Exercise: is it hurting or helping your skin?

We all know the benefits of exercise, but after sweating at the gym for an hour or two, I can’t help wondering if exercise is blemishing my skin or enabling it to form radiant new layers.

It turns out, exercise is a blessing and a curse when it comes to the skin, but the curse is temporary while the long-term benefits make exercise worth the minor skin setbacks.

The benefits

Exercise increases general blood flow, which means that skin cells are getting more oxygen and nutrients. The blood also carries away waste products out of the cells. More blood flow means more turnover, leading to healthier, smoother skin.

Exercise and Skin health

Stress is a big factor in triggering skin conditions such as acne and eczema. Stress hormones stimulate oil production. Too much oil clogs your pores and causes skin inflammation and acne. But exercise reduces these hormone levels, meaning less oil production and less inflammation.

New research shows that exercise can even reduce skin aging. The study found that the inner and outer layers of skin were thicker and healthier in exercising subjects than the sedentary subjects of the same age. Still, working out won’t erase wrinkles or skin damage from the sun.

The dangers

If you exercise outdoors, overexposure to the sun can age your skin and increase your risk for skin cancer. Avoid exercising during peak sun rays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and always wear sunscreen. There are many sunscreens designed for sweating so it doesn’t get into your eyes, but make sure to reapply often as sweat can increase your chance of burning. Sunscreen can exacerbate acne problems, but there are many oil-free and noncomedogenic options.

Tight workout clothes may make your muscles look taut, but they can irritate the skin causing rashes and acne. Wear loose workout clothes if you notice non-facial acne popping up. If you’re noticing facial acne, avoid wearing make-up during exercise, and shower as soon as you’re done sweating.

Working out can be a problem for people suffering from rosacea. Exercise heats up your body, making your skin flush and triggering rosacea. To avoid flare-ups, exercise at night when it’s cool or try swimming to avoid overheating.

The bottom line

Ultimately, the benefits outway the minor skin problems that can come with exercise. Eczema, psoriasis, and acne are nothing compared to heart disease, obesity, arthritis, and many other health conditions that can be prevented by regular exercise. In other words, a pimple is much more treatable than life-long diabetes.

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