When Your Workout Makes You Breakout: Does Sweat Cause Acne?

When Your Workout Makes You Breakout

Working out and sweating is great for your body, but it isn’t always the case for your skin.

There are people who experience breakouts after a good session at the gym and if you have the same experience, it’s likely that you’ll also blame exercising and sweating.

The fear of acne and breaking out may even discourage you from going back to your routine exercises.

But, before you sacrifice your dream body for clear skin, take the time to read this article until the end to know if sweat does cause acne.

What Is In Sweat Anyways?

Before we go into how your exercise can lead to acne, let’s talk about sweat.

Sweat is made up of mostly water, but it also contains trace amounts of minerals like sodium, potassium, lactate, and urea.

Lactate, or sodium lactate, is naturally produced on the skin. While it helps minimize bacteria development, exposing your skin to large quantities of lactate can result in irritation.

But don’t worry, your skin can’t produce enough of it to cause negative reactions.

Urea, on the other hand, is mostly dispelled in your urine. Only a small amount of it can be found on the skin.

It works as a moisturizer. In fact, some skin care products contain urea these days.

Aside from this effect, urea can also trigger your sebum production. This is one of the reasons why your skin feels nice and soft after perspiring from an intense workout.

Does Sweat Cause Acne?

Nope. Sweat, by itself, can’t cause acne.

Since sweat is made up of mostly water and trace amounts of other minerals, it’s not irritating to the skin. So there’s really no reason for you to give up your workout routine because of post-exercise acne.

Those annoying red zits that come up after a killer cardio session are, more or less, signs of an unclean workout environment and poor skin hygiene- and NOT from sweat.

Is Sweat Good For My Skin?

If sweat isn’t bad for the skin, could it do you any good? Of course.

In a study approved by Stanford Panel on Human Subjects, physically active males were divided into three groups to research exercise-induced acne.

One group did not exercise. The second group showered within one hour of exercise. The third group had to wait at least four hours to shower after exercise.

Which group do you think had more acne breakouts?

Actually, no group showed any increase or reduction in active acne. This means that sweat had no effect on the acne lesions, for better or for worse.

So, how can sweating help your body?

Sweating is your body’s way of flushing out toxins through your skin. It primarily helps remove urea and ammonia.

As you perspire, it also helps cool you off.

And not only that, sweating and exercise are some of the key ingredients to healthy and vibrant skin. The increased blood flow helps bring oxygen and nutrients to the skin and carries away built-up waste.

As they say: “Out with the old, and in with the new”.

Exercise brings beneficial nutrients to the skin and kicks out cellular waste at a faster pace. While it isn’t exactly aiding in renewing skin cells, it’s helping to detox the skin of free radicals and impurities.

Plus, exercise is one of the best ways to combat stress and anxiety. If you are prone to stress-breakouts, exercising can help minimize built-up stress hormones in your body.

Less stress equals less breakouts!

And not only can exercising do wonders for your skin, it can also help you lose those stubborn body fats.

How Is My Workout Giving Me Acne?

Although sweat doesn’t directly cause acne, the bad news is that there are several ways that your workout routine can make you break out.

Here are some of them:

You leave your makeup on while you exercise

Wearing makeup during your workout is a complete no-go and it’s probably one of the biggest skin care mistakes you can commit. That includes oil-free cosmetics, too.

When you leave your sunscreen and makeup on during your workout, it makes it harder for sweat to come out through your pores. The longer your sweat stays in your pores, the more it attracts bacteria to grow in number.

How to fix this:

To allow your skin to breathe , you can use a cleansing wipe before your yoga class to take off your makeup. Or you can just avoid using any makeup when you know you’re heading to the gym.

You use a dirty towel to wipe away your sweat

Hopefully, you aren’t using the same leftover towel in your gym bag each time you workout. Because if you are, you’re probably not aware that towels are the most germ-infested object you have.

Aside from the favorable environment towels create for bacteria, they can also accumulate tons of dead skin cells and dirt that you can unknowingly transfer to your face. Gross, right?

How to fix this:

Be sure to use a clean towel every time you hit the treadmill. If you’re bringing your own, place it in a plastic bag so that it doesn’t come in contact with the other things in your gym bag.

You should also avoid rubbing your skin with the towel. This will further push sweat and dirt into your pores and cause irritation.

Instead, use a gentle patting motion when removing sweat.

You reuse your gym clothes without washing them

Reusing your dirty gym clothes can cause breakouts, especially if you are prone to chest or back acne.

Aside from wearing a new set each time you go to the gym, you can try wearing gym clothes made from a moisture-wicking material like polyester. This helps to absorb sweat and dirt from your body.

The same goes for your gym bag, which is a haven for acne-causing bacteria. Just think about all the things you put in your bag like dirty clothes, shoes, and towels.

How to fix this:

Wear fresh and clean gym clothes every time and try wearing a moisture-absorbing t-shirt. Clean your gym bag once every two weeks with wipes and use plastic bags to protect your clean clothes as necessary.

You use a dirty yoga mat

A yoga mat is a breeding ground for acne-causing bacteria. They are made specifically to absorb sweat, oil, and bacteria which can get transferred onto your face when you are deep in a pigeon pose.

How to fix this:

Wipe down your mat before or after each use. You can also place a towel over a studio’s mat so that you feel more comfortable (and safe!) sinking into your savasana at the end of your practice.

You touch your face during your workout

If you’re at the gym, think about all the things your hands can get in contact with during the course of your workout- door handle, treadmill, floor, towel, and your dirty hair. The list is pretty endless if you go through them one by one.

Now, imagine all the germs and bacteria from these things getting transferred to your face.

Gross, right?

How to fix this:

Avoid touching your face. If you must wipe something off of it, use the back of your hand or get a clean towel.

You should also avoid letting your hair touch your face. Put your hair up in a secure bun before your workout and wear a headband to keep acne, bacteria and sweat from dripping onto your face.

You don’t wash your face after your workout

Sweating helps flush off toxins through your pores and if you don’t wipe that sweat off, it can harbor thousands of bacteria. Other than that, the combination of sweat, oil and dirt can also clog and irritate your pores.

How to fix this:

Take a shower and wash your face after you’re finished working out. Wash your face with a gentle cleanser to make sure that all acne-causing-bacteria goes down the drain and not into your skin.

If you can’t take a shower right away, you can use cleansing wipes to freshen up your face or grab a clean towel and gently wipe off your sweat.

And these things don’t only apply to workout enthusiasts.

If you know you sweat a lot, particular on hot and humid days, make it a point to wash or at least wipe the sweat off of your face.


There are a lot of reasons why you get breakouts after hitting the gym. But is it sweat that causes your acne?

Apparently, it isn’t.

It’s probably the makeup you wore to the gym. Or the harmful bacteria from your yoga mat, gym clothes, and gym bag that got transferred to your face.

Frankly, there are a lot of acne-culprits lurking in your gym and sweat, by itself, isn’t one of them. However, without proper skin care, sweat can still indirectly make you break out. 

Dr Kathleen May Eusebio-Alpapara

A board-certified dermatologist who practices both medical and cosmetic dermatology

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