The Workout Glow-Up: Unraveling the Acne-Exercise Connection

For the modern fitness guru, a workout isn't just about achieving that awe-inspiring physique— it's a daily ritual of rejuvenation, discipline, and yes, bragging rights on Insta. However, lurking beneath the promise of the post-workout 'glow-up' is a nagging concern that many of us have faced: acne, the blemish on our aspirations, quite literally.

In this extensive exploration, we'll be stripping back the layers of sweat and skincare. We will evaluate the intricate relationship between exercise and acne, dig into scientific research, dispel common myths, and arm you with a skincare routine that complements your fitness regimen, so you'll know how to drip with sweat, not with worry.

Understanding Acne - The Science of Spots

At its core, acne is a skin condition that occurs when hair follicles become clogged with oil and dead skin cells. The clogging traps bacteria in the follicles, which can lead to redness, swelling, and the pus-filled lesions we commonly associate with acne. Although often thought of as a teenage problem, acne can persist into adulthood, with various factors influencing its cause and development.

Hormonal Havoc

During puberty, an increase in androgens—male hormones that are present in both men and women—causes the sebaceous glands to enlarge and make more sebum. This is why acne is common during adolescence. Hormonal changes related to pregnancy or starting or stopping birth control pills can also cause acne.

The Role of Diet

The association between diet and acne is complex and not yet fully understood, but there are some foods that have been linked with making acne worse, including dairy and foods with a high-glycemic index.

Stress Matters

Stress can make acne worse. Why? Stress increases the body's production of the hormone cortisol, which can exacerbate acne. Furthermore, stress can lead to behaviors that contribute to acne, like not keeping up with a regular skincare routine or eating junk food.

Genetics and Lifestyle

There is a strong genetic component to acne. If your parents had acne, it's likely that you'll also develop it. However, lifestyle factors, such as using harsh products on the skin, can trigger or exacerbate acne.

The Sweat and Spots Paradox

If you've ever noticed an increase in breakouts following a workout, you're not alone. This paradoxical relationship between working out and acne has left many fitness aficionados perplexed. The question remains—does exercise actually cause acne, or is there another culprit at play?

Sweating It Out

Sweating during exercise is the body's natural cooling mechanism. This process is designed to regulate body temperature, not to cleanse the skin. However, if sweat mixes with oils and bacteria on the skin's surface, it can lead to the dreaded post-workout breakout.

Tight Clothing and Equipment

Wearing tight-fitting exercise clothes or equipment can trap sweat and oil against the skin, resulting in a condition known as acne mechanica. This form of acne is caused by heat, friction, and pressure against the skin.

Chemicals and Makeup

The use of certain chemicals in gyms, such as harsh cleaning products or sanitizers, can irritate the skin and lead to breakouts. Similarly, leaving makeup on during a workout can mix with sweat and clog pores.

Busting Myths and Setting the Record Straight

Before you ditch your gym membership in a frenzy of spot-induced panic, it's important to separate fact from fiction. Here are some myths about exercise and acne.

Myth 1: "Sweating Will Help Clear Your Acne"

There's a common belief that sweating can flush out acne-causing toxins. In reality, sweating isn't a detox; it's just the body's way to regulate temperature. While the act of sweating itself won't clear your acne, properly cleansing your skin after a workout can help to prevent breakouts.

Myth 2: "Exercise Causes Acne to Flare Up"

The truth is that exercise can make acne worse, but it doesn't directly cause it in most cases. There are exceptions, such as contact sports where the skin comes into contact with dirty equipment.

Myth 3: "Only Heavy Sweating Can Lead to Acne"

You don't have to be drenched in sweat to experience breakouts. Even light perspiration can mix with skin oils and lead to acne.

Post-Workout Skincare Routine for the Acne-Prone

Now that we've examined the science and dispelled some myths, it's time to implement a post-workout skincare routine to combat exercise-induced acne effectively.

The Pre-Workout Prep

Before hitting the gym, remove any makeup and wash your face with a gentle cleanser. If you wear sunscreen, make sure it's non-comedogenic. Choose hairstyles that keep hair away from your face to prevent the transfer of hair oils and sweat.

The Mid-Workout Cleanup

If you're exercising for a long time, it's a good idea to bring cleansing wipes with you to wipe away sweat and oil during your workout, especially if you're prone to body acne on your back or chest.

The Post-Workout Rebirth

After your workout, be sure to:

  • Immediately shower: Removing sweat and oil prevents them from clogging pores.
  • Use a gentle cleanser: Look for one specifically formulated for acne-prone skin with ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.
  • Apply an oil-free moisturizer: Hydration is essential, but opt for a non-comedogenic formula.
  • Avoid touching your face: Gym surfaces are full of bacteria, so keep your hands off your face.
  • Wash your workout clothes: Don't hang your sweaty clothes back up; they can cause breakouts when you wear them again.

Hydrate and Nourish from Within

Drinking water keeps you hydrated, which in turn can keep your skin looking and feeling healthy. Additionally, consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can provide your skin with the nutrients it needs to combat acne.

When to See an Esthetician 

If you've tried various skincare routines and still experience severe acne, it may be time to see an esthetician. They can recommend skincare, facials, among others to get your skin back on track.

The Balance Between Fitness and Clear Skin

The key to balancing an active lifestyle with clear skin is awareness and consistent, conscientious care. Be mindful of your skin's needs and adjust your routine accordingly. Remember, the workout "glow-up" is both about what you achieve in the gym and how you maintain that brilliant, blemish-free complexion outside of it. Stick to a routine that works for you, keep your skincare simple yet effective, and always prioritize the health of your skin in tandem with your physical health. With these insights and tips, you're now well-equipped to take on the gym and the world—confident and radiant, inside and out.


If you are in the San Diego area and would like to learn more about our services or book an appointment today, click here. If you are new to Vasseur Skincare or needed help choosing the right skincare, click here. If you would like to talk with one of our Vasseur team members for a free consultation, click here and we will get back with you as soon as we can (please allow 1-3 business days for a response).

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Also in Education

The Link Between Diet and Acne: Debunking Myths and Pursuing Clearer Skin

We'll explore the intricate web that intertwines our dietary choices with one of the most prevalent dermatological problems in both men and women.

Continue Reading

Understanding Acne: The Tell-Tale Signs of Hormonal and Stress-Induced Breakouts

Here, we'll explore the key differences between two pervasive types of acne: hormonal acne and stress-related acne, helping you to discern which may be impacting your skin and what you can do about it.

Continue Reading

The Hidden Risks of Vampire Facials: A Skin Expert's Verdict

In this deep-dive comparison, we'll unravel the science, safety, and efficacy of these treatments, helping you make an informed decision that's about more than fleeting trends.

Continue Reading