You work out to feel good about yourself, to reduce stress, to get stronger, and heck, even to improve your sexual health and well-being. But now you’re getting workout acne? What gives?

Well, as it turns out, there’s a connection between exercise and acne.

Sweat, tight workout clothes, and some bad gym habits can contribute to the development or exacerbation of workout acne. So let’s break down steps you can take before, during, and after your workout to reduce acne breakouts.

Woman with acne on cheeks

Before Your Workout

Putting a stop to your post-workout acne does not only rely on taking a shower when you get home, there are steps you should take before you even enter the gym.

1. Remove makeup & put your hair up

Exercise opens your pores. By removing makeup from your face, you help rid your skin of makeup, bacteria, and dirt that can result in clogged pores.

If you have long hair, pulling it back and out of your face keeps the natural oils from your hair and styling products from blocking your pores. Basically, you need to be mindful of what might clog your pores and take preventative measures to ensure that doesn’t happen.

Wear loose, breath-able workout clothes

Workout acne often stems from wearing tight or unbreathable clothing. The clothing can rub against your skin while you work out, causing imperceptible tears. These tears offer the perfect opportunity for sweat and bacteria (which are being trapped against your body by the unbreathable fabric) to enter your pores and develop into acne.

By wearing clean, loose-fitting clothing that is made from moisture-wicking fabrics you help avoid the friction and irritation that can cause acne.

Use oil-free sunscreen & moisturizers

This step is critical, especially when you’re exercising outdoors. Sun exposure dries the skin out, causing oil glands to go into overdrive to rehydrate your skin. The extra oil can clog pores and exacerbate workout acne.

Sunscreen protects your skin from harmful UV and UVB rays.. Look for sunscreens and moisturizers that are labeled as “oil-free” or “non-comedogenic” to make sure that they won’t block your pores.

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During Your Workout

Woman at the gym working out using a machine

Alright, your hair’s up, you’ve got comfortable clothes on, and your face is protected with a layer of sunscreen. Now what?

Now you go to the gym (if you’re working out at home or outside, some of the following steps might not apply to you).

4. Use a clean towel

Just like wearing fresh clothing and washing your face, using a clean workout towel will help prevent acne that results from exercising.

Just remember to gently pat away the sweat. Rubbing your skin can cause irritation and make your workout acne worse.

5. Avoid sharing protective equipment

Protective sports equipment, like helmets and shoulder pads, are often contaminated with dirt, old sweat, and acne-causing bacteria.

This equipment can trap heat and sweat on your skin, causing friction and irritation. If you have acne-prone skin, this can cause new breakouts.

6. Wipe off work out equipment between uses

Those cleaning wipes are there for a reason! Shared equipment in gyms or public spaces can also be full of acne-causing bacteria. If you use shared equipment and touch your face or wipe your forehead, you could potentially transfer bacteria from the equipment to your skin.

Cleaning these surfaces will remove sweat, dirt, oil, and bacteria that contribute to workout acne.

7. Avoid touching your face

Touching your face can spread dirt, oil, and acne-causing bacteria from your hands to your face, which may cause clogged pores and acne breakouts.

This is not limited to when you’re working out; touching your face at any time throughout the day can cause adult acne.

Make sure you have clean hands before touching your face and applying lotion, sunscreen, or makeup. And try to limit touching your face as much as possible, especially when working out.

After Your Workout

A woman is looking into a mirror and smiling

You’re almost done. Once your workout is finished, there are still three more steps you should take to prevent workout acne and keep your skin looking radiant.

As soon as you get home:

8. Change out of those sweaty clothes

This is where working out and acne breakouts often collide. Staying in your moist clothing will allow sweat, oil, dirt, and acne-causing bacteria to get into your pores. This is one of the reasons you might get chest acne from working out.

Change out of your dirty clothes quickly after your workout and hop in the shower.

9. Shower immediately

Showering after your workout is critical for preventing acne breakouts.

Shower products containing benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are great for treating and preventing future acne breakouts. Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid work by killing the bacteria that cause acne and can also help people with oily skin by removing excess oil and dead skin cells.

Consider ending your shower by standing under cool or tepid water for a few moments. This will close the pores that opened during your workout.

10. Use a topical retinoid

After your shower, when you’ve let your face dry for about 30 minutes, apply a topical retinoid (the best are only available with a prescription from a doctor). A great option for those with acne-prone skin is prescription Tretinoin cream or Tretinoin gel.

Tretinoin speeds up the life cycle of skin cells by making them divide faster and helping acne breakouts heal faster. Tretinoin also makes the pores smaller, the oil glands make less oil, and the skin cells less sticky so they don’t block the pores.

However, you should avoid using Tretinoin at the exact same time of day that you use benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, because this will cancel out tretinoin’s effect, preventing it from treating your acne.

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Say Goodbye to Post-Workout Acne with Pandia Health

Now that you know the link between exercise and acne, you can take charge of your breakouts. Following these 10 steps will allow you to enjoy clearer skin while getting your reps in.

If you’re still struggling with workout acne breakouts after trying these tips, Pandia Health is here to help. We now offer online acne treatment from our board-certified expert doctors. With telehealth services, you can get your prescription acne treatment delivered straight to your mailbox. Learn more about how it works and get started with Pandia Health to get clearer skin fast.

Pandia Health is committed to providing accurate and reliable health knowledge. Check out our Instagram, YouTube, and blog for more information about acne treatments, women’s health, and healthy lifestyle habits.

Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and is NOT a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your healthcare provider before starting or changing acne treatment.