out, you’ll want to ensure your SPF is sweatproof, too. Sports sunscreens usually have this in mind; the label should also list how many minutes the product is both water- and sweat-resistant.
Apply it to your face, throat, chest, and back of the neck. The last is the spot most people forget, and these are often the folks who are surprised when they see signs of aging, like discoloration, appear in their late thirties and forties, she says.
3. After You Workout, Hit the Showers to Wipe Away All the Sweat
Now that athleisure is a thing, it’s socially acceptable to sport the leggings you wore at the gym while out you’re out running errands or to breakfast later. Not so fast. “Sweating creates a warm and wet environment for bacteria to grow,” says Hooper.
At the very least, rinse off to remove built-up sweat, oil, and germs. This is especially important if you’re acne-prone, she says. In that case, try a wash that contains benzoyl peroxide, which will fight C. acnes, the bacteria that causes breakouts. If that doesn’t work, she recommends cleansing with a sulfur wash.
As a rule, always change into new clothes. If acne still remains, it’s time to see a dermatologist, who may recommend stronger prescription options to clear your skin.
4. If Nothing Left, Be Sure to Wash Your Face Post-Workout
If you’re not showering at the gym, at the very least clean your face before you pack up and leave. Avoid harsh washes and opt for a gentle or mild cleanser instead, says Dr. Dolitsky.
A facial wipe can be used in a pinch if you’re running out the door. If you’re acne-prone, a wipe with salicylic acid can help prevent plugged pores that lead to pimples, she says.
Next, top with a lightweight moisturizer to help your skin retain water.
5. Use a Tinted Sunscreen When You’re Done Washing Off
Yes, you’ve heard over and over again to use sunscreen. Honestly, dermatologists agree that this constant reminder is critical for the future health of your skin. Sunscreen guards against the UV rays that degrade collagen, the proteins in skin that keep it springy and line-free.
Most likely, if you were working out, you were sweaty, which makes this step all the more key. “If you sweat, the sunscreen you applied prior to your workout is now gone,” says Hooper.
Rather than reapply a thick sport sunscreen, now’s the time to slather on a tinted sunscreen, which multitasks as both a UV protectant and makeup that evens your skin tone. What’s more, research suggests that tinted sunscreen can protect skin from the damaging effects of indoor light, per the November 2017 issue of the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.
6. Just as You Let Your Muscles Rest After Exercising, You’ll Want to Cool Down Your Skin
You know you need to cool down your muscles after exercise by walking or stretching, and your face needs a break, too. “Heat can damage the skin by inhibiting its restorative processes,” says Dolitsky.
Just as you protect your skin from UV damage from the sun, you should guard your complexion against heat energy, too. This is especially important after prolonged heat exposure, such as a hot yoga class, Dolitsky says.
Luckily, it’s relatively easy. Simply wash your face with cool water if you’re on the go, or apply a cooling mask at home.