Uh, Why Does My Face Feel Itchy When I Work Out? Derms Have The Answer
Please tell me I'm not the only one whose face feels itchy during exercise. It doesn't happen every time I don the workout gear—during a light stretch or quick round of Pilates, I tend to get off scot-free—but whenever I exercise hard enough to produce beads of sweat, a prickly sensation sprouts. It's not too severe (no hives or intense stinging), but it's definitely noticeable. And, well, it's annoying!
If you, too, are wondering why your face tingles while you sweat, you've come to the right place. Below, dermatologists explain what exactly causes the workout woe and what you can do to keep the itch at bay.
Why some people feel itchy while working out.
There are a few culprits, here. First up: When you exercise, your heart pumps more blood to your hardworking muscles. This momentum then causes your capillaries to expand, and as they do so, they stimulate the surrounding nerve cells in your body—and your brain interprets that signal as an itch. "This is a more likely scenario for the body versus the face," says board-certified dermatologist Deanne Mraz Robinson, M.D., FAAD, co-founder of Modern Dermatology and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale New Haven Hospital (since your larger muscle groups are powering the hardest, and thus require more blood flow. "But the same science applies."
Or, if you're prone to flushing while working out, itch can certainly follow. "Exercise leads to dilation of your blood vessels to enhance circulation to your skin and muscles," says board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D. This is generally a good thing—after all, it's increased circulation that delivers nutrients to the cells and lends the beloved "post-workout glow." But for some people (especially those with fair to medium skin tones, sensitive skin, or conditions like rosacea), it can lead to inflammation, which can result in flushing, bumps, and, yes, itching.
In some cases, that prickly sensation can also represent a type of heat rash, called miliaria rubra. "This is a condition where there are blockages within the sweat glands, leading to tiny, red bumps and a prickly or itchy feeling," says Zeichner. "This develops when sweat is trapped in the glands because of issues like nonbreathable, wet workout clothing sticking to the skin." It's also much more common in hot, humid weather—say, if you're jogging outside midday in the throes of summer.
And, finally, people can just react to their own sweat. While sweat can effectively clear pores, some individuals may be hypersensitive to its contents. "Moisture, heat, and sweat can all cause irritation of the skin," says Mraz Robinson. Simple as that.
What can you do about it?
If you're dealing with heat rash or think something you're wearing may be irritating you, Mraz Robinson recommends investing in moisture-wicking materials (and don't forget to peel off your sweaty clothes immediately post-sweat, if you can) and making sure you have a clean, makeup-free face before hitting the pavement. "Try a barrier ointment in specific areas where friction may be the cause," she adds. "For example, the bra-strap lines, groin, or behind your knees."
But if you're experiencing run-of-the-mill flushing or itching from increased blood flow? Sorry to say, there's not really much you can do to prevent the tingling. "While unpleasant, it is not dangerous," assures Mraz Robinson. Just try not to overheat while working out, endure the prickly feeling should it arrive (read: Don't scratch!), and do your best to soothe it after the fact. It should naturally go away on its own once your body cools down.
Of course, if you're facing more than an unpleasant prickle (like hives or a severe rash), you should definitely consult a dermatologist to make sure you don't have any underlying conditions or allergies to consider.
If your face or body itches while you work out, it's likely nothing to sound the alarm over; in most cases, your skin may simply react to sweat, heat, and increased blood flow. Annoying, sure, but probably not so serious—if you're at all worried, though, you can always discuss the gripe with your derm.
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