Prevent and Treat Acne After Working Out

Acne-Free Tips for Athletes and Fitness Buffs

Do you notice your skin looks worse during sports season? Or flares up when you start working out? It's probably not your imagination. The mix of sweat, heat, and friction from tight-fitting workout clothes or sports gear, and you've got the perfect recipe for acne.

You don't have to give up your favorite sport or stop working out. With just a bit more care, you can get those breakouts under control and keep flare-ups to a minimum.

Man and woman jogging - prevent acne when working out
Kevin Kozicki / Getty Images

Shower ASAP

The most important thing you can do to fight post-workout acne breakouts is to get in the shower as soon as possible to wash away all the sweat and grime from your skin. Although these things don't cause acne all on their own, they can trigger a flare-up in those prone to acne. Sweat definitely can make existing acne worse.

Use facial cleansers and body washes that contain either salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. You can get these at your local drug store or big box stores like Walmart or Target. Check the active ingredients.


Can't Shower Right Away? Use Cleansing Cloths

If it's just not possible to shower immediately, those premoistened cleansing cloths are a good alternative. You don't need soap, water, or a sink to use them. Pull them straight from the package and you're ready to wipe away sweat and dirt from your skin.

Facial cleansing cloths are great for the face and neck. They're a bit small for wiping down larger areas like the chest and back, but if you use a couple you can get the job done. There are also larger wipes meant specifically for cleansing the body sans soap and water. If you can't find them locally you can order them online.

Both types of cleansing cloths come in small, thin packages that are easy to stick into your athletic bag.

Another option, especially if your skin is super oily, are medicated astringent pads like Oxy or Clearasil. Again, the small size of these pads makes them a bit impractical for using over the entire body, but if your breakouts tend to be concentrated on the face these might work for you. You could also use them in targeted body areas that are prone to breakouts, like the shoulders, chest, or butt.

Either way, these products aren't a perfect substitute for a shower. But until you have the opportunity to soap up, premoistened wipes are a good option.


Keep Your Clothes and Gear Clean

Be honest, do you wear your workout clothes again without laundering them? If you do, stop. The dried sweat can be irritating to the skin.

For all of you football players, wrestlers, or any athlete who uses helmets, pads, hats, etc.: While you obviously can't stop wearing your helmet, pads, and such, you can at least make sure those items are as clean as possible. Wipe down any piece of equipment that comes in contact with your skin, every time after they're worn. 

For things like chinstraps and the inside of helmets, you may want to use alcohol pads each time to get them extra super clean.

To be clear, dirt doesn't cause acne. But the sweat, grime, coupled with the pressure from your gear against your skin, can definitely irritate the follicles and trigger a breakout.


Use Your Regular Acne Treatments Every Day, No Exceptions

Probably the most important thing you can do to keep your skin as clear as possible—use your acne treatments every single day without fail. 

This can actually be harder than it sounds. Life gets busy. You may be so tired at night you'd rather just fall into bed! 

But consistency is key in getting acne under control, so it's super important that you not skip your treatments, whether they are over-the-counter acne products or prescription acne treatments.


Get Help From a Dermatologist

If your acne gets considerably worse whenever you work out regularly, or you just can't keep breakouts under control, the best thing you can do is see a dermatologist. Your dermatologist can prescribe products that are stronger than you can buy over the counter, and can give you plenty of good skincare advice.

Already under a doctor's care? Tell him if your regular treatment routine isn't working. You may need additional treatment or a switch to a different medication.

A Word from Verywell

Working out can trigger a breakout and make acne worse, especially back and body acne.

Surprisingly, those pimples may not be true acne vulgaris, but rather acne mechanica, or even folliculitis. Luckily, all of these can be controlled with the tips above. But if your breakouts are severe, painful, widespread, or you just need help getting them cleared, give your physician a call.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.