A Derm Told Me Not to Wash My Face After the Gym and My Mind Is Blown

Photo: Getty/ Cavan Images
No matter what type of workout I'm doing, my post sweat-sesh routine is exactly the same: Step 1) Wipe down my machine/yoga mat/spin bike; Step 2) Wipe down my face with a cleansing wipe. I've always thought that the only way to avoid breakouts was to get the sweat off of my skin as quickly as possible, so I tend to sprint to the locker room to do exactly that the second my cool down is over.  But as I recently, mind-blowingly found out, swiping the sweat off of your face ASAP may not actually not the best way to handle post-workout skin care.

“Sweat is your body’s most natural cleanser," says dermatologist Ellen Marmur, MD and founder of NYC's Marmur Medical. "Working out every morning and getting at least a sheet of sweat on your face is sort of the best thing you can do for your acne, your rosacea, your dry skin—all your dermatitis." Hold on while I pick my jaw off of the floor.

She goes on: "For beautiful skin, sweating actually helps your body heal, it helps your body cleanse, it helps your body rev up those enzymes that need to create that radiant skin barrier," she explains.  "A lot of athletes have such beautiful skin and you’re like, 'How is that possible? You’re super human.' But they’re just doing everything right."

"Sweat is your body’s most natural cleanser." —Ellen Marmur, MD

Instead of going for the squeaky clean feeling by way of a wipe (the way I always have) Dr. Marmur suggests rinsing your skin the shower (sans cleanser) instead. "For the face, use just the littlest, tiniest bit of soap on two fingers and just rub the sides of your nose if you really feel like you want to be squeaky clean," she says. "That's really the area, because the midline of the face between the eyebrows down the nose is where you have the most oil glands in your face. But you don't want to be squeaky clean over your whole face—just that area."

Basically, Dr. Marmur recommends only cleaning the "stinky" areas of your body. "Wash only the areas that might be stinky, [which] I call the 'HUG' areas—the hands, under arms, and the groin—use soap on those areas, and I guess also your head wash with shampoo," she says. "That rinse is enough for the rest of you. You’re not walking around with gym bacteria."

For what it's worth, not all dermatologists are on-board with Dr. Marmur's recommendation to let sweat stick around. "I’m a fan of washing with a gentle cleanser," says dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD. "The cool water helps to decrease post-workout flush, and the cleanser gets rid of not only sweat but gym grime. I’m in the wash off camp."

Personally, I'll take the excuse to cut my post-workout skin-care routine in half, and make that post-workout glow last all day.

No time to shower? Here are 17 ways to get clean post-workout without stepping under the jet stream. And here's some interesting reading about the great "makeup at the gym" debate. 

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