How Athletes Can Clear Up Acne


Acne is the most common skin condition and affects up to 90 percent of the world’s population. It can have many causes, such as hormones, medication, and stress.

But athletes are likely to suffer from acne more often than people who aren’t active, especially severe acne on the face, back, and chest.

What causes athletes’ acne and how can athletes clear it up?

Let’s have a look at the common misconceptions, causes, and ways to prevent it from occurring.

Does sweat cause acne?

Sweat doesn’t directly cause acne.

New research shows that our sweat contains a protein called dermcidin, which is an antimicrobial peptide. This protein in the sweat helps our body to defend itself against bacteria that causes acne and it may actually prevent acne.

When we exercise, there’s an increase in blood flow to the skin and this causes the skin pores to open. Any dirt or bacteria that has built up during or after your workout can become trapped in the pores, which can lead to acne.

By creating a skincare routine before and after your workout, you’ll be able to clear your skin and pores of bacteria and dirt that can cause blemishes.

Now that we know that sweat doesn’t directly cause acne, let’s take a look at some of the other factors that can cause acne.

How does acne begin for athletes?

Acne is a common skin condition that affects millions of Americans every year. While it usually occurs in adolescents, it does also affect adults into their 40s.

With that being said, athletes are more prone to acne and breakouts for the following reasons.


Both male and female athletes who have greater muscle mass will also have increased levels of testosterone. Testosterone is vital in the development of bone density, muscle mass, energy levels, and strength.

But an increase in testosterone levels will stimulate the sebaceous gland to produce excessive amounts of sebum. This excess sebum then mixes with dirt and dead skin cells on the surface of the skin and clog the pores. This leads to acne or a breakout.

Leaving Sweat On Skin

Sweat doesn’t just regulate your body temperature. It also helps the body to get rid of harmful toxins in the body.

The best way to think of sweat is that it acts as a natural exfoliator that clears the pores, rids the body of the metabolic breakdown of proteins—urea—salt, water, and ammonia. All of this is great for the skin!

But if you don’t wash the sweat from your body, the sweat that’s mixed with dirt, dead skin cells and sebum will clog the pores again.

The metabolic waste and toxins that your body tried to get rid of can be reabsorbed. This can also lead to the bacteria on your skin multiplying, which will lead to acne.


The clothing that you wear to exercise can cause acne, especially in areas where it rubs against the skin or is too tight. This includes items like headbands, heart rate monitors, bra straps, and even waistbands.

But you can also develop acne on your chest, back, and legs from clothing that doesn’t draw moisture away from the skin and dry quickly.

This causes the material to rub against the skin, providing the moist environment that the bacteria needs to spread and multiply in. It will also cause your sweat, dead skin cells, and sebum to mix and clog the pores.

A Close Shave

Often, to reduce uncomfortable friction, some people may shave their face, arms, legs, and chest. While this helps to keep cool during a workout, it can also increase your risk for acne.

A razor blade removes both hair and dead skin cells with every stroke of the blade. Bacteria and dead skin cells can remain on the blade after one does a quick rinse under water.

When you continue to shave, you can spread this bacteria and the skin cells can block your pores. If you tend to shave against the direction of the blade, it will pull more on the skin and cause irritation, even though you get a closer shave.

It can also cause your blade to become dull before its time, which will irritate the skin and cause inflammation in the hair follicle. This can encourage acne.

Tips for athletes to prevent acne

Before working out

If you’re exercising after a day at the office, don’t forget to remove your makeup thoroughly before you start your activity. This will allow your skin to breathe freely and to purge toxins.

To remove the makeup, you can use oil-free makeup remover towelettes. These will remove the makeup without leaving a residue on the skin that would clog your pores. The following makeup remover towelettes are hypoallergenic and easy on acne-prone skin:

Make sure that you stay hydrated throughout the day, as well as hydrating before you exercise. This will not only replace fluids that will be lost when you sweat, but it will prevent your skin from becoming dry.

Dry skin can trigger your body to produce more sebum—your skin’s natural oil—and excess oil can block the pores which will lead to acne.

During Your Workouts

As blood flow increases and your body temperature rises, the pores of your skin open so that you can sweat. You may find yourself using the sleeve of your T-shirt or your hand to wipe away the sweat.

While you may not realize it, you are transferring bacteria from equipment and from your own skin to your skin pores. This increases your risk of acne and breakouts.

Whether you’re running outdoors, using the treadmill at the gym, or attending a yoga class, you should always avoid touching your face during your workout.

Take a clean sweat towel from home along with you so that you can use it to dab sweat away—avoid rubbing your skin—as this will reduce the risk of transferring bacteria.

Some gym towels come with a hidden pocket where you can keep your sanitizing wipes. This will let you wipe down gym equipment or your yoga mat before and after you use it. Some towels can be kept close as they can be attached to your clothing.

These towels can be used for a variety of sporting activities, including yoga and hiking.


The best thing you can do after a workout is to take a shower as soon as possible. This will let you wash the sweat, metabolic waste, bacteria, and dirt from your skin.

If you can shower straight after a workout, then use body washes and facial cleansers that contain either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.

Products that contain benzoyl peroxide will help clear up acne, exfoliate the skin and kill bacteria. Salicylic acid will reduce redness, swelling and it will help to clear blocked pores.

If you’re unable to shower straight away, then you can use cleansing cloths. These are specifically designed to remove sweat and help soothe your skin. You can try using the following wipes the next time you can’t shower straight away.

When you have showered, don’t rub your skin with the towel, Instead, use the towel to pat yourself dry. This will prevent your skin from losing more moisture and it will make it easier for your skin to absorb moisturizing products.

Make sure that you’re protecting your skin by applying a moisturizing and toning product to your face, neck, and neck line before you apply your makeup or sunscreen. This will help to restore the skin’s pH levels and keep your pores open.

Depending on the type of workouts you do, you may have to wear a helmet or other types of protective gear. You can wipe these down using alcohol pads, especially if they have chin straps that come into contact with your skin.

Don’t wear the same clothes that you worked out in again without having laundered them. The sweat will dry and remain on the clothing and this can irritate the skin and trigger a breakout.

Get help from a dermatologist

If you’re using skincare products that help in the treatment of acne and it’s still getting worse, then make an appointment to see a dermatologist.

Everyone’s skin is different and will respond differently to a product. The dermatologist will be able to prescribe skincare products that are better suited to your type of skin that may be stronger than the products one can buy over the counter.

The dermatologist would also be able to identify if you’re dealing with stubborn acne or if it’s a different skin condition that looks like acne. You’ll also get plenty of advice on how to take good care of your skin.

Skincare tips for athletes

1. Moisturize more in cold climates

During winter or in colder climates, your skin will need more moisture. With less humidity the air will be drier, and this will cause the moisture in your skin to evaporate faster.

One way you can protect your skin is by applying body butter, body oil, or a skin restoration salve to your skin when it’s still damp.

Your skin will absorb these products better, your skin will stay moisturized for longer and this will provide protection to your skin.

2. Always use sunscreen for outdoor workouts

If you have sensitive skin or you’re prone to acne, you may avoid sunscreen as they can be quite greasy.

Thankfully, there are mineral sunscreens that you can use as they often contain zinc oxide or titanium oxide. Mineral sunscreens form a protective layer on top of the skin that deflects the harmful rays of the sun and you won’t have to worry about a potential blemish or acne breakout.

You can try the following mineral sunscreens:

3. Eat Healthy

A healthy diet has many benefits and the foods you eat can affect your skin. If your diet is high in sugar and carbohydrates—bread, pasta, rice—this will cause your blood sugar levels to spike.

The increased insulin in the body can trigger the sebaceous gland to produce more oil—sebum—and increase your risk of acne. By eating a healthy, balanced diet and drinking water, you’ll find that your skin will be clearer.

4. Prioritize your skin

There are days where life will get in the way and you may find that you skip your skincare routine. To avoid forgetting, create your skincare routine for when you get up in the morning and before you go to bed at night.

Depending on your type of skin, you may find that your skin routine may have you exfoliate every second day or once every two weeks. Make sure to find products that work with your skin type, as this will help to reduce the risk of acne.

Photo of author


Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.