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Working out? Here’s how to maintain flawless skin

Should I wash my face before or after working out?

man running on beach, wide shot of his bacl
Leandro Boogalu / Pexels

In not-so-breaking news, physical activity can do the body good. There’s seemingly endless research on how logging a good sweat session—or even a brisk walk—can improve numerous bodily functions, including the health of our organs like the lungs and heart. Yet, sweat, debris, bacteria, and even the sun exposure we get while breaking a sweat can have some not-so-great effects on our largest organ: the skin.

Does that mean you should throw in the towel and ditch your workout routine? No, but you may want to use a towel during a pre and post-workout skincare regimen. While you likely know all about the need to stretch before and after exercising to warm up and cool down muscles, what you do regarding skincare before or after workout sessions can make a big difference.

You likely have questions like, “Should I wash my face after working out?” and “What types of products do I need?” Consider these tips your guide for keeping the post-workout glow alive (but nixing breakout odds).

Should I wash my face after working out?

closeup of man with wet face standing by water
Christopher Campbell / Unssplash

If you’re more of a glistener than a heavy sweater, you may want to keep that sun-kissed look (even if you hit the indoor treadmill rather than the road). However, sweat is a breeding ground for bacteria. Moreover, sweat can mix with dirt, debris, and oil — all or some of which you were likely exposed to during your activity — and up your odds of unwanted breakouts.

Like stretching post-workout, your skin needs a cool-down because heat can become a hurdle for restoration and recovery. Washing your face with this coveted cooling effect on the skin. (Try a cooling mask for added cooling and just plain bliss.)

Ideally, you’ll also apply mild soap or a gentle cleanser to

Tips to improve skincare before or after workout sessions

man getting out of pool with orange swim bottoms on
John Fornander / Unsplash

Washing your face post-workout is a significant step toward improving your complexion. However, a holistic approach is best. These tips will keep you looking and feeling your best from the moment you lace up your sneakers and beyond.

Wash your face

While not as important as a post-workout rinse, give your face a once-over with a washcloth prior to exercising. This step can help wash away any debris. You’ll want to rinse your face pre-exercise if you have any makeup on, as that can mix with sweat, clog pores, and lead to pimples.

Practice safe sun

While the idea of putting on sunscreen before sweating outdoors may sound somewhat slimy, you can’t outpace UV rays (even if you PR). Apply a broad-spectrum SPF of at least 30 for the most comprehensive protection from the sun’s UVA and UVB rays, which can lead to unsightly sunburn in the short term and premature aging (hi, wrinkles) and skin cancer in the long term. Since you’ll be sweating, a water-resistant sunscreen is best (and you’ll need to re-apply post-workout).

Additionally, sunglasses, a cap or hat, and UPF clothing can provide added layers of protection.

Gym-proof your skincare routine

If you’re at the gym, be sure to wash the equipment with a towel or wet one. Doing so can rinse oil, debris, and bacteria – none of which jive with the skin. (Be sure to return the favor post-workout.)

Don’t forget the feet, which carry you from point A to point B every season and are more visible during sandal season. Be sure to don a pair of sneakers or water shoes in the locker room, showers, and pool, which can help you ward off uncomfortable and not-so-great-looking issues like warts, fungal infections, and cracked skin.

Wash hands and the body

The gym equipment and your face are not all you’ll want to wipe off — and you should take this step even if your workout is outdoors. Before getting on with life, ensure your hands and body are clean. For the face, basics (soap and warm water for 30 seconds) should rinse off bacteria, sweat, and debris, making touching your face a bit safer. For the body, use body wash in the shower (when you wash your face).

Change your clothes

Sure, your workout gear is stylish as all get out—perhaps your clothes don’t even stink because you did a low-impact workout. Changing them is still your best bet, especially since bacteria thrive in a moist environment (yes, even “glisten” is moisture). Clean, dry clothes are your best bet for avoiding all of that, plus irritation and redness.

Summary

Joseph Greve / Unsplash

Warming up and cooling down the muscles through stretching and walking is essential. However, skincare before or after your workout routine can also help you prevent irritation, redness, breakouts, and infections, ensuring your post-workout glow stays intact long after your sweat session. Be sure you wash your face after a workout and before if you have makeup on. A gentle cleanser and cool water should do the trick. Washing the body is also essential. Sunscreen and protective clothing can help you avoid sunscreen and risks of premature aging and skin cancer. Wipe down gym equipment before and after your workout and change into clean, dry clothes. Working out is excellent for the mind and body. Making sure you protect your skin while you’re at it can make the experience a better one.

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BethAnn Mayer
Beth Ann's work has appeared on healthline.com and parents.com. In her spare time, you can find her running (either marathons…
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