The Good, The Bad and The Saggy: What Exercise is Really Doing to Your Skin.
Updated: Jan 6, 2019
So I've recently upped my exercise game (YAY!) and during my last work out I felt my skin begin to tingle. This got me thinking " what is all this sweat doing to my pores? I hope this doesn't flare up my eczema?" On and on it went. So this week's blog takes a plunge: What is exercise REALLY doing to my skin ?
The Glow Up: Let's start with the good. Exercise boosts circulation, so more oxygen and nutrients are delivered to our skin. It also promotes detoxification and opens pores to allow sweat and impurities to come out. This combination means our skin is more able to regenerate, repair collagen, and deal with environmental pollutants.
Getting a good workout also reduces stress and regulates cortisol levels. When cortisol levels are lower, our skin churns out less sebum, and so acne bacteria have less food to eat. Lower levels of cortisol also contribute to more restful and longer sleep. A good night's rest is crucial to allow skin to heal and regenerate.
For almost three days after a good workout, our body processes sugar more efficiently, so there is less sugar-associated cellular inflammation.
Working out regularly increases energy levels, competence at tasks and perceived attractiveness. We all know that a confident person exudes more sex appeal. However it isn't just in your head. Getting fit also balances sex hormones.
In particular, it boosts testosterone and human growth hormone production (HGH). In fact, male runners who racked up more than 40 miles per week have 25% more testosterone and 4 x more HGH than their sedentary counterparts. Both of these promote healthy hair, skin and muscle tone ( this also applies to women). So exercise does not only make us feel more attractive, it makes us LOOK more attractive as well. Win-win if you ask me.
With all these benefits, it's no wonder that so many celebrities, (whose appearance seems to be defying their age,) adhere to regular and intense exercise.
Now it's on to the bad.
1. Leave it all on the mat: Every part of our body comes into contact with a yoga mat; hands, feet and face included. Bacteria on our feet finds its way to our face. This is bad enough when we think of our own personal mat, but multiply this effect when we think of the mats provided at the gym or studio. EEK!
To keep this bacteria where it belongs, wipe any mats before and after use, and shower immediately after using them.
The same thing applies to other gym equipment. My top tip: Don't touch your face whilst using gym machinery or weights.
2. Sweaty Betty: Perspiring is a good thing. Sitting in your sweat for hours on end isn't. Sweat mixing with the dirt (and unfortunately make-up) that sits on our skin can eventually clog our pores. This is a bad combination if you are prone to acne. Wearing tight fitting clothes makes the situation worse.
To prevent sweat from creating chaos on your skin, go to the gym bare faced and wear loose fitting clothes or clothes made of sweat-wicking fabric. P.S. Shower right after all gym sessions.
3. Sun Safe: Some of us can't get enough of the great outdoors. Running, cycling, tennis are all great forms of cardio, but spending extended periods of time outside leads to high levels of UV exposure. This translates to collagen damage, premature wrinkling and sunspots. In addition, endurance sports leave our skin susceptible to the elements, which can strip our skin of moisture. Let's not even mention the pollution levels in any metropolitan city.
To protect your skin, avoid peak UV exposure e.g. between 10:00am - 3pm. When you do venture outdoors, cover as much skin as possible and wear a hat. Sunscreen is also a must. Look for a brand that is non-comedogenic and pH-balanced so it won't sting your eyes when it mixes with sweat.
Top tip: remember to reapply sunblock regularly as perspiration reduces its efficacy. In fact, studies have shown that when athletes are sweating, it takes 40% less UV radiation to cause a sunburn.
4. An itch to scratch: Hopefully you've never had a heat rash. This happens when our body temperature rises and our sweat glands get obstructed. The skin under sports bras is particularly suscpetible.
If you suffer with this, try adding swimming to your workout routine. The cool water lowers our body temperature and we produce less sweat. When on dry land, try regular misting to cool down and consider taking an antihistamine before a workout. I also suggest using a water based lubricant on areas that are prone to chaffing.
Remember the worse thing we could do during exercise is to scratch and itch. Think of the dirt and sweat we are pushing into torn skin.
5. Red in the face: If you are affected by rosacea then an increased body temperature can exacerbate the symptoms. Try exercising in cool environments like swimming. Remember to moisturize though, as chlorine can have a drying effect. Consider exercising in the evenings when the ambient temperature is lower and try applying a cool compress to your face after a workout.
Eczema and psoriasis sufferers should keep well moisturised before they work out, as this forms a protective barrier from perspiration which can be an irritant to sensitive skin.
Here's the Saggy.
Ever heard of runner's face? Running for long periods of time at high intensity can impact the elasticity in the skin. Surprisingly, recent research has shown that it this isn't because of the effects of gravity, but due to higher levels of oxygen based free-radicals. These ravage collagen and elastin fibres. So basically long periods of high intensity workouts = collagen breakdown and saggy skin.
To reduce this go for moderate exercise aiming for 40-60% of maximum heart rate. Or convert the long run into a short HITT session.
Now I don't want anyone to be afraid of excercising, if done in a thoughtful way it's great for your skin and overall health. The trick is to be smart about it. So my advice is ....Just do it!
To find out if your other "good" habits could be " bad" news for your skin check out these articles The Scariest Things You Do To Your Face, Cellphones are ruining your selfie and Sleeping Beauty: Is Sleep Ageing You.
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