It's hardly news that exercise is great for your heart, lungs, and
mental outlook. Here's another reason to get moving: Regular exercise
is one of the keys to healthy skin.
"We tend to focus on the cardiovascular benefits of physical activity,
and those are important. But anything that promotes healthy circulation
also helps keep your skin healthy and vibrant," says dermatologist
Ellen Marmur, MD, author of
Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman's Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin and associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
If you have dermatological conditions such as acne, rosacea, or psoriasis,
you may need to take special care to keep your skin protected while exercising.
But don't let skin problems prevent you from being active. Here's why.
By increasing blood flow, exercise helps nourish skin cells and keep them
vital. " Blood carries oxygen and nutrients to working cells throughout
the body, including the skin," says Marmur. In addition to providing
oxygen, blood flow also helps carry away waste products, including free
radicals, from working cells. Contrary to some claims, exercise doesn't
detoxify the skin. The job of neutralizing toxins belongs mostly to the
liver. "But by increasing blood flow, a bout of exercise helps flush
cellular debris out of the system," Marmur tells WebMD. "You
can think of it as cleansing your skin from the inside."
Exercise has also been shown to ease stress. "And by decreasing stress,
some conditions that can be exacerbated by stress can show some improvement,"
says Brian B. Adams, MD, associate professor and director of the Sports
Dermatology Clinic at the University of Cincinnati. Conditions that can
improve when stress is reduced include acne and eczema. Although researchers
are still investigating the link between stress and skin, studies show
that the sebaceous glands, which produce oil in the skin, are influenced
by stress hormones.
Regular exercise helps tone muscles, of course. That doesn't have a
direct affect on skin, dermatologists say. But firmer muscles definitely
help you look better overall.
The Healthy Skin Workout
For all its many benefits, however, exercise can pose risks to your skin.
Fortunately, protecting your skin is easy.
"The main danger if you exercise outdoors is sun exposure," says
April Armstrong, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at the University
of California, Davis. Sunburns increase skin cancer risk and rapidly age
the skin, erasing any benefits your skin might get from exercise. The
best advice is to avoid exercising outside during peak sun time, between
10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
If you have to work out during peak sun time, however, wear sunscreen.
"A lot of athletes are reluctant to put on sunscreen because it gets
into their eyes when they sweat and stings," says Marmur. "But
new Ph-balanced sunscreens are now available that don't sting."
If you have naturally oily skin or problems with acne, choose a gel or
oil-free product or the latest innovation, powder laced with SPF protection.
Don't count of sunscreen alone to protect you, however. " Sweating
can remove the sunscreen that athletes put on and there is evidence that
sweating actually increases the chance of burning," Adams tells WebMD.
"After athletes sweat, it takes 40% less ultraviolet rays to burn
than when they are not sweating." For added protection, wear clothes
that cover as much skin as possible and a hat to shade your face, if possible.
Another skin problem that can arise during activity is chafing, which can
cause rashes. For people prone to acne, the irritation and increased perspiration
caused by tight-fitting workout clothes may lead to a form of acne aptly
called acne mechanica. "The two keys to prevention are to wear moisture-wicking
clothing, such as bras and hats, to keep skin drier and cooler and to
shower immediately after exercising," says Adams. Wearing loose-fitting
workout clothes can also help. Make sure your skin is clean before you
work out to prevent clogged pores that lead to acne. Avoid wearing makeup
when you exercise. After showering, apply a soothing skin moisturizer
or powder to help prevent skin irritation.
Rx for Exercise-Related Skin Problems
Several other skin conditions can be exacerbated by physical activity,
including rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis. That's no reason not to
exercise, dermatologists say. The benefits of exercise outweigh any temporary
problems it can cause. And there are simple strategies to prevent flare-ups
when you work out.
For rosacea sufferers, increased body temperature and the skin flushing
that accompany exercise can cause flare-ups. The best strategy, dermatologists
say, is to exercise in a cool environment. "One of the best choices
is swimming, since the water keeps skin cool even when you build up body
temperature," Marmur told WebMD. (Be sure to moisturize your skin
afterward, however, since chlorine has a drying effect.) Brisk walking
in an air-conditioned mall or waiting until the cool of the evening to
jog outside are other good options. "If you do get flushed and overheated
while exercising, apply cool compresses to problem areas of the skin immediately
after your workout," says Andrea Cambio, MD, a private practice dermatologist
in Cape Coral, Fla.
Eczema or psoriasis sufferers can also experience flare-ups after strenuous
activity, usually caused by salt from perspiration. Marmur recommends
spreading on a moisturizer before a workout to provide protection from
sweat. Be especially careful to moisturize your arms and legs and areas
with skin creases, such as underarms and groin. If possible, exercise
in a cool environment to reduce perspiration and the need for showering
after exercise. Washing too often can cause dryness and exacerbate eczema
"Physical activity can definitely pose a challenge, but we encourage
all our patients with psoriasis and eczema to exercise to improve their
overall health," says Armstrong. Despite the occasionally temporary
flare-ups, she adds, many patients see their conditions improve in the
Orinigally published on WebMD.com