How Long Should I Exercise to Help Acne?

Trying to clear up a case of acne can be frustrating, but exercise may help speed up the process. The idea may seem counterintuitive because of the sweat you produce while working out, but as long as you wash after exercising, and take a few precautions, the activity should do your skin more good than harm.

Young woman sitting on a rowing machine wiping her face after a workout
Vigorous Workout (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

How Exercise Helps Your Skin

Exercise can help improve your skin for several reasons. When you sweat, for example, exercise opens your pores -- and it’s clogged pores that cause acne. Exercise also gets your heart rate up, which increases your blood flow and nourishes your skin. Additionally, exercising can help reduce or prevent stress. Your body releases hormones when you’re stressed that can cause acne.

Type Over Time

There is no particular exercise time that’s best to help acne, but the kind of exercise does matter. Dr. Mehmet Oz recommends a “vigorous” workout to help unclog pores. If you’re doing treadmill sprint intervals, you can do a vigorous workout in 20 minutes. If you’re weight training and you take several minutes of rest between sets, you may need to exercise for twice that long to call your workout vigorous. If in doubt, follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines and perform at least 150 minutes of vigorous exercise per week, or 300 minutes of moderate activity.

Wash After Exercising

Sweating during workouts doesn't make acne worse, but leaving it on the skin can lead to a breakout. It can mix with oils and bacteria to exacerbate the condition. Shower with soap immediately after your workout. If you must delay washing, apply an astringent that contains witch hazel on your problem areas, or use a medicated pad designed to treat acne. After the shower, blot the acne areas gently with a towel.

An Ounce of Prevention

Although exercise itself is good for your skin, certain things you do while exercising can cause problems if you’re prone to acne. To help prevent these problems, don’t wear makeup while you work out, but do wear a sunscreen that won’t clog your pores if you’re exercising outdoors. Excessive sun exposure is another potential cause of clogged pores. Wear loose clothing to avoid chafing, but keep your bike helmet tight, for the same reason. Wear natural fibers, such as cotton, unless your synthetic outfit is specifically designed to wick sweat off the skin.

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