"Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy," Elle Woods once said. But exercise can also give you breakouts, which make us decidedly unhappy. To find out about the unexpected ways working out is sabotaging our quest for clear skin, we talked to Dr. Ellen Marmur, dermatologist and a Dove Advanced Care Deodorant spokesperson.
Keep reading to see seven issues that might be triggering your post-workout breakouts.
You would think that sopping up the sweat on your face during SoulCycle would help prevent breakouts, right? Actually, "Rubbing sweat off of your face with a towel can contribute to post-workout acne," Marmur says. Rub too roughly, and it can actually irritate your skin and spread dirt and bacteria. Instead, gently pat your face and body.
Pictured: Manduka Equa Hand Towel ($16)
And that's a bad thing. Not only will you get super sweaty (hello, visible perspiration marks), Marmur says that cotton "absorbs sweat and dries slowly, which can allow dirt and oil to penetrate into the skin." She says to choose synthetic fabrics, like a polyester or lycra blend, for your workout wear. These "pull the sweat from your body and dry quickly to help quell breakouts."
Pictured: J.Crew Vintage Cotton Scoopneck Tee ($30)
Think about all the places your gym bag goes. Since it's not exactly your Fendi purse, you probably tend to shove it into cubbies, set it on the floor next to your elliptical, and toss it on the floor in the back of your car. Not to mention, every time you toss that strap over your shoulder, you're saturating it with sweat that can breed bacteria. "Friction can absolutely contribute to acne, especially if it’s with a shoulder strap that is filled with dirt and bacteria," Marmur says. "To avoid, try to be diligent about wiping down your bag with an antibacterial product."
Pictured: Under Armour StudioLuxe Duffel Bag ($135)
Sweat can cause residue from your hair products to drip onto your skin, which can irritate and clog up your pores, causing blackheads, whiteheads, and inflamed blemishes, Marmur says. Style your hair with oil-free gels or mousses (no pomades) to keep your hairstyle intact while cutting down on the risk of blemishes.
With that in mind, don't play with your hair while you're working out—even if you're flirting with the cute trainer or simply readjusting your ponytail! Thanks to increased blood flow from exercising, oil and hair product builds up, Marmur says. When you mess with your hair, it gets all over your hands, and if you then touch your face or body it can clog your pores.
To help keep your mitts off of your tresses, Marmur recommends tightly pulling your hair back with a headband. (Or you can try one of these workout-approved hairstyles.)
Pictured: Zella Double the Fun Headband ($10)
"You should also be thinking about your underarms! It’s an area that can trap bacteria and surface moisture, which can lead to odor, irritation, and a whole range of skin conditions," Marmur says. Not exactly the results you had in mind when you dragged your butt to the gym. She recommends using a moisturizing, wetness-protecting deodorant like Dove Advanced Care with NutriumMoisture Deodorant ($6), and showering as soon as possible after your workout with a gentle cleanser.
We already covered how wearing makeup to the gym is like playing with fire, but even if you're working out sans cosmetics you're still at risk for skin irritation, especially if you're applying a moisturizer right before hitting the gym. "Removing all traces of makeup, moisturizers, and creams before your workout is essential to ward off breakouts," Marmur says. "Otherwise, sweat mixes with dirt and oil, which will clog pores and result in acne." However, if your fitness routine takes you outside, you still need to wear a sunscreen to protect your skin.
Pictured: Koh Gen Do Cleansing Spa Water ($39)
Like your gym bag, your yoga mat is a breeding ground for bacteria. Those pigeon and cobra poses are getting sweat and dirt all over your mat, making it a great place for bacteria and germs to set up shop. "Mats can trap in sweat, oil, and bacteria, so either wipe it down or cover it with a fresh, clean towel," Marmur says.
Pictured: Alo Yoga Mat ($48)
Does your workout irritate your skin? Were you making these surprising mistakes? Let us know in the comments below!