It is well established that exercises are great for physical and mental health; it can improve mood, boost energy, strengthen the heart, improve blood circulation, tone muscles, and more. But for all its benefits, it does come with a few drawbacks, one of them being acne. Running can cause excessing sweat, as well as buildup of oil, dirt, and bacteria on the skin, all of which can lead to breakouts – sweat-induced acne, a main culprit for runner’s skin problems, as one clocks up the miles.
What is runner's acne?
Acne is a complex interaction between bacteria naturally present on the skin and sebum and sweat levels, which may result in breakouts. However, runner's acne, is a type of acne caused by blocked skin pores (inflammation of the follicles) as a result of excessive heat and sweating. During exercises, your body temperature and heart rate rise causing your pores and sweat glands to open up, helping to cool your body down, setting you up for potential acne formation. It usually occurs in places of repeated friction or mechanical trauma which can happen when exercising such as the shoulder and back.
While exercise itself does not cause acne, the skin care and personal hygiene habits you maintain around your workouts can significantly impact your skin. Moreover, since germs thrive at warm, moisture environment like the gym, it is important to maintain good hygiene while working out to prevent clogged pores and the spread of harmful bacteria.
If you run in the gym, be aware the gym equipment from exercise mats, to treadmills, which are all teaming with different bacteria and infectious germs. To ensure these germs are not spread across acne prone areas, avoid touching your face with your hands when exercising and wipe down any surfaces with disinfectant before and after you complete each workout session.
Prolonged sun exposure from running outdoors can also cause skin damage, not to mention the more serious consequences of skin cancers. When running outdoors in hot weather, always wear a sunscreen which protects you from harmful UVA and UVB rays that can cause premature skin ageing, hyperpigmentation, and uneven skin tones. If greasy skin or stinging eyes cause you to skip it, opt for an oil-free, water-resistance sunscreen formulated for the face and neck and a lightweight sunscreen gel instead of a cream-based lotion for the rest of your body. Even if you don’t burn easily, applying the correct sunscreen is essential in preventing serious sun damage. While most standard protection protocol calls for reapplication every two hours, it is not unreasonable to reapply on any run that extends beyond an hour.
However, running isn’t all bad for the skin. It increases skin blood flow, which helps nourish skin cells and keep them healthy. Moreover, since running helps boost the production of endorphins, your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters, it can help with lowering stress, and thus help decrease the instance of stress-induced acne. And
the good news is you don’t have to quit exercising in order to have clearer skin.
Maintaining proper workout hygiene and an anti-acne diet can help with combating running-induced acne.
Load up on these foods to boost your skin health:
Omega-3 fatty acids
Consume anti-inflammatory omega-3 fat sources regularly, such as fatty fish, over potentially inflammatory omega-6-rich fat sources like canola and soybean oils may decrease acne symptoms. Fish and seafood also has a lower glycemic index and fish oils are known to be skin-friendly. Other good sources of Omega-3 include walnuts, hazelnuts, chia seeds and flax seeds
Antioxidant-rich fruits (and veggies!)
Free radicals and oxidization may well contribute to the inflammation that contribute to the development of acne, and antioxidants work to combat their negative effects on the skin. Antioxidant-rich fruits like dark fruits and berries (think red grapes, blueberries) are also high in fibre which may help to regulate insulin. Watercress and avocado are good sources of Vitamin E and beta-carotene rich foods (think orange foods such as pumpkin, sweet potato and carrots) are rich in Vitamin A; all of these nutrients play crucial roles in skin and immune health and may help prevent acne.
Low Glycemic Index (GI) foods
Replace high GI foods like refined foods such as white bread, sugary foods, white rice with medium to low GI foods such as pulses, wholegrains that will release blood sugar more slowly. Not to mention, high fibre foods such as oats, lentils may also help to regulate insulin (insulin is known to stimulate hormones that can trigger acne). The high fibre content will also aid your digestive system in getting rid of toxins built up in the body, which could help prevent breakouts.
Acnes are often caused due to excessive heat and oil production in the body. Drinking water keeps your body hydrated, cools down the body’s temperature, which helps in reducing the body heat during the workout. In addition, dry skin can be result of dehydration, which can lead to excessive oil secretion from skin which gives way to acne causing bacteria to thrive. Bring a refillable bottle to the gym or on the trails at all times as a good reminder to stay hydrated.