How to Treat & Prevent Acne Breakouts from Running

Breaking out from running, aka runner’s acne, is common for people of all ages. A board-certified plastic surgeon, Dr. Dan Yamini, advises runners to avoid acne by keeping your skin clear, wearing loose and moisture-wicking clothes, and avoiding touching your face.

Woman with pimple on chin

Reviewed by Dr. Dan Yamini, a board-certified plastic surgeon: As the spring arrives, the temperatures are rising and more of us are sweating—sweating and getting what’s known as runners acne. Running is so good for you in so many ways, including good for your skin. But the sweat from running can cause acne, or sweat pimples.

In the spring and summer, it happens to me. I am running a lot and sweating, and I start breaking out, mostly on my face. I mean, c’mon! I am in my forties and I’m still struggling with acne?

runners' acne pin
Pin these runner’s acne treatment tips for later.

Runner’s acne can show up not just on your face but also anywhere that your sweaty clothes are compressing your pores. Your chest and back are also common areas for acne breakouts. Gross.

But, I’m here to help. I asked Dr. Dan Yamini, a board-certified plastic surgeon, for tips on how to stop breakouts from running. He has some awesome advice that I never considered.

Remember: I am not a doctor, so talk to yours about any health concerns you have!

Is running good for your skin?

Yes, running is good for your skin health! Here are some of the benefits of running for your skin:

  • Decreases stress
  • Increases blood flow
  • Improves sleep
  • Boosts collagen
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Detoxifies skin
  • Provides natural glow
  • Improves cellulite
  • Can reduce signs of aging

Related: How to Protect Your Skin in Cold, Dry Air

However, running can lead to clogged pores which can lead to acne.

Runner's acne pin
Pin these runner’s acne treatment tips for later.

What is runner’s acne?

Runner’s acne or ‘acne mechanica‘ is an acne type rash that arises because of blocked skin pores from sweat. You usually get runner’s acne or sweat pimples in places where there is repeated friction. Sweating can worsen these exercise-induced breakouts by causing inflammation of the hair follicles.

Related: How to Avoid Runner’s Face

Why does my face breakout after running?

Friction from exercise can irritate your skin. Sweating can cause irritation. And the increased blood flow opens pores which can cause them to take in acne-causing bacteria, make-up, dead skin cells, excess oil, etc. which can clog pores and lead to sweat acne.

How do you get rid of sweat pimples?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, you can get rid of sweat pimples by doing the following:

  • Aim to keep your face clean before, during, and after running to minimize oil buildup.
  • Use oil-free, non-comedogenic products.
  • Keep your face clean. Gently wash face with a mild oil-free cleanser. Do not scrub. Avoid harsh soap which can dry skin.
  • Use a topical treatment for pimples. A pimple gel with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide can be effective.
  • Personally, I love pimple patches. You put these invisible stickers on overnight and you’ll be amazed how much smaller your pimple is in the morning.
pimple patches box
The Mighty Patch pimple patch shrinks pimples overnight.
  • Avoid touching, picking, or popping zits!
  • Keep anything that touches your face from clothes, towels, and pillowcases clean.

Related: How to Acclimate to Running in the Heat

How can I prevent breakouts from sweat when running?

Dr. Yamini gives us a step-by-step guide to avoid breakouts from running.

EXPERT TIPS TO AVOID RUNNERS ACNE post
Proper hygiene can help you avoid acne breakouts from running.

How to Avoid Breakouts from Running:

Wear Moisture-Wicking Clothing:

When gearing up for your run, select moisture-wicking, breathable fabrics for your workout attire. These advanced materials are designed to pull sweat away from your skin. By choosing moisture-wicking clothing, you minimize the risk of sweat mixing with external impurities and leading to pore congestion, ultimately playing a crucial role in preventing post-exercise breakouts. Avoid tight clothing which can lead to body acne and change out of sweaty clothing ASAP.

Wash Your Face After You Run:

The best way to avoid breakouts is to wash your face and affected area. After completing your run, promptly wash acne-prone areas to rid it of accumulated sweat, dirt, and bacteria. Utilizing a mild cleanser, like Cera-ve or Cetaphil, is imperative to avoid over-drying your skin, as harsh products may disrupt your skin’s natural balance. This can cause irritation and potentially more acne.

Related: Healing Foods for Runners

Hydrate!:

Hydrating with water is not only crucial for your overall health but also plays a significant role in preventing post-workout breakouts. Drinking an ample amount of water helps maintain skin hydration from within, supporting its elasticity and resilience. Proper hydration also aids in the elimination of toxins from your body, promoting a clearer complexion and reducing the likelihood of breakouts.

Maintain Clean Exercise Accessories:

Regularly washing items such as headbands, hats, and sunglasses is vital in preventing the buildup of bacteria and sweat residue. Neglecting the cleanliness of these accessories can contribute to skin issues, so make it a habit to maintain a hygienic exercise gear routine. Also, always wear clean clothes and keep any sports equipment clean that you may use.

Related: Hydration Guide for Runners, According to an RD

Avoid Heavy Makeup for a Breathable Skin:

If you’re inclined to wear makeup during your run, especially foundation, consider opting for lighter, non-comedogenic formulations. In an ideal scenario, skipping heavy makeup altogether is recommended, as it can mix with sweat and contribute to pore congestion.

Avoid Touching Your Face:

You have oil and bacteria on your hands, so avoid touching your face. Otherwise, you increase the risk of clogging your pores and getting pimples. Minimize opportunities for touching your face by keeping your hair pulled back and also bring a clean towel to wipe sweat.

Run in the Morning:

Because it is cooler in the morning, running in the morning hours can minimize excessive sweating which can cause pores and hair follicles, and lead to skin irritation and red bumps. This also minimizes exposure to the sun.

Don’t Forget Sunscreen: 

No matter when you run, use an oil-free sunscreen to minimize sun damage, risk of skin cancer, and runner’s face. I like the tinted Elta MD because it is not oily and doesn’t clog my pores when I sweat.

What are the best skin care products to treat and prevent acne from running?

According to Dr. Yamini and myself, here are the best products for avoiding breakouts from exercise.

If you follow these steps and don’t have clearer skin, see a healthcare provider. While over the counter products can be very effective in treating acne, other treatment options like prescription medications and oral medications may be more effective.

If you want guidance with your run training, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:

 

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