How to Avoid Exercise-Related Breakouts

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Working out is great for your body, but it can also be tough on its biggest organ: Your skin. Sunscreen, sweat and plain old gym grime can clog up your pores and lead to acne and other blemishes on your face and body. But never fear, because you're about to get expert-approved advice from dermatologists, trainers and beauty experts on how to keep breakouts at bay. Keep reading to steal their strategies.

1. Wash Your Face After a Workout


After each sweat session, use a gentle cleanser to remove dead skin cells and bacteria without irritating your skin, says Brian Zelickson, M.D., dermatologist and founder of MD Complete Skincare. If you don’t, pores can get clogged with a sticky cocktail of sweat, makeup, oil and debris. "Failing to wash your face and body post workout can contribute to acne-causing bacteria and inflammation," he says. Try something like MD Complete's Anti-Aging Restoring Cleanser & Makeup Remover. And be sure to follow with a gentle-yet-effective moisturizer.

Related: More on MD Complete's Anti-Aging Restoring Cleanser & Makeup Remover

2. Use a Toner With Salicylic Acid


If you aren’t able to immediately clean your skin after working out, Dr. Haleh Bakshandeh suggests using a salicylic acid-based toner or facial wipes. “Use them right after finishing the workout to clean away dirt and prevent breakouts and inflammation,” she says. Salicylic acid has proven to be highly effective in breaking down the material deep inside pores that can lead to pimples, according to Bakshandeh. Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant is a leave-on exfoliant that contains salicylic acid.

Related: 6 Skin Care Ingredients to Avoid

3. Apply an Oil-Free Moisturizer

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“Once you’ve cleansed the skin, apply an oil-free, anti-acne moisturizer that is non-comedogenic (won’t clog pores),” says facialist Lili Menini, who has worked with celebrity clients like Kate Walsh and Katy Perry. “Look for ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide to kill bacteria and aloe vera to reduce inflammation," she says. "Definitely don’t choose a thick, heavy moisturizer. And try to steer clear of any products with synthetic color additives and fragrances. They can aggravate acne.” Just make sure you don’t apply the moisturizer until you’ve stopped sweating.

Related: 5 Natural Anti-Aging Skin Ingredients That Actually Work

4. Avoid Heavy Makeup


“If you can avoid wearing heavy, oil-based face makeup while exercising, that's a bonus for the skin,” facialist Lili Menini says. Without makeup, sweat can exit the pores more easily and help to flush out the stuff inside your pores that leads to blackheads, whiteheads, irritation and redness, she says. If your pores are blocked, it not only traps dirt, oils and bacteria, but also other toxins the body is trying to remove. If you must wear makeup, Dr. Haleh Bakshandeh suggests breathable, mineral-based loose powders.

Related: DOs and DON'Ts of Wearing Make-Up While Working Out

5. Let Your Skin Breathe


“The type of workout clothes you choose makes a big difference for people who suffer from body breakouts,” says facialist Lili Menini. She recommends breathable active-wear made of natural fabrics like cotton or hemp. If you get really sweaty and cotton won’t cut it, Menini suggests moisture-wicking fabrics that help absorb moisture but don’t hold onto it. Finally, she says to avoid tight-fitting clothing wherever you have body breakouts. "Also, ditch your sweaty clothes as soon as possible to rid your skin of dirt and sweat," says Dr. Zelickson.

6. Remember to Exfoliate

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Celebrity trainer Andrea Orbeck advises her clients to exfoliate the body and face two to three times a week. Why does it work? Exfoliators (we like Beauty for Real's (Total) Body Revival coffee and brown sugar exfoliator) remove dead skin cells that would otherwise trap bacteria that cause acne. “[Exfoliation] smoothes out the skin, can brighten a dull complexion and lighten pigmentation,” says facialist Lili Menini. Look for gentle exfoliators, such as those with enzymes or alpha-hydroxy acids, that won’t irritate or inflame the breakouts. “And absolutely never scrub hard with a washcloth, loofah or nut-based scrub on body-acne,” Menini says. “That can further irritate your skin, and lead to infection.”

Related: More on Beauty for Real's (Total) Body Revival Exfoliator

7. Keep Your Hands Off


One of the most effective ways to avoid breakouts is also one of the most simple (and most often overlooked). “Keep your hands away from your face during a workout,” trainer Andrea Orbeck says. “When you think of how dirty and bacteria-laden all the gym equipment is, touching your face is like giving yourself an acne-facial.” She tells her clients to bring a towel and use it to wipe the sweat off their face and chest. Even better: Bring two small towels. Use one to protect your skin from the equipment and the other to wipe off your face and chest. Orbeck also recommends washing your hands occasionally during a workout -- and always wash them just before leaving the gym.

8. Wear a Hat During Outdoor Workouts

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When it comes to skin care and safety, head gear trumps sunscreen, according to trainer Andrea Orbeck. Sweat-resistant, water-resistant sunscreens sometimes have very occlusive ingredients that can clog pores. Orbeck says that wearing a cotton hat or visor is the best choice for outdoor exercise. And when it comes to sunscreen, aim for something lighter. “There are great toners/sprays you can use on the face and body after exercising that will help prevent the nasties from forming,” she says.

Related: 8 Natural Ways to Protect Your Skin From Sun and Bugs

9. Try a Tea Tree Oil Spot Treatment


If the breakout is minor -- just a pimple here or there -- facialist Lili Menini recommends spot treating the blemish with a tea tree oil stick or dabbing the oil directly with a cotton swab both pre- and post-workout. “A lot of my clients break out in the same spots,” she says. “This is a really effective way of controlling that.” Tea tree oil has anti-microbial properties and has been shown to kill acne-causing bacteria. For those with sensitive skin or who can’t use benzoyl peroxide, the oil is a great choice because it’s anti-inflammatory and won’t cause peeling.

Related: 8 Common Foods for Surprising Beauty Shortcuts

10. Blemish-Proof Your Body

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If you're prone to body breakouts, all of these tips can also be applied to body acne, too. Always shower immediately after working out and cleanse with a mild soap. If you aren’t able to shower right away, Dr. Haleh Bakshandeh recommends using anti-acne body sprays that's two-percent salicylic acid. “They're easy to use on the go and easy to apply on difficult-to-reach areas, such as the back," she says. "These sprays work to both clear up acne and prevent it.”

Related: 10 Foods That Are Bad For Your Skin

What Do YOU Think?

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Are you prone to workout breakouts? What have you done in the past to prevent them? Have you ever tried any of these techniques? What other treatments or tips would you add to the list? Share your stories, suggestions and questions in the comments section below!

Related: 6 Surprising Cutting-Edge Beauty Tips

What Are the Causes of Back & Chest Acne?

credit: Zoonar RF/Zoonar/Getty Images
1 of 12

Working out is great for your body, but it can also be tough on its biggest organ: Your skin. Sunscreen, sweat and plain old gym grime can clog up your pores and lead to acne and other blemishes on your face and body. But never fear, because you're about to get expert-approved advice from dermatologists, trainers and beauty experts on how to keep breakouts at bay. Keep reading to steal their strategies.


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