While exercise, including running, may theoretically cause some damage to the skin's elastic fibers because of oxidative stress, following a regular running program may actually improve your skin's appearance. Running may benefit the skin by boosting your body's defenses against free radicals, improving circulation, reducing stress and removing toxins. Wearing sunscreen and staying well-hydrated can help you avoid sagging facial skin related to running and other exercise.
Aerobic Exercise and Oxidative Damage
In "Psychology Today" in 2009, skin expert Annet King said some people believe cardio activities such as running cause oxidative stress, which may damage skin cells' supporting elastin and collagen fibers. But whether running causes free radical damage to body tissues likely depends on the intensity and frequency of exercise. A study published in "Free Radical Biology and Medicine" in 2008 determined that while strenuous, exhaustive exercise causes increased oxidative stress, moderate-intensity exercise actually acts as an antioxidant. Another study published in the same journal in 2008 states that while exercise may generate free radicals, chronic exercise causes adaptations that make the body less vulnerable to oxidative stress and related diseases.
Running and Sun Damage
Running may indirectly cause facial skin to lose elasticity due to excessive sun exposure. Exposure to UV light breaks down your skin collagen and elastin fibers, causing premature wrinkles and sagging. If you frequently run outdoors, you should take precautions to protect your facial skin from the aging effects of sun exposure. Avoid the sun between noon and 4 p.m. when the sun's rays are the strongest; always wear protective clothing when in the sun, including wide-brimmed hats; and wear sunscreen. Sunscreen should be broad-spectrum, applied generously 30 minutes before going outdoors and reapplied every two hours and after heavy sweating.
While oxidative damage and sun exposure related to running may pose some threats to skin elasticity, exercise also provides numerous benefits. Exercise can improve the look of skin through increased circulation, promotion of cell renewal, detoxification and stress relief. Most important, regular exercise -- 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, or 75 minutes weekly of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise -- benefits your overall health.
Sagging facial skin is a natural part of the aging process. But following certain skincare measures can help runners avoid skin problems related to exercise. After wearing sunscreen, staying properly hydrated may be the most important. Increasing your daily water intake along with your physical activity is essential for moisturizing the skin, helping the body remove toxins, and preventing sagging skin that usually accompanies weight loss. Eating five servings of fruits and veggies daily may help combat some of the damaging effects of free radicals. Use detoxifying face wipes after exercise to remove toxins from oil and sweat and add yoga to your exercise routine to reduce your levels of skin-aging stress hormones.