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Your Guide To A Workout-Friendly Skincare Routine

In the converging worlds of workouts and skincare, it can feel like picking a side is required. Because for some, a sweat-soaked, heart-pumping exercise session comes with an unwanted tradeoff: more acne, redness, skin irritation and congestion. But what’s good for the body (The flushing of toxins! The circulation boost! That endorphin rush!) need not be hard on the skin, so we’ve assembled pro skin advice to keep skin clear through any workout.

THE SCIENCE

In fact, it’s never been a better time to live in both worlds, because promising new research indicates a lifestyle of regular exercise may cumulatively help minimize some telltale signs of aging. Research completed by Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, ​​a professor in the department of pediatrics at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, whose research focuses on mitochondrial diseases, shows acute exercise causes active muscles to produce  a myokine called Inteluken15 (or IL-15). From there, it travels in the blood to skin fibroblasts (and possibly keratinocytes) and binds to a receptor, where it increases mitochondria (the generator the powers the cell’s biochemical reactions) and activates a response that ultimately, boosts our skin’s own antioxidant defenses.

Translation? A bolstering of free-radical fighting powers! In test subjects, this manifested on skin by way of a thicker dermis with more collagen, less visible skin sagging and thinner stratum corneum (linked to smoother skin and which may contribute to reduced wrinkle appearance).

This finding is big: “Exercise delivers IL-15 to all parts of the skin and leads to sweating and vasodilation that bring IL-15 and other nutrients to the skin,” Dr. Taropolsky says. So big, in fact, that founders of the newly-launched Heros and Goddesses skin care and supplement line have tapped Dr. Tarpolsky’s research to create products that mimic the skin benefits of exercise on the skin. Stack these discoveries with the loads of other known mind, body and soul benefits that regular exercise offer, and the math on ditching workouts as a way of bypassing temporary acne, inflammation and irritation quickly starts to deteriorate.

Ahead, we talk to skin care experts who specialize in treating professional athletes for tips on how to best care for skin when working up a sweat.


“You don’t want to provoke any kind of reaction,” Ford says, “So keep it simple. Use a mild cleanser — if using AHA/BHA cleanser, top out at 2% lactic acid to keep things gentle — then leave the skin bare, wear a light SPF if you’re going to be in the sun.” If skin is particularly reactive even before your workout gets underway, applying a cold compress may also help quell irritation to come.

Finally, further mitigate potential breakouts and irritation by using a clean protective mask during your workout. “Face masks cause friction and buildup of bacteria, but they’re necessary,” Dr. Guanche says. “Use breathable disposable masks, or clean, cotton masks that are washed frequently.”  

“Sweating itself, when followed up with cleansing, helps to rinse the pores from the inside out.”

Post-Workout Skin Recovery

If skin care pre-workout seems like a breeze, it’s after you’ve worked up a sweat — and likely touched your face when using shared equipment — that diligent skin care becomes essential. Here’s why: “Sweating itself, when followed up with cleansing, helps to rinse the pores from the inside out,” explains Dr. Guanche  “Sweating promotes the ‘pushing’ of keratin out of the pores, so the ideal situation is a hot sweaty workout, steam shower, and then a soothing facial to extract blackheads and whiteheads.” 

If a full-on facial may not be possible après sweat, even just adding a swipe of salicylic acid helps minimize congestion, Dr. Guanche says—especially when wearing a mask. Consider having medicated face wipes or travel-sized toner on hand. “Use a cleansing wipe, salicylic acid pad, or simply cleanse the face to remove the coating of breath/mouth-derived bacteria on the face,” Ford advises.

Finally, gentle hydration is paramount. “Try not to add ingredients that can cause sensitivity,” Ford says. She suggests cleansing with a gentle cleanser before applying a hydrating serum and moisturizer.  “Applying a water molecule-binding serum leaves the epidermis hydrated and supple and won’t clog pores,” she adds.

“...cleanse and spot treat with a mild salicylic or lactic treatment before applying a mineral-based sunscreen.”

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