Skin Deep

Protect your skin when you go to the gym

You hit the gym to improve the health and appearance of your body, but you might be inadvertently sending your skin into a tailspin. It’s no secret that showering after your workout is the number-one way to prevent body breakouts, but these tips can help you achieve and maintain a glowing, radiant complexion long after you head home.

Proper prep

Not only does full-on foundation look silly when you’re working out, body heat causes pores to dilate and prompts your skin to produce extra oil. With makeup in the mix, you have a recipe for acne. Wash your face with a salicylic acid cleanser before you work out to clear pores of makeup and debris that can cause acne when combined with sweat and bacteria. If possible, do not wear foundation or color cosmetics when you exercise. And always wash your face again after exercising.

If going for a run or doing any physical activity outdoors, don’t forget the sunscreen. You don’t need extra moisturizer because your sunscreen and natural oils produced during exercise will hydrate your skin. If you are in a very dry or cold climate or will be subjected to cold wind, you should apply moisturizer over or under your sunscreen. Moisturizer can create a barrier that protects your skin from the potentially irritating salt in your perspiration and can protect your skin from the cold air. If you are in very harsh conditions such as skiing in very cold weather, applying a layer of safflower oil, argan oil, or Aquaphor over your skin will protect it.

If you have rosacea, apply an anti-inflammatory mist followed by a moisturizer. Vichy’s thermal water mist can help alleviate redness thanks to its anti-inflammatory selenium. SkinMedica Redness Relief CalmPlex is a good choice layered over the Vichy thermal water prior to exercise.

Post-workout skincare

If your sensitive skin gets red (rosacea) and irritated after exercising, wash with an anti-inflammatory cleanser immediately after working out. (I like La Roche-Posay’s Rosaliac Cleanser.) You can also use SkinMedica Redness Relief CalmPlex or a cream that contains caffeine such as Replenix Power of 3 to help blood vessels constrict to counteract the flushing. If you have dry skin, argan oil is a wonderful antioxidant-rich post-workout moisturizer (but don’t use it before the gym as it can clog pores).

Ingredients to avoid

Although some skin types can benefit from moisturizer before exercising, there are certain ingredients to avoid, since they can lead to stinging and irritation, especially when you break a sweat. Glycolic acid, retinoids and vitamin C are the main offenders, and you should save these for nighttime or days you skip the gym so your skin can reap the maximum benefits. Avoid hair conditioners with isopropyl myristate because sweat can make the hair product drip on your skin and this ingredient is well known to cause acne.

Avoiding infection

Foot fungus, herpes and warts are often transmitted in gyms. Washing your hands and body with GCP Skincare Cleanser prior to exercise and after exercise will help protect it from these infections. Wear flip flops in the gym shower to decrease your risk of getting plantar warts and foot fungus.


Remove sweaty clothing as soon as you can. Wearing dry-fit and lightweight cotton will help prevent heat rash. If you get a rash from your sports bra or underwear, it can be due to the elastic band that becomes allergenic after multiple washings. Throw old sports bras and underwear away because newer pairs will not cause this irritation.

Exercise is good for body—and your skin on many levels. Simply following these precautions can help prevent skin problems, so you can look and feel your best!

Dr. Leslie Baumann is a board-certified dermatologist, New York Times best-selling author and CEO of Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute in Miami.