Acne and Exercise
Do Workouts Cause Acne?
Estimates vary, but researchers believe between 40 and 55 percent of adults between the ages of 20 and 40 have low grade, persistent acne. For a condition that affects at least half of the United States population, many people are surprisingly misinformed about acne's causes and treatments. Here are a few things dermatologists want you to know, and what you can do to achieve clearer skin.
First, let me share this definition of acne from the Mayo Clinic, so you understand what you're dealing with.
“Acne is a skin condition that occurs when your hair follicles become plugged with oil and dead skin cells. It often causes whiteheads, blackheads or pimples, and usually appears on the face, forehead, chest, upper back and shoulders.”
Let's start with a myth. One of the more persistent beliefs people have is that sweat from exercising can cause acne. Turns out, that's not true. Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine decided to study the effects of sweat from exercise.
In the study, there was a group that didn't exercise at all and they served as the control. Then there were two groups that did exercise, with one showering immediately after working out and the other group waiting at least four hours.
Surprisingly the amount of acne each group experienced had no relation to how much time they spent exercising, how long they sweat during exercise, or how long it took someone to shower after exercising. This effectively shattered the long-held belief that sweat from strenuous exercise can make acne worse.
However, further studies did show a relationship between workout gear or clothing and acne. Specifically things like helmets and shoulder pads worn for football. Since those items were rarely or infrequently washed, bacteria would build up on the gear and cause outbreaks where they made contact with the skin. The fix was simple, clean your gear and exercise clothes after every use.
Don't forget to clean your exercise bag as well. Workout bags are dropped and shoved into many places that are full of bacteria. Keep them clean so that bacteria doesn't transfer onto you or the things you wear.
Exercise and yoga mats are another potential source of acne causing bacteria. If you bring your own mat to the gym or a class, make sure to wash it down after each use. If you're using mats provided by a facility, lay a clean towel on top of the mat before you use it. I like to place gym towels with the label down, so the same side is always making contact with the equipment.
Once you finish a workout, head to the showers. Your goal should be to wash off the bacteria you've been exposed to. When you clean, look for products that say “non-comedogenic” or “won't clog pores.” That means they won't clog pores and worsen acne problems.
Don't worry about washing your face too often. While most people believe cleaner skin means less acne, dermatologists warn that overwashing can exacerbate the condition. So researchers divided subjects into three groups and put that theory to the test. The first group washed their face once a day, the second group twice a day and the third group four times a day.
After several weeks of testing, the scientists found, “significant improvements ...in the group washing twice a day. Worsening of acne condition was observed in the study group washing once a day...” As long as you're using a mild cleanser, washing two to four times a day was better than just once a day.
One other way exercise can help fight acne is through stress reduction. Working out regularly can reduce stress. Although stress has never been shown to be a direct cause of acne, it has been shown to make the problem worse. So by going to the gym, you're taking steps to reduce the severity of any acne problems you may have.
Grab your towel and I'll see you in the gym.
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