We all know that exercise is great for your mind and body but did you know it’s brilliant for acne too? Heather Stephen finds out why.
You would love a workout but are put off because you worry it will trigger your skin to break out in zits? There are circumstances where heavy exercise can aggravate certain conditions, but for the vast majority of cases the benefits to the skin far out weigh any negatives, especially when it comes to acne.
‘People with acne can be nervous about exercising but there is no evidence it makes spots worse. In fact exercise is very good for your skin,’ says Buckinghamshire GP Dr Tanvir Jamil.
‘When we exercise we sweat to regulate our body temperature and there is a fear this makes your skin more oily but the sebaceous and sweat glands are completely different and sweat may even clear the clogged pores which cause acne.’
Some people believe that sweat contains bugs which will infect their skin but, freshly produced, it contains no bacteria and studies have even shown it can act like a natural antibiotic killing off bacteria before it has a chance to do damage.
‘Like saliva, sweat has antibacterial properties and this has a protective element for the skin,’ says Dr Jamil.
However, Dr Jamil warns sweat can develop bacteria if allowed to sit on the skin. He advises showering straight after exercise to avoid bacterial and fungal infections and says you can avoid clogging pores during your workout by making sure your face is clean and makeup free.
Researchers from the National Human Genome Research Institute in Maryland, USA, found that raising your temperature and increasing humidity through exercise were associated with higher levels of bacteria on your back.
And consultant dermatologist Justine Hextall says, although exercise is generally excellent for the skin there are times it can lead to spots.
‘Sometimes when people start running sweat, friction and infection on the skin e.g. staphylococcus aureus or yeast, can cause a skin rash called folliculitis,’ she says.
‘This may present as papules and pustules on the chest and back. To try and prevent this I recommend showering straight after exercise with a mildly antiseptic cleanser such as Dermol 500.’
Acne and Stress
Research has also shown that exercise can help acne by relieving stress. Doctors have long observed a link between stress and acne flare ups amongst their patients and the connection was confirmed 10 years ago by a study which found an increase in acne severity and stress experienced by students just before their exams.
Scientists think this is because stress encourages the release of hormones which cause inflammation and encourage sebum production.
Dr Jamil has seen a link between stress and acne amongst his patients and says exercise could have positive impacts for both.
‘People who get stressed often have more acne,’ he says. ‘In my surgery I see lots of 16-year-olds who break out in spots just before their exams and then over the summer their skin clears up.
‘Stress has an influence on your immune system. That is why when you are stressed you are more prone to coughs and colds and are more likely to develop acne.
‘When you exercise you release endorphins. This makes you feel good and relieves stress and that has to have a positive impact on your skin.’
Another factor that deters people with acne from exercising is the embarrassment of putting their blemished skin on show.
Psychologists from the University of Bath found that people with acne were less likely to exercise because they were concerned about how their skin was perceived by others.
But the evidence shows it is worth getting over this barrier as exercise can help your condition improve.
‘I would have no hesitation in recommending exercise for people with acne,’ says Dr Jamil. ‘If you follow certain steps it certainly won’t make things worse and, in fact, it has huge benefits in so many ways.’
Tips on skin friendly exercise
- Wear loose clothing while exercising
- Shower straight after exercise and apply non-comedogenic body lotion
- Shower and clean face before exercise
- Avoid wearing makeup