Wait — Does Sweat Actually Clog Your Pores? The Answer May Surprise You
We often hail the post-workout glow (or the result of circulation delivering nutrients to the skin cells), but exercise comes with some valid complaints, too. Of course, working out is top-notch for skin in the long run, as it encourages cell turnover and nourishes your mental well-being (thus improving your skin health, too). But in the short term? Some people feel itchy, others turn fire-engine red, and a significant chunk face increased acne, both on the face and body.
With the latter, you may deem sweat the prime suspect. But let's think about the skin care science for a moment: Sweat is mostly water, after all, so does it really clog your pores? Below, derms debunk the common myth.
Does sweat actually clog your pores?
"Contrary to popular belief, sweat itself does not lead to pimples," board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D., notes over on his Instagram. As we alluded to above, your sweat consists mostly of water, so it's not the main offender; in fact, board-certified dermatologist Ellen Marmur, M.D., even considers sweat the best natural cleanser for our skin, as she once told mbg about post-workout skin care.
The problem arises when the sweat dries and mixes with oil and bacteria (from, say, touching a dirty yoga mat or exercise equipment). And because your pores are more open as your body heats up from exercise, that leaves room for the oil-sweat-bacteria mixture to sink in and lead to breakouts. On that note, makeup can also settle into your pores—which is why derms recommend you hit the pavement or mat makeup-free.
In terms of body breakouts, your drenched clothing also creates a physical barrier on the skin, further trapping in all that oil and bacteria. "When we sweat, it wets our clothing, causes it to stick to our skin, mixes with oil, and blocks our pores," says Zeichner. All the more reason to peel off your workout clothes as soon as you can post-sweat.
How to prevent breakouts while exercising.
While the sweat itself may not be clogging your pores, your skin still needs a good wash to clear any oil and bacteria. That said, always shower after an intense workout, or at the very least change out of the occlusive clothing.
For the face in particular, some derms prefer a simple splash of water (namely, if you work out first thing in the morning), while others recommend a gentle cleanser to wipe away any oil and grime. Just make sure your face wash (and body wash, for that matter) isn't too heavy-duty with potent exfoliators: Because your pores are more open after a workout, they may also be more prone to irritation.
Actually, sweat itself doesn't clog your pores. Rather, it's when the sweat dries and mixes with oil and grime that can lead to breakouts. So, yes, sweat can actually help clear the pores, so long as you give them a good wash afterward and keep your gym equipment clean.
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.