Exactly How To Wash Your Face After A Workout, According To Derms
Picture this: You’re having a self-care Sunday, and you’re inspired to attend a sweaty yoga session, drink a green smoothie, and slap on a face mask while you try and combat Sunday scaries.
It all sounds lovely, but how should you really go about post-workout skin care? It might feel intuitive to scrub sweaty pores after a workout, but could your current skin care routine do more harm than good after you exercise? How should you change your cleansing habits after you sweat?
I consulted with board-certified dermatologists, Keira Barr, M.D., and Ellen Marmur, M.D., to get to the bottom of the controversial (and highly personal, I'll admit) realm that is post-workout skincare. Whether you workout in the morning, midday, or evening, here’s exactly how you should wash your face post-sweat.
If you workout in the morning
If you’re an early-bird exerciser, Marmur believes you should skip your morning wash routine altogether. “Sweat is the best cleanser,” she says. That being said, even after your morning workout session, you may be just fine skipping the soap.
“Sweat cleans your pores, so your skin will just need a quick rinse,” she adds.
If you’re especially oily, or just can’t bear to go throughout your day without some sort of washing ritual, you can definitely dab some gentle cleanser on the T-zone. Just don't go too heavy on the aggressive exfoliation, as it may do more harm than good after a workout.
Barr agrees: "It's best to wait until the afternoon or evening as your skin may be more vulnerable to irritation shortly after a workout, as your pores are open."
So you may want to hold off on that enzyme peel until later in the day, at least.
If you work out midday
It’s super important not to strip your skin with product after product, especially when you work out. Marmur suggests waiting until post-workout to start your cleansing (you can rinse with a splash of warm water right when you wake up if you feel especially oily in the mornings).
After your workout, you can use a gentle cleanser on the T-zone. As always, be mindful of the bacteria you may have picked up while touching all the gym equipment. While sweat itself may not be damaging your pores, the fungus you could be putting on your face definitely needs a wash-up, according to Barr.
After an evening workout session
If you come home from work itching to hit the gym, just make sure you wipe off all your makeup before your workout. Whether you use a gentle micellar water or a simple makeup remover cloth, washing off your makeup before starting to sweat is crucial.
"When you exercise, your body heats up and your pores open. Makeup can settle in your pores and contribute to clogging them," says Barr. If heading to the gym makeup-free is simply not an option for you, make sure you're choosing products that are non-comedogenic, which means they're specially formulated to not clog your pores.
As for after the workout? Either wash off your non-comedogenic makeup, or rinse with water if you have a fresh face. “You just need a quick rinse, as the sweat cleans your pores and skin,” Marmur says.
Anything else we should be mindful of?
So you’ve got the basics in terms of timing, but are there other specific things we should be mindful of for post-workout skin care? Here's the running list of what you should keep in mind:
When it comes to water temp, both extremes are a no-go. Your best bet is to use cool or lukewarm water to wash your face, as it won't shock your skin and cause extra redness.
“Using hot water can sensitize the skin, especially if you are still red from your workout. Cool or lukewarm water is best for rinsing. The cooler the temperature the faster the redness will resolve,” Marmur advises.
So while you might want to jump in the hot shower after your sweat session (especially in these frigid winter months), you may want to take the time to wash your face with cool water before a steamy shower.
As for exfoliating post-workout, Marmur views this as a definite no. “Exercise is incredible for the skin turnover and is itself enough of a boost,” she says. So, there’s no need to exfoliate or scrub the skin further, as forceful scrubbing could cause irritation and even more redness.
The one exception, however, is with pre-medicated wipes containing salicylic or glycol acid. These agents are fantastic gentle exfoliants, according to Barr, that help remove any residual makeup that could be clogging pores after your sweat session. Tossing a few of these gly-pads into your gym bag can be a great asset, if your skin can tolerate it of course. As always, consult with your dermatologist first to see if your skin could benefit from these wipes.
As far as masking goes, feel free to get a little more creative. After using a gentle cleanser (or rinsing with water, depending on your oil level and residual makeup), you can use a hydrating mask that will “soothe, plump, rejuvenate, and calm any redness,” says Marmur.
“A self-care mask and exercise is the best gift!” she adds. See? Derms support those treat-yourself-moments, too—just make sure the mask you're using is calming and moisturizing, not exfoliating.
The bottom line
Although you might be wanting to do the *most* on a self-care Sunday, when it comes to post-workout skin care, less truly is more. Skip the toners, scrubs, and exfoliators—instead opting for gentle cleansers and hydrating formulas. A case for a minimalist skin care routine, if we ever heard one.
As always, skin care isn't exclusive to just the face. Barr's final note is to pay attention to the neck and décolletage as well, as these areas also require some post-workout love. "The back of your neck, chest, and back are also vulnerable to clogged pores post-workout. Make sure to cleanse these areas too," she advises.
And there you have it—a guide to washing your face after you sweat, depending on your oil level and workout habits. With these tips, your "post-yoga glow" will last way longer than when you leave the studio. Happy cleansing!
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.