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Acne in Runners: Causes & Prevention

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an in-depth review of the causes and solutions for acne in runners. Acne in Runners: Causes & Prevention www.runnerclick.com

Running is good for so many things like improving strength and endurance, lowering your risk of disease, and relieving stress. There are some downsides to running that must be considered, though, such as increasing injury risk and too much exposure to the sun. Those of you who run competitively or because you absolutely love it, are most likely not going to give it up because of these few issues. Instead, runners should practice habits that will help keep their bodies free from injuries by incorporating cross-training and rest. As far as skincare goes, runners should also be responsible for habits such as decreasing the amount of sun exposure and using sunscreen every day.

Many of us have grown up dealing with the issue of acne that unfortunately is not a good friend of running. The constant struggle of finding skincare products that work for you or figuring out what is actually causing your acne is nothing but misery! Whether you are dealing with acne as a teenager or an adult, running and controlling the breakouts is possible—you just have to develop good habits before, during, and after your runs.


Although running improves circulation, which can generally make acne better, there are many other circumstances that get in the way of this benefit. Women who run high mileage that disrupts their menstrual period, causing amenorrhea, may end up developing acne even if they have never had it before. This is due to a shift in the hormones in the body, with a production of higher levels of testosterone and less estrogen.

The most obvious cause of acne, especially in other areas besides the face such as the chest, back, and arms, is bacteria. Sweat creates an ideal environment for bacteria to thrive. When you wait too long to shower after a run, and just sit around in your damp clothes, the mixture of the sweat with your gear will eventually clog pores. The friction caused by sweat and clothes produces excess oil which traps already present bacteria, causing acne. This process of friction and pore-clogging bacteria causes hair follicles to become infected, presenting itself as small red bumps.

What does not cause acne directly is sweat itself. Many people believe that simply sweating will cause breakouts, but sweat is actually a normal process of the body in order to keep us cool. Sweat must be mixed with another acne-causing source such as oil or makeup in order to actually clog pores and trap bacteria. The myth that sweat causes pimples is wrong and should never stop you from exercising!


The first step in controlling your acne as a runner is to determine why you are breaking out in the first place. Was the acne the same before you started running? Or did it get worse during your training? This is important because many different issues in the general population can cause acne and yours may not be running-related at all. Once you figure this out, then evaluate the skincare routine you practice on a daily basis. The products you use (including makeup) and the clothes you wear can all contribute to breakouts.

It is important to dress with the proper materials if you are acne-prone. Moisture-wicking fabrics are ideal as they will keep your skin as dry as possible so as to avoid clogging pores. Although it is not proven than immediate showers after exercise makes a difference in the development of acne, it is a good idea to get your skin clean soon after. If you cannot take a shower right after your run, try cleansing wipes and then change into dry clothes.

The goal of reducing the risk of breakouts is to avoid clogging pores, to begin with. As explained the mix of sweat, skin oils, and friction from damp clothes contributes to breakouts, so adding in makeup or another pore-clogging product is not a good idea. The only product that should be worn on the skin prior to heading outside for a run is sunscreen and there are many brands out there that are non-comedogenic—meaning they do not clog your pores. If you must wear makeup, make sure it is non-comedogenic as well and use as little as possible. There are great acne products on the market for pre and post-run application to decrease the risk of pimples such as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide sprays.

For those who suffer from acne issues, it is extremely important to continue using sunscreen. Sun damage only makes the skin even more sensitive and frail, therefore making it easier for pores to clog and bacteria to latch on. Another reason protecting your skin from sun damage besides the obvious concern of preventing skin cancer is to avoid developing scars from present pimples. It is ideal to wear a hat with a large bill to cover as much of your face as possible during your run. These simple and effective strategies should help keep acne and other breakouts more controlled so you are able to have a worry-free running experience!


  1. John Kraft, MD and Anatoli Freiman, MD, Management of Acne, Journal

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