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.
People 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.
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 . In addition to providing oxygen, blood flow also helps carry away waste products and toxins, 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. By increasing blood flow, a bout of exercise helps flush cellular debris out of the system – it is cleansing your skin from the inside.
Exercise has also been shown to ease stress. By decreasing stress, some conditions that can be exacerbated by stress can show some improvement. 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. Sunburns increase skin cancer risk and can rapidly age the skin, erasing any benefits your skin might get from exercise. The key is to make sure you have optimal levels of vitamin D in your system. I you exercise in the winter outside in the northern hemisphere, then you won’t receive enough of the UVB rays to produce vitamin D, so put on the sunscreen otherwise the UBA rays, which cause cancer and age the skin will still make it through. In the summer though, put sunscreen on your face, but let your skin absorb the beneficial UVB rays on your legs, arms, and torso.
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. After athletes sweat, it takes 40% less UVA rays to burn than when they are not sweating.
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. 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. 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. 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.
Eczema or psoriasis sufferers can also experience flare-ups after strenuous activity, usually caused by salt from perspiration. Apply 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 and psoriasis.
Physical activity can definitely pose a challenge, but in the long run it will pay off with a toned, better looking body, and more radiant skin.