It is not exercise that causes acne, but rather your skincare habits and sweat caused from working out
Being active has been proven to guarantee numerous health benefits, both mentally and physically. Most importantly, exercise also plays a significant role in helping you build and maintain strong muscles - this is arguably the main reason why most men engage in strength training.
However, despite its potentially endless benefits, regular exercise can also create the perfect conditions for acne-causing bacteria as well as yeast to thrive, ultimately resulting in more frequent skin breakouts.
So yes, adult acne is a thing, especially among men who get a good sweat in regularly. Nearly 3% of Singaporean adult men experience persisting acne problems, which can potentially cause scarring as well as psychological distress. While there are many possible causes for acne, could your exercise routine possibly be one of the potential triggers of your acne woes?
How do workouts cause the buildup of acne in men?
Hormonal fluctuations trigger the formation of acne. These hormones lead to the creation of oils which, in turn, result in clogged pores that sometimes allow bacteria to thrive. It is these clogged pores and excess oil that lead to breakouts. Research also suggests that males whose fathers experienced severe acne are increasingly more likely to have it, too. Some medications such as corticosteroids can potentially trigger the occurrence of acne.
Sweating can potentially worsen your acne symptoms. It is not uncommon to experience breakouts on your back or ‘backne’ after a workout session or during hot weather due to the sweat accumulated. Unfortunately, breakouts on your back are usually fairly harder to manage or control compared to those that attack your face. Several men experience shaving bumps that are strikingly similar to acne, however, shaving mistakes and ingrown hairs are the actual cause.
Other factors that block hair follicles and encourage bacteria to thrive include;
- Extremely tight fabrics
- Heat can block hair follicles
It is this combination of thriving bacteria and clogged hair follicles that result in the formation of acne!
Men who are on testosterone replacement therapy for low testosterone are also at a higher risk of acne. Discuss with your doctor should you experience such side effects and the dose can be tailored to minimize the side effects.
Should you quit working out because it is causing your acne problems?
No. It would be silly to, because working out itself doesn't cause acne! Rather, it is your skincare habits that significantly impact the health of your skin.
Because germs are known to linger and thrive in a gym environment, it is vital to always maintain good hygiene even as you exercise to prevent clogged pores as well as the spread of harmful bacteria. Below are some simple steps you can integrate into your workout routine to help minimize your breakout incidences as well as the severity of your acne.
Dress appropriately for your workouts
It is highly recommended that you put on clean, loose-fitting as well as moisture-wicking gear that will not rub against your skin. If you didn't know, clothing and other training gear that is excessively tight, including bra straps, headbands and spandex garments can all result in the formation of acne due to excessive friction.
Always keep your skin dry while working out
You can use a clean towel to gently remove all the accumulating sweat from your body.
Always wipe off shared training equipment
Most shared gym equipment is full of acne-causing germs, dirt, and bacteria. While most gyms provide towels as well as cleaning spray to clean their equipment, many gym-goers never take their time to wipe off their equipment before using them. To be on the safest side, make sure to clean any shared equipment in a public gym before using them.
Remove all your makeup before you work out
Makeup can potentially clog your pores, especially when exercising. You can use a towelette, oil-free makeup remover, or even micellar water to safely take all the makeup off your body.
After engaging in any workout program, bathe immediately
It is highly advisable that you should shower as soon as you are through with your training sessions. Use lukewarm warm water to eliminate sweat as well as oil from your skin. If you cannot bathe immediately after a workout, make sure you clean and wash your hands and gently wipe off your face using a pad containing salicylic acid. Try to also remove your sweaty clothing and replace it with a clean t-shirt!
Before you exercise outdoors, apply some sunscreen on every part of your skin not covered by clothes
The sun's harmful ultra-violet rays not only increase your risk of skin cancer, but also promote premature skin aging. What's more, prolonged exposure to UV rays can potentially lead to skin breakouts because the sun simply makes your skin dry out, resulting in the production of oil.
The bottom line
To sum up, exercise won't directly cause acne problems. Instead, it is how you handle your skin during those workouts that impact the health of your skin. To minimize the chances of skin breakouts during workouts, remember not to expose your skin to extended sessions of friction. and don't wear tight-fitting clothing gear and accessories.
If your skin breakouts don't improve even after OTC treatments, you should see your doctor because acne can also be caused by other factors, ranging from stress, hormones, genetics to medications!
- Purdy, S., & de Berker, D. (2011). Acne vulgaris. BMJ clinical evidence, 2011, 1714.
- Costa, C. S., Bagatin, E., Martimbianco, A., da Silva, E. M., Lúcio, M. M., Magin, P., & Riera, R. (2018). Oral isotretinoin for acne. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 11(11), CD009435. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD009435.pub2
This article was written and medically reviewed by Dr Ben, M.D on 11/10/21