How exercise affects the skin

Updated: May 7, 2020

We know that regular exercise increases our chances of a longer, healthier life. Working out boosts our brain and stimulates our immune system, strengthens our muscles, regulates our sleep and helps with the body’s natural process of toxin removal, but how does it affect our skin?

Is ‘gym face’ a good thing, or a bad thing, and can the gym really cause acne?

This pocket-sized post will tell you everything you need to know about the connect between a workout and your body’s largest organ.

nicki minaj workout gif

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Is it true that exercise makes our skin healthier?

The “post-workout” glow is real. As we exercise our heart rate increases which causes more blood to pump around your body which leads to all-over body glow that can last up to an hour, as our blood vessels expand and skin perspires.

A 2014 study carried out by McMaster University in Ontario previously studied how exercise can affect the skin. They found 29 male and female volunteers that ranged between the ages of 20-84; half of the group spent at least 3 hours a week partaking in vigorous exercise, the other half spend less than an hour a week doing so. The results of the study showed that the more exercise the test subject participated in, the healthier their skin was.


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Another study showed how exercise may be able to slow down the ageing process by improving the metabolism of our skin cells.

Exercise can also make us look older

Have you ever heard of the term ‘gym face’? Aesthetic expert, Dr. Preema Vig explains that certain types of exercises that lead to dramatic weight loss like running and endurance training, can lead to sagging skin and a more hollowed cheek. This lack of fullness that is associated with youthfulness, can effectively make somebody appear older.

In an interview with Friday magazine, Dr Tracey Mountford, Director of Cosmetic Skin Clinics explains that ‘gym face’ is “definitely more common among the 40-60 age group. The face can become squarer, creating the dreaded jowls that are very ageing.”

Tina-Malone before and after weight loss

Tina Malone before & after weight loss via Celebsnow

Can the gym make us break out?

Sweating is a common effect of exercise and is commonly associated with causing breakouts, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Sweating is not the direct cause to gym acne; it is our lifestyle factors that are.

Exercise often involves non-breathable clothing which allows a build-up of friction of sweat and bacteria. The excessive heat, friction and pressure from workout gear like hats and helmets, shoulder pads and backpacks can cause reoccurring breakouts in certain areas of the face and body. Acne mechanica is a real thing, check it out

beauty things face mask gif

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Gym equipment can also contribute to an increase of breakouts post-workout. It’s ridden with bacteria and this is one of the reasons why it is advised to wash your face and body thoroughly after exercise. Also, the cocktail of dirt, oil and sweat that settles on the skin after a gym session can cause clogging of pores and breakouts.

It is also important to remember that exercise can cause acne just as much as many other factors like our diet, hormones, mental health, genetics, and environment and sometimes cannot be beaten with just a simple change in our habitual routines. Therefore, it is wrong to assume that exercise is a direct cause of breakouts.

Exercise can irritate certain skin conditions

When we workout the body’s temperature increases, and this can cause dry skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis to feel super itchy. Hot temperatures are also a number one trigger for worsening the appearance of rosacea. Rinse off with cool water post workout to reduce the chances of this happening.

itching real housewives gif

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Goodbye stress, hello beauty

There are a number of studies that point out how stress affects our skin in a negative way. Exercise a great way to reduce this from happening as it is profoundly known to boost our mood, as our energy levels, quality of sleep and self-control and esteem increases. A workout limits stress in the body by suppressing the body’s chemicals that can make depression worse whilst releasing more of the happy hormone, serotonin.


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Dr. Markus Rantala, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Turku in Finland is one of a few people that have studied how stress can have an impact on our overall attractiveness and approachability. He and his team discovered that women with more cortisol (the hormone associated with stress) were deemed as less attractive, whilst women with less cortisol were favoured more beautiful. Rantala explained that the reason for this is that fertility factors our guess to how young and healthy a person is.

Hydration is key

Exercise dehydrates the body and so if you don’t drink enough water, it can delay your body’s regulation of body temperature, increase heart rate, cause fatigue and dizziness, and affect your skin too.

Celebrity Dalton Wong explains in an interview with The Telegraph

“It’s not just that it helps you train better – no one can work out if they’re not properly hydrated – it makes your skin look better, too. Conversely, if you’re training without drinking enough water, you’ll damage your skin pretty quickly.”

He suggests pinching the skin on the back of your hand to test your hydration levels; if it doesn’t spring back quickly, then you are most likely dehydrated.

go on drinking gif

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Exercise can affect your skin in several ways from the post-workout glow you get for an hour afterwards, to increasing the collagen and elastin in your skin. If you are over 40 and concerned about sagging skin, consider facial exercises, dermal fillers, microneedling and laser rejuvenation to keep your face in shape.

dentagama facial exercises

Facial exercises via dentagama

Cleansing your skin pre and post-workout is key if you want to avoid breakouts. Stay away from face wipes and consider using a BHA-based cleanser to clean your face and body with post-gym. If you suffer with heat rash, eczema or rosacea then rinse your skin with cooler water to lessen the chances of irritation. Stay hydrated. And finally, be kind to and thank yourself for finishing a workout.

i love myself kris jenner

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#exercise #gymface #howexerciseaffectstheskin

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