The benefits of running seem to be endless: It can cut your risk of cardiovascular disease, tone your body, help you slim down, boost your mood…should we go on? But have you ever returned from a sweaty, heart-thumping workout and wondered: What’s happening to my face while I’m working on my fitness? What effects does hitting the pavement have on my collagen, elastin, capillaries, and crow’s-feet? We asked the experts for answers.
That red-in-the-face look is a normal part of exercise.
We all want that sexy postrun glow (here’s what to keep in your gym bag), but let’s be honest: Sometimes we look more red and blotchy than cute and dewy. That’s normal and not a bit harmful, says Marc Glashofer, a skin-cancer surgeon in New Jersey. When you run, your blood vessels dilate to release heat, which results in red skin.
For the most part, the red effect chills out as you cool down.
One caveat: Dilated blood vessels can worsen chronic skin conditions like rosacea, says Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, a dermatologist in New York City. This isn’t to say that people with rosacea need to skip running altogether. Just keep a cold cloth by the treadmill to cool down, she suggests. If you’re running outside, a splash from a water bottle works just as well.
In general, working out keeps chronic skin conditions at bay.
It’s no secret that cardio calms us the heck down. Exercise decreases the level of the stress hormone cortisol, which can be beneficial for chronic skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and acne, Kanchanapoomi Levin says. Just skip wearing the one-size-too-small fitness clothes. Supersnug outfits can worsen preexisting skin conditions, she adds.
A long jog equals a free spa treatment…kind of.
A five-mile loop could just replace your next spa treatment—sort of. “Increasing your circulation with cardio delivers a greater amount of oxygen and nutrients to your skin, which helps repair it and increase collagen production,” says Kanchanapoomi Levin. Plus, enhanced blood flow helps skin cells regenerate, she adds—meaning cycling could actually be anti-aging. Shoot for cardio at 40 to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate, three to five times a week, she suggests.
Overdoing it might piss off your skin.
Some research shows that strenuous activity can worsen the health of your skin by causing more free-radical damage, which can age you, says Kanchanapoomi Levin. According to 2008 research findings published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine , superintense exercise can lead to detrimental effects on the skin if you’ve been working out near your maximum heart rate for extended periods of time (this is not including HIIT). Also, as your body produces extra free radicals, it also produces more of the counteracting antioxidant enzymes. “Regular and frequent exercise, coupled with a healthy diet loaded with greens and antioxidants, should be enough for a healthy person to fight off the excess free-radical production from exercise,” says Levin.
There may be a little something to that whole “sweating out toxins” thing.
Anyone who’s ever logged a sweaty run can tell you that (most of the time) it beats a glass of rosé on the couch. And according to the experts, it’s as good for your skin as it is for your psyche. “Enhanced blood flow can help skin cells regenerate and remove toxins more efficiently,” says Kanchanapoomi Levin.
But wait, won’t sweat make me break out?
First off, sweat is sterile, says Glashofer. “We need to sweat for thermoregulation—it cools us down,” he says. For the most part, our skin is totally OK when we sweat. (Exercise-induced urticaria is a rare condition in whiich you can break out in hives from an allergy to your own sweat.) Def don’t sport sweatproof makeup, either.
Also, sweat isn’t usually going to cause a huge breakout.
What’s more likely to give you pimples: sitting around in damp workout clothes. Sweat creates a warm, moist environment, says Levin. “Lingering sweat and dirt can clog pores, and oftentimes in my patients who work out regularly, I see a worsening of acne on the chest, back, or the forehead,” she says. It’s called acne mechanica, and friction between your skin and workout gear stimulates the production of excess oil, which in turn clogs your pores.
Sidestep the issue by washing your makeup off prerun and rinsing off afterward.
Acne-prone? A salicylic acid spray or cleanser or a benzoyl peroxide lotion after workouts can help, says Levin. Also, always look for breathable gear.
Hitting the pavement can up your risk of skin cancer.
Twenty-minute jogs here and two-hour half-marathons there add up. That’s part of the reason dermatologists might see outdoor athletes at a younger age, says Glashofer. While any kind of activity that puts you outdoors can raise your risk of skin cancer, some runners tend to skip sunblock to avoid the discomfort of it dripping into their eyes, Glashofer says. (It’s also easy to space on the fact that you need it.)
You should apply sunscreen before you head outside. Pick up a water-resistant broad-spectrum product and reapply every 80 minutes, suggests Kanchanapoomi Levin. Physical blockers like zinc oxide won’t sting like chemical versions when used as sunscreens. And also, don’t forget your lips! A few faves: Elta UV Lip Balm Broad-spectrum SPF 31, Aeon Skin ProSport Non-Drip Sunscreen SPF 50+, and Neutrogena Sport Cool Dry.
Article originally featured on Allure.com