Is Your Workout Triggering Acne Breakouts?

Is Your Workout Triggering Acne Breakouts?

As a fitness fanatic, I love exercising and make it a priority to hit the gym at least 5 times a week.

And while my body (and mood!) love my rigorous workout regime, my skin, unfortunately, does not.

Like many frequent gym-goers, I suffer from horrible breakouts on my chest and back. During a flare-up, it’s embarrassing and painful. I stay covered up and avoid any activities that would involve me wearing a tank top, low back, plunging neckline and even a bathing suit.

So in an effort to get to the root of these breakouts, I talked to skincare expert Emma Hobson, Education Manager for the International Dermal Institute and Dermalogica, to figure how and why exercise contributes to acne, and what can be done to avoid it.

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How does body acne differ from facial acne?

Emma explains that body acne occurs for many of the same reasons that face acne occurs. “Just as acne breakouts on the face, the triggers are primarily the same.” She says genetics, hormone fluctuations and stress are the biggest triggers for acne in general.

“The body [skin] has the same configuration as that of the face,” she says. “It does, however, have a tendency for an increased number of oil (sebaceous) glands, particularly in the ‘T’ of the back. This is one of the main reasons for the higher incidence of breakouts in this area.”

What causes body acne?

Similar to face acne, Emma says “Heat and humidity can also be a factor to increase breakouts, as can being in a polluted environment.” She explains that acne can also be caused by body products (like your favourite foaming body wash, perhaps?) that contain comedogenic ingredients. “These ingredients are known to block the pores and cause skin congestion leading to acne breakouts.” 

And unfortunately for those of us who love the gym, “A common trigger [of body acne] is continued friction in one particular area on the skin (acne mechanica) for example where straps on clothing rub the skin or friction from tight fitted sports gear.”

Why does body acne seem to be more prevalent in those who exercise frequently?

Breakouts on the chest and back are commonly known as “sweat acne” or Pityrosporum Folliculitis, Emma says. This occurs when the combination of sweat and heat create bacteria on the skin, which in turn proliferates into an overgrowth of yeast in the skin follicle.

This volatile combination is only made worse by frequent friction on the same area of the skin, which is why those who wear tight gym clothes often are potentially more susceptible to develop body acne.

How can one prevent breakouts from exercise?

Keeping the skin clean with a good cleansing routine is Emma’s first tip, as she insists it’s the foundation of maintaining healthy skin (including back and chest!) However, choose your cleanser wisely. “It’s important to avoid using any form of ‘soap’ (including antibacterial soaps) as these can strip, dry and irritate the skin,” she says. “Instead opt for either a cleansing bar (soap free) or an antibacterial cleansing gel wash (soap free), these ideally are pH balanced to the skin (4.5-5.5pH).”

Ensure you cleanse your skin morning and night, and always immediately after exercising or sweating heavily.

bh recommends Dermalogica MediBac Clearing Skin Wash, La Roche-Posay Toleriane Foaming Gel, and A’kin Purifying Gel Cleanser.

You should also avoid wearing workout gear that is too tight to the skin and always look for fabrics that are breathable and will “wick” the sweat away. These include polyester/lycra blends, wool, and bamboo.

“Exfoliation is a key step in the effective treatment as well as maintenance of congestion and spots.” She suggests using a scrub 2-3 times a week if your skin is free of spots. However, if you have red, inflamed acne, do not use an exfoliating scrub. “Instead use Hydroxy Acids, in particular, Salicylic Acid (great for breakouts as it is a fantastic decongestant of follicles) or digestive enzymes (pineapple or papaya).”

If you’re looking for a spot treatment or booster to provide quick relief and reduce scarring, Emma recommends an active recovery treatment that also contains a mineral/natural conceal makeup so it hides the spot. This is ideal for those of us who rock a sports bra to the gym!

bh recommends Dermalogica Clear Start Breakout Clearing Booster, Murad Blemish Control Rapid Relief Spot Treatment, Paula’s Choice Resist BHA 9 Treatment.

Do you suffer from exercise-related body acne? 

Have you tried any of the products mentioned?

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