Or, Can Exercise Cause Acne?
Time and again, exercise has proven to be highly beneficial to the human body. It helps us lose weight, stay fit and makes us look good. Exercise has also been known to individually benefit each and every organ in our body.
But, how does it affect the skin?
Does your skin become healthy after a nice workout or do you end up with a horrible acne flare up? Though these questions might seem strange, the fact remains that there are many people and even medical experts, who claim that exercise is one the causes for acne. Is this a myth or a medical fact? Let’s find out for ourselves.
There is no doubt that some parts of our body gain more benefit from exercise than others. For instance, the muscles, lungs, and heart see a significant increase in function and ability as a result of regular exercise. However, that doesn’t mean other parts of our body don’t get similar benefits. The skin, which is also the largest organ in the human body, happens to be one of those many organs that gains a lot from exercise. According to NIAMS (National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease), exercise improves the flow of blood to the various parts of the body, including the skin. This means that your skin receives nutrients through the blood, which makes it healthier.
Plus, exercise also makes you sweat and that is a good thing for your body, as well as your skin. When you sweat, you are basically releasing excess toxins such as ammonia, urea, sugar, and salt etc from the body. Sweat also unclogs the pores in your skin, which is also a good thing, considering that clogged pores are one of the major causes of acne in the first place. The point here is that exercise only benefits the skin and doesn’t seem to actually cause acne.
So what is causing even smart people to fall for this myth? Well, it all boils down to misunderstanding and misconception. Though, there is no evidence to support that exercise causes acne, it is understandable as to why this myth is doing the rounds. It is not exercise itself that causes the acne, rather it is the other habits that people indulge in, during exercise, that leads to acne flare ups. For instance, wearing improper clothing that brushes against your skin while exercising can aggravate already existing acne conditions. Or, wearing protective equipment that hasn’t been cleaned in a while can transfer accumulated dirt and bacteria onto your skin, ultimately resulting in acne formation.
Studies have been conducted to study the relation between acne and exercise and so far, most of them have come out negative. In fact, a single-blinded study conducted by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine showed that there is no correlation between acne and exercise. Participants in the study did not show any change in acne with regard to number of days exercised, hours spent exercising, amount of sweat produced during exercise or the period between showering and exercise.
The study was carried out among 30 male participants with a mean age of 23. All participants were chosen from a physically active background. The participants were split int three groups. The first group was asked to avoid exercise for a period of 2 weeks, while the second group was expected to indulge in exercise 5 times a week and take showers an hour after the routine. The third and final group was asked to exercise 5 times a week, but take a shower 4 hours after exercise. The groups that exercised, spent an average of 1 hour doing so. Plus, it was also noted that they sweated for more than 30 minutes in a day. All participants were provided with 100% cotton t-shirts to wear post exercise and during exercise and all participants had a minimum of 10 inflammatory acne lesions on their bodies. However, only 23 participants manged to complete the study.
Before and after study, the participants were assessed for subjective stress levels using a 14 item Perceived Stress Scale questionnaire. The inflammatory acne lesions were taken into count by blinded or unbiased investigators. Once the study was completed, it was noted that there were no noticeable changes in the acne among all three participant groups. There was no correlation between exercise and acne whatsoever. Though, there was a minimal increase in the number of acne lesions on the exercising participants at the conclusion of the study, researchers considered them to be an insignificant change and completely unrelated to exercise.
The results of the study dispelled the myth of “exercise could be causing acne”, which was a belief held by many people, including physicians. Researchers stated that the myth arose as a result of a formerly conducted study where football players were observed to suffer from acne flare ups after indulging in a few games. However, it was later noted that the acne flare ups were caused due to the heavy frictional component involved in the game. Most of the acne flare ups were observed in spots where the padding or the helmet rubbed against the player’s skin. The sport itself, was not the cause of the acne.
How to Prevent Exercise Related Acne
Since, research has proven that there is no relation between the act of exercise and acne, the answer to the occurrence of post-exercise acne is purely related to certain habits that we indulge in during or after exercise. Therefore, in order to prevent this, we must follow certain precautions. Here are a few ways in which you can prevent the aggravation of acne during exercise:
- Wear the right workout clothes: Avoid wearing clothes that are too tight or are made from synthetic materials such as Lycra or nylon. Synthetic materials and tight clothes can trap heat and moisture inside, which creates a perfect environment for bacteria to breed in especially acne causing bacteria. It’s healthier and safer to wear loose, cotton clothes while working out. Not only do they absorb the sweat and moisture, they’ll even feel good on your skin.
- Hygiene: Hygiene plays a major role in preventing acne. Once you’re done exercising, make sure you take a shower as soon as possible. Though, sweat unclogs the pores, it can re-clog them when not wiped or cleaned and if that’s not bad enough, the re-clogging occurs with a mix of dirt and debris. This creates a perfect spot for acne bacteria to settle down in. So, make sure you wash up after each workout routine. If you can’t immediately take a shower after your workout, try using an astringent based cleanser to wipe your face and neck.
It’s also unwise to touch your face with your hands during exercise, especially after you’ve touched equipment that has been handled by hundreds of other people. The equipment can harbor all kinds of bacteria, which get transferred onto your hand and eventually, onto your face. Engaging in this unhygienic habit will definitely cause an acne flare up, so the next time you hit the gym, make sure you carry a set of towels to wipe the gym equipment and also your hands and face.
- Make-up: Women should get rid of make-up before they start their exercise routine. Make-up, especially oil-based varieties, can clog the pores and harbor all kinds of toxins, bacteria, dirt etc. This is a sure way to cause an acne flare-up, so make sure you wipe your face clean before you begin your workout.
- Clean your equipment: It isn’t enough to clean yourself after a workout. Make sure you clean your accessories and equipment as well. For instance, if you use a helmet, make sure its clean and dry after and before use. Plus, it’s also important to wear the right fitting equipment. Wearing something too tight can lead to heavy friction and ultimately result in an acne flare-up.
Apart from the above mentioned steps, there are other things you need to do to take care of your acne. The preventive measures you take during exercise routines aren’t enough. Acne can still be a problem, even when you aren’t working out. Fortunately, there are many ways to address this. For starters, you can begin with having the right kind of diet. Junk foods have been known to cause gut problems that lead to bacterial or hormonal imbalances that eventually cause acne. The key is to eat the right kind of foods, especially foods that are rich in probiotics.
Reduced sleep has also been known to cause acne. Bad sleeping habits can cause high glucocorticoid production, which can cause abnormalities in the skin and aggravate acne. Medical experts suggest getting better quality of sleep by reducing the temperature in your room. Studies have shown that lower temperatures help humans sleep better. Ideal temperature is suggested to be between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
Drinking more water can also help fight acne. Studies have shown that consuming even as little as 2 cups of water can boost blood flow through the body and improve the health of the skin.
Food for Thought
Just like a lot of other myths about acne that do the rounds, even the “exercise causes acne” turned out to be a major case of misconception and failed understanding of the facts. Nevertheless, acne does occur as an indirect result of exercise and the above mentioned precautions need to be followed in order to keep your acne in check.
Thanks for reading and be sure to leave any inquiries below!
Hope this helped!