Exercise and Acne: Learn to Balance the Breakouts
Posted 3/29/2017 by UHBlog
If you or your child are skipping the gym because you think exercising is causing acne, you’ll need to come up with a more creative excuse for not working out, says dermatologist Kevin Cooper, MD.
“Exercise-induced acne is unusual,” he says. “In my practice, I tend to see it only rarely in teenagers engaged in intense varsity sports or in young athletes in their twenties. The last thing I would advise is to not exercise, because the benefits of exercise are outweighed by our ability to control acne with medical therapy. Some people actually report their acne is improved when they exercise.”
Sometimes acne associated with seasonal changes in weather can be blamed on exercise, but that applies only to a small subset of individuals who develop dry acne.
“Those people will do a little better when the humidity picks up in the spring and summer,” Dr. Cooper says.
For many people, adolescent acne is a rite of passage that will develop whether or not they are an avid runner or their high’s school’s star pitcher. In most cases, breakouts can be managed in the teenage years and become a distant memory once folks reach their 20s or 30s.
Still, Dr. Cooper says exercise-induced acne can occur infrequently from:
- Friction from equipment. The strap on a batting helmet rubs against the chin, protective eye gear irritates the temples or a sun visor or football helmet chafes the forehead. These actions can cause frictional acne.
“If you have a genetic and hormonal tendency to develop acne, friction can worsen acne that’s already there because equipment rubs against the hair follicle and causes the follicle to not function properly,” he says.
- Sweating. Perspiration doesn’t cause acne per se. However, natural antibiotics that are produced by skin and concentrated in sweat may play a role in some breakouts.
“When natural antibiotics produced by the skin itself find bacteria, they can break down and create inflammation,” says Dr. Cooper, who serves as lead dermatologist for the Cleveland Browns. “Inflammation can be problematic in acne patients.”
- Overheating. Whether conditioning outside in the sweltering sun or attending a hot yoga class, exercise increases body temperature, causing some people to get flushed. That’s because the dilation of blood vessels around hair follicles can increase blood flow around those follicles. This is especially true, “if it is already a little inflamed from a previous acne outbreak, making the lesions look redder and worse,” Dr. Cooper says.
- Stress. Hard-core conditioning and intense competition can cause stress, which is known to contribute to acne.
Exercise-induced acne – like most forms of acne – can be managed when treated properly. Here are a few of Dr. Cooper’s do's and don’ts:
DO: Start by using an over-the-counter (OTC) benzoyl peroxide wash or cream.
DO: See your primary care doctor or dermatologist if OTC products aren’t working. He or she may prescribe prescription-strength benzoyl peroxide, a topical antibiotic or topical retinoid. Oral medications, like isotretinoin, can be used in severe cystic acne.
DO: Use anti-acne agents properly and consistently.
“The main reason they don’t work is the patient doesn’t remember to use them on a regular basis,” he says, adding consistent use prevents many breakouts and is more effective than treating a lesion that has already developed.
DON’T: Over-wash your face and sports gear thinking cleaner skin and equipment will stave off breakouts.
“It’s not a bacteria or dirt issue,” Dr. Cooper says. “It’s all about microbes that live on your skin and your immune system’s tolerance of them. We live with them and they live with us, but the natural balance can get out of hand in certain circumstances.”
Kevin Cooper, MD is chair of the department of dermatology at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, and lead dermatologist for the Cleveland Browns. You can request an appointment with Dr. Cooper or any other doctor online.