You know that exercise is good for your body—but if you don’t take care of your skin while you work out, you could be left with a face full of zits caused by clogged pores. Luckily, there are some pretty easy steps you can take before, during, and after a gym session to ensure you keep your complexion clear.
Remove Your Makeup
"The combination of sweat and wearing makeup can cause a buildup of excess oil," says David E. Bank, M.D., a dermatologist in Mount Kisco, New York. "Since pores open up while sweating, we don't want to block the skin's natural ability to breathe by clogging it up with makeup." That can actually lead to acne cosmetica—a form of acne that looks like little red bumps with no inflammation. Bank suggests using cleansing towelettes, which you can easily store in your gym bag. We like Simple Cleansing Facial Wipes ($5, drugstore.com).
Even if you're not wearing makeup, you should still cleanse pre-workout. “Treating the skin beforehand with something that takes the bacteria out, like a topical antibiotic or topical benzoyl peroxide, is your best prevention," says Ronald Moy, M.D., a dermatologist in Beverly Hills. "These acne medications can go deeper into the hair follicle and stop some of that bacteria that may develop as someone is perspiring."
Choose the Right Sunscreen
If you're exercising outdoors, SPF is a must—but it’s important to choose the right formula. Oily sunscreen can cause acne by clogging pores, says Moy, but using a lighter formula can help make sure you're not dealing with pimples afterward. "If you use oil-free thinner lotions with SPF, likeNeutrogena Visibly Even Daily Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30 ($13, neutrogena.com) or Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer with SPF 50+ ($14, cetaphil.com), they aren't as likely to clog pores," he says.
Go Light on Hair Products
"A lot of people use conditioners and other products that are very oily and [when they travel down your face or back from sweat] they can clog the pores,” says Moy. “That's why you often see acne on your forehead." Try to refrain from using these types of products in your hair on intense workout days. If you can’t do that for whatever reason, Moy suggests at least using a sweatband to keep sweat [and product] from reaching your face.
Wipe Down Your Equipment
Don't trust others to clean equipment after they've finished. Bacteria breeds on these machines, and if you touch your face just once during your workout, that nasty stuff has now traveled to your skin. Make sure to wipe each surface with antibacterial wipes before using.
Wash Your Face Immediately
To remove any buildup of bacteria in the pores, cleanse your face ASAP post-exercise. Moy recommends fighting potential acne with a benzoyl peroxide-infused cleanser, like Clean & Clear Continuous Control Acne Cleanser ($5, cleanandclear.com).
Subdue Any Irritation
"Buildup of bacteria can also cause inflammation," says Moy. Use an anti-inflammatory moisturizer, like Skin Authority Ultra Rich Moisturizer($55, skinauthority.com), to add hydration back to your skin, calm irritation, and prevent breakouts.
Hop in the Shower
Staying in your sweaty clothes can lead to body acne. "If sweat builds up on your skin, it will clog your pores and not allow your skin to breathe," says Bank. Schedule shower time immediately after you're done working out. If that's not possible, wipe off acne-prone areas where sweat accumulates most—on the chest, back, and stomach.