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4 Tips To Make Your Workouts Work With Your Skin

Follow a few easy guidelines to ensure your summer sweats promote a healthy, happy complexion.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.


Published with permission by Dr. Patricia Norris, Assistant Professor of Dermatology and Director of the Contact Dermatitis Clinic at Oregon Health & Science University.

Running. Hiking. Biking. Swimming. Any extra time outdoors also brings some common risks for your skin. Follow a few easy guidelines to ensure your summer sweats promote a healthy, happy complexion.

Choose the right skin care products and keep it simple.

When it comes to skin care, try not to mix and match. Avoid layering on too many products before you work out as it may lead to skin irritation. This becomes increasingly challenging during summer months when outdoor conditions call for the use of multiple products, such as sunscreens, insect repellents and moisturizers. Play it safe by using products with as few ingredients as possible.

If you wear jewelry consistently or a wrist-based fitness tracker, using products with fewer ingredients will also minimize the likelihood of developing an irritation caused by the buildup of soap, moisturizers, sunscreen or sweat beneath the band. If you do start to experience redness or skin irritation on your wrist, remove your accessories. If symptoms persist longer than 2-3 days after stopping use, call your dermatologist. While the best line of treatment varies by person, a simple hydrocortisone cream is generally a safe bet for at-home, short-term relief.  To remove the buildup of lotions and oils that can become trapped beneath your jewelry or fitness tracker, use a soap-free cleanser, wipe your band with a small amount of rubbing alcohol after exercise, rinse thoroughly, and dry well—and give your wrist a rest now and then.

Rethink your sunscreen regimen.

Ultraviolet exposure is the most common cause of skin cancer. For outdoor workouts, wear sunglasses, a hat and long-sleeved shirts to cover up. To protect any exposed skin, use sunscreen with SPF 30 or more for best protection and don’t forget to re-apply it during the day. New FDA regulations require all products with SPF on the label to provide broad-spectrum coverage, meaning they protect the skin from both UVA (suntan) and UVB (sunburn) rays, both of which cause premature aging and skin cancer. Pick a brand that works for you—in terms of cost, a fragrance you like, how it feels on your skin—so that you’ll be more likely to use it regularly.

Most people use half the amount of sunscreen required to provide full coverage. As a general rule, apply what you think you need, let it dry, and then reapply the same amount again for full protection. Sunscreen in a typical facial moisturizer only lasts a few hours, so consider using makeup or foundation that has SPF for added protection. A mineral-based powder with the key ingredients zinc and titanium dioxide, for instance, is oftentimes more effective than a lotion with sunscreen because it acts as a natural skin protectant and lasts longer.

Some products like insect repellents can decrease the efficacy of sunscreen. If you are headed out for a daytime hike in a woodsy area, apply bug spray first, let it dry for 15-30 minutes, and then apply sunscreen. Apply your sunscreen at least 30 minutes before putting on your jewelry or fitness tracker to avoid locking in irritants beneath the band.

Avoid friction.

Ill-fitting workout gear can also cause skin irritation, with sports bras and compression shorts being two common culprits. Your skin tends to swell when you sweat, so without room to breathe, the extra friction against wet clothing makes irritation more likely. To avoid this, consider applying Vaseline to friction-prone areas, like around the band of your sports bra or in between your thighs.

If you use a fitness tracker, make sure it’s not too loose or too tight; it should sit 2-3 finger widths above your wrist. Lower the band on your wrist and loosen it after exercise.

Clean up post-workout.

Take a shower after you work out to remove sweat and sunscreen from your skin. Remove damp or wet clothes as soon as possible. Fungal and yeast infections occur more frequently in the summer due to excessive sweating and moisture. A common reason for dermatology visits in the summer is tinea versicolor, a skin infection that occurs from the overgrowth of yeast and causes a rash or discoloration of the skin.   In addition, to minimize acne, shower within an hour of completing your workout. Over time, excessive sweating without cleansing may block pores and increase the risk of developing acne.