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The Surprising Way Exercise Helps With Acne: Dermatologists Explain

Last updated on March 10, 2020

A long, sweaty run probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of breakout solutions. Yes, eliminating certain foods—looking at you, sugar—can certainly help you avoid acne triggers, as can using high-quality skin care products.

But when it comes down to it, breakouts are caused by inflammation. Doing low intensity workouts regularly lowers cortisol levels, therefore lowering inflammation in the body and preventing acne. Here's what you should know about the connection between exercise and acne.

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Exercise often, and find a type of exercise you love.

In your quest for clear skin, your main goal should be reducing inflammation. "Like for any inflammatory disorder, to improve it, you want to be the least inflamed person you can be," says integrative dermatologist Cybele Fishman. "Exercise of all types decreases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, and increase endorphins, which improve mood and reduce perception of pain."

Fishman stresses that finding a form of exercise you love is crucial, not only because loving your workout further boosts your mood but because you'll actually stick with it.

"In Ayurveda, different doshas require different types of exercise to balance the body," she adds. "For someone like me who is vata-dominant, a strong, grounding Vinyasa yoga practice keeps me from going to the dark side. For someone who is kapha-dominant, he or she may benefit from a strong cardio workout like running. But remember, the point is to move your body to be less inflamed."

What to keep in mind if you haven't worked out in a while

Whether you're new to exercise or you just haven't exercised in a while, Dr. Jill Javahery, M.D., says an uptick in exercise can initially cause breakouts.

"While exercising can increase cortisol, people who exercise regularly actually adapt to this," she says. "So it's more common to break out if you're new to exercise. Stick with it, and things will improve naturally."

She adds that once you're in the swing of things, hot yoga is her acne-busting exercise of choice. "Hot yoga has many benefits, including opening up your pores. Think of it as a workout and steaming your face at the same time."

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How to take care of your skin post-workout

Post-workout care is crucial to clear, healthy skin. Javahery suggests showering and replenishing with protein and carbs, while Fishman has more specific instructions.

"Change out of exercise clothing as soon as possible and shower," she says. "Wash your face, and if not possible, I think a skin-cleansing wipe can be great. Simple makes them, and I love the Neals Yard ones."

"Try to clean off makeup before exercise, especially if it contains silicones, which can clog up the pores as you sweat—the silicones create a barrier (which is why makeup glides on after a silicone primer), but I don't use any skin care products with silicones as I feel like my skin can't breathe," she says. "Silicones are great for wound healing because they are occlusive, but that is what I don't like about them for overall skin health. And if you have hair products in your hair that have silicones or mineral oil, put your hair off your face in a bandanna."

There you have it: More exercise means clearer skin. Time to hit the yoga mat!

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