Sweating profusely is generally regarded as a detoxing activity. You know, when your heart’s pumping hard during your favorite fitness class, and your pores seem to be giving up their impurities in buckets.
But sometimes, bad things can happen to your skin when you’re doing something healthy for your body: you can look red as a beet for hours, a new crop of pimples appear, or your expression lines look more severe than ever.
How to make sure your workout taxes your muscles and targets your metabolism, and not your pretty face? We tapped smart-as-a-whip dermatologist Ranella Hirsch, MD, who in no way wants you to skip a workout over skin-care woes.
Instead, here are the dos-and-don’ts she wants you to be aware of before you jump on a spin bike, a treadmill, or a wooden Crossfit box. —Melisse Gelula
“Do I look like I just got dumped?” asked the rider next to me at the end of a sweaty cycling class, as she dabbed at her dripping mascara. She kinda did. But that wouldn’t have happened if she’d quickly washed off her makeup or used a no-water-needed facial wipe to remove it as she walked into class.
Your makeup and sweat blending together on your skin for an hour are a recipe for a pore-clogging smoothie. For this reason, says Dr. Hirsch, “I always recommend removing makeup beforehand.” We like these quick cleansing wipes.
Ever get the advice to soften your shoulders in a spin class, or relax your forehead in yoga? That’s because your instructor’s looking out at a sea of spinners or yogis with shoulders tensed up to their ears and serious scowls associated with pedaling against high resistance or doing their eightieth chaturanga. Instead, relax into your workout. Your mother is right—your face may stay like that. “It’s possible your scowling could contribute to setting the pathway for wrinkle patterns,” says Dr. Hirsch (AKA more or deeper expression lines, particularly on the forehead). And time will tell.
“Anytime you have a certain amount of sweating there’s a reasonable possibility you’re going to see breakouts, especially along the hairline,” says Dr. Hirsch. But if you work out a lot, you can also over-cleanse, and really dry out your skin, she notices. Choose a mild cleanser that’s not going to strip your skin and leave it feeling tight and dry. We like these from Kahina, Earth Tu Face, and Weleda.
(Photo: preciousfacesartistry. blogspot.com)
With more people doing hot yoga or workouts in heated spaces, dermatologists are seeing way more breakouts below the neck.
The most common prescription that Dr. Hirsch gives? Changing your clothes. “So many people are staying in their sweaty workout clothes until they’re basically dry.” Get out of your sweaty items ASAP, and ideally shower with a “gentle, lathering soap.” We like these by REN, Nourish Organic, and Acure.
It’s not that runners’ faces succumb to gravity (that’s a myth, says Dr. Hirsch!), it’s that sprinters and distance runners start to lack facial volume or fat. That’s what happens when you spend a huge chunk of your day in fat-burning mode.
There’s no reason to worry about your daily HIIT or spin class, says Dr. Hirsch. While those are intense activities, it’s only when you’re “training like a triathlete year-round” that burning that amount of fat can affect your face, she says.
For some fitness types, a blood-pumping, heart-pounding workout is tantamount to tomato face, redness or facial flushing that lasts thanks to increased circulation in your body.
While science hasn’t conducted a peer-reviewed study on the effects of your skin on cardio, if you get red, you may want to let your flushed skin cool down before applying products. A post-workout calming or hydrating mist might be plenty. Or wait 30 minutes or so before applying a light soothing facial gel or a super simple lotion, and save your active vitamin C moisturizers, say, when your skin’s back to it’s non-cardio-enhanced color.
Good news, exercising indoors means you’re protected from the worst skin-care offender, UV rays. Bad news, any exercise causes free radicals—it’s a natural byproduct of revving your metabolism (and living).
An hour-long workout every day isn’t going to cause you to look five years older. But a collection of marathons might make an impact (also because there are UV rays at work). “An antioxidant-boosted smoothie after a workout can’t hurt,” says Dr. Hirsch.