How Exercise Benefits Your Skin

Luke Lehrfeld/flickr.

Remember those girls in middle school who didn’t want to run hard in gym class because their mascara would melt off? Who didn’t want to shower after class because it would mess up their hair? Now that we’re all grownups, we can see these fears for how silly they are. (Your gym teacher was right: preventing heart disease is far more important than what your mascara is doing.) But one issue that still confuses people, from 16 to 60 and beyond, is what impact exercise has on the skin.

It’s widely understood that exercise (when done properly) is beneficial to all parts of the human body. From the brain to the sex drive, exercise can improve it. But, it can also do a number on the skin. Running outside puts you at risk for sunburn. Skin chafing during exercise can cause intertrigo and miliaria, a yeast-based rash and a case of inflamed, clogged pores, respectively. And if you have acne, exercise can bring on a change in adrenal hormone and trigger a breakout — it’s one of the reasons stress-reducing yoga is recommended to acne sufferers.

So, how do you take care of the largest organ in your body, while you’re busy working all those muscles?

  • Hydrate. Drinking extra water throughout the day prepares you for sweating while you exercise, and prepares your skin cells for lending their moisture to that process. Hydrated skin is happy skin, and it all starts from the inside out. If you like, you can add extras like green tea or lemon to your water to help it taste better and give it a skin-friendly Vitamin C boost.
  • Cleanse. As soon as you finish exercising, wash your face with a gentle cleanser or a facial wipe. You’ve just pumped a lot of oil, sebum, and possibly makeup up through your pores. If you let it dry there, you could be looking at a breakout.
  • Moisturize. After cleansing, pat your face dry with a towel. Common wisdom used to be that a little bit of water on the face helped moisturize it, but now we know that as water evaporates from the face, it takes natural oils with it and strips the skin of moisture. So, to keep skin healthy and elastic, make sure to use a light moisturizer after you dry your skin off. If you’re going out, use a moisturizer with broad-spectrum SPF. If you exercise at night, this is the perfect time to put on your night cream — which should be a little heavier than your day cream. Like the rest of your body, your skin does all its major work as you sleep, so it needs extra care at night.
  • Avoid. Avoid wearing makeup while you exercise. As you sweat, it mingles with your makeup into a nasty slurry that doesn’t do your skin any favours. Also, as you sweat, makeup can slide down your forehead and into your eyes, causing a stinging sensation. Avoid all of this by using a gentle makeup remover before you exercise. Or, keep some wipes in your gym bag. That way, any toxins you purge from your pores by sweating will have an unobstructed path on their way out of your body.

With these steps in place, you can start enjoying the benefits to skin that come with increased circulation and cell turnover. A healthy body just isn’t the same without healthy skin, and the confidence you develop in the gym shouldn’t be diminished by a bad breakout or a rash. So just remember to wipe down your face after you wipe down your machines, and you should be good to go!