Sweat is good for your skin - here's why

Sweat and spots: how to avoid greasy skin and acne while working out

Posted by for Strength

Sweating, lying on yoga mats and using various pieces of equipment can put our skin at risk of feeling dry, greasy or inflamed – even when we’re working out at home. So, we roped in a skin expert to tell us exactly how to make sure that our skin glows, whatever our exercise regime.     

Working out can be brilliant for our skin. If we run or walk, we get a load of vitamin D on our faces, while strength training inside gets the blood moving around our bodies – promoting the renewal of new skin cells needed for keeping the skin feeling younger. In fact, a study by Canada’s McMaster University found that doing a 30-minute workout twice a week for three months was enough to reduce the signs of ageing in a group of volunteers by over 30 years.

But many of us are all too aware that working up a sweat can occasionally cause blemishes, as can sharing equipment. Even working out from home, lying face down on your trusty old gym mat or lingering for too long post-sweat can stress skin out.

So, how can we make sure that our skin stays healthy and happy while we work up a sweat?

Wash your face pre-workout

If we’re experiencing spots and greasy skin, there’s “absolutely” a chance it could be being caused by indoor workouts, says Charis Udeh, founder of Kyalli Skincare. She has a great tip for keeping blemishes at bay: “To avoid moisture and dirt build-up on your skin, it’s best to keep it clean before a workout. Sweating while working out is great to help clear out pores. However, if our skin isn’t clean, we put ourselves at risk of our pores getting clogged from the moisture build-up which inevitably leads to breakouts on our faces and even rashes on our bodies.” With that in mind, Charis advises removing make-up before workouts, keeping your hair clean and drying any areas where your skin folds – such as under your breasts or inner thighs. 

Take a two-step approach

The best course of action, when it comes to cleansing, is to keep skin clean before and right after a work-out. But, Charis warns, how you clean your skin before you work up a sweat is important. “When cleaning the skin, be careful not to do any treatment that opens your pores before a workout. Keeping the skin generally clean and doing treatments that open the pores are quite different. Once your pores are open, all the sweat and dirt from the workout go straight into your pores which will leave you at risk to more breakouts.” So, give your face a cleanse and then splash with cold water to make sure you seal those pores.

Sweat is great for your skin as it helps the body to detoxify
Sweat is great for your skin as it helps the body to detoxify

Wash your hair

You might have the kind of hair that can get away with umpteen days of gym sweat but if you’re struggling with blemishes, you might want to have a think about what you do with your hair post-workout. Charis advises washing your hair to remove excess sweat and moisture build-up, while those who can’t wash their hair regularly should dry it thoroughly after each session. 

Disinfect your equipment

It might sound bonkers if you own your own weights and mats but gym equipment can gather germs over time, even if we/our housemates/our partner are the only people using them. You might have germs on your hands from touching your phone, which then get transferred to your kettlebells or mat when you jump into a workout, and these germs “can be responsible for a wide range of things including infections which will now be transferred to your handles and buttons. Some germs can live for days and will need to be sanitised to be removed from our equipment,” says Charis. Sometimes it’s not enough to give things a wipe – you need to use actual anti-bac spray and hand sanitiser.

“Go the extra mile to sanitise your equipment to kill any germs that can’t be removed with a simple wipe or general surface clean.” 

Exercise, on the whole, is a great skincare tool

Once you’ve done all of that, it’s time to bask in the benefits that exercise can bring to skin health. Charis explains: “Keeping up a regular fitness routine can improve your skin’s overall appearance. By getting the heart rate up and improving blood circulation, exercise can help to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the skin, which keeps the skin healthy, promotes collagen production, and promotes new skin cells which keeps the skin looking glowing and is also helpful for anti-ageing.”

Another study, this time published in the journal, Aging Cell, went a little deeper to find that while exercise can make your skin look younger, whatever your age, moderate-to-vigorous exercise resulted in visibly younger-looking skin. It found that exercise can reverse some of the skin cell changes that lead to ageing signs, including loss of elasticity, by improving the metabolism of your skin cells so they function better. Any exercise that increases your heart rate and stimulates circulation of blood, whether that’s a run, stack of burpees, jump squats or power yoga session, is going to help to keep your skin smoother and more resilient.  

How we work out has changed with lockdowns, and for many of us, daily walks and runs have been a stress-busting saving grace. Stress is known to slow down the skin healing process, Charis says, which means that poor stress management can leave the skin barrier permanently weakened. A huge part of being active (from a skincare POV) is about flooding the body with endorphins to counteract cortisol (the stress hormone), which enables the skin to repair. Working up a sweat also accelerates our body’s natural detoxification process – using the blood to circulate more efficiently through the body and allowing nutrients to more easily reach all the organs and muscles. It also helps lymph fluids circulate through the body, which removes toxins and other harmful materials.

Oh, and sucking in more oxygen is also a part of the puzzle. “To make room for the added oxygen, your cells kick out toxins that are taking up space,” Charis concludes, and these toxins come out via the sweat released by your pores.

Why not have a go at some low-impact moves like a crab stretch? It’ll get you stronger all over without working up a load of sweat – the perfect move to do during a quick desk break!

Keen to improve your form? Check out our How To library to see exactly how the experts do over 100 of the most common strength training exercises.

Images: Getty

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Miranda Larbi

Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.

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