A dermatologist’s guide to runner’s acne

Can running give you spots?

In a word, yes. Sweat-induced acne is usually the main culprit for runner’s skin problems, cause by clogged pores as you clock up the miles.

Spots occur when sweat mixes with oil, dead skin cells and bacteria, leaving your pores blocked. According to research by the British Skin Foundation, 28% of us will suffer from acne at some stage of our lives, but could it be your running regime that’s adding to your skin struggles?

To find out more, we spoke to Dr Daniel Glass from The Dermatology Clinic London on Harley Street. Glass shares his top four reasons on why your running habits, combined with poor skin habits, could be giving you spots:


1. You’re not removing your make-up

Before going for a run, ensure you remove your makeup beforehand, as acne can often be caused by blocked follicles and bacteria found in your sweat.

As you exercise and your body temperature rises and your heart rate increases causing your pores and sweat glands to open up, helping to cool your body down. Makeup forms a barrier on your skin covering your pores, and when running, your makeup mixes with oil and perspiration, which congests your skin and prevents those pores from being able to release sweat. Therefore, wearing a full face of makeup when running can block your pores and glands, hindering your skin’s ability to breathe, which in turn can result in breakouts, blackheads and skin irritation.

If you really don’t want to be seen without make-up I would recommend opting for a water-based product that’s light and can be easily absorbed into the skin. Something like a tinted moisturiser, BB or CC cream would be your best option, however the ultimate way to avoid clogging up your pores is to remove all make-up and work out with a fresh, bare face.


2. You're not wearing the right clothing 

Tight running gear that occludes the pores and prevents sebum and sweat from escaping can also contribute to nasty outbreaks. Acne is more prevalent on areas of skin that are obstructed by constricting clothing, such as bra straps, waistbands or under headbands or devices such as watches or heart rate monitors.

The most effective form of treatment consists of removing the cause of the issue. As such, devices or objects in contact with the affected skin should be removed as soon as you have finished using them and should be cleaned after use. Where possible, avoid wearing clothing which rubs against your skin whilst running and ensure you shower or bath straight after exercising and change into clean clothing.

The choice of clothing you wear can also help to limit the prevalence of acne symptoms. For example, wearing breathable, sweat wicking fabrics, such as cotton and linen will help to keep you cooler by absorbing the excess moisture, which in turn reduces sweating.


3. Running outdoors can be fun…but not for your skin

Prolonged sun exposure from running outdoors can also cause skin damage, not to mention the more serious forms of skin cancers. If running outdoors in hot weather, ensure you wear a sun cream which protects you against both UVA and UVB. If possible, try and opt for an oil-free sunscreen that’s formulated for the face and neck and choose a sunscreen gel (instead of a cream-based lotion) for the rest of your body. It is always best to apply your chosen, broad spectrum sunscreen at least 30 minutes before you go outside and to reapply every 2 or 3 hours throughout the day, and after excessive sweating or swimming. Even if you don’t normally burn easily, regardless of your skin type, applying the correct sunscreen is essential in preventing serious sun damage, which can occur over a lifetime, due to overexposure and lack of protection.

Related: 6 of the best sunscreens for runners 

There are also large number of other skin conditions which can be aggravated by sun exposure, including eczema, psoriasis, acne and some auto immune conditions. These may be induced with extensive exercise, for example after prolonged periods of walking (symptoms are often found in golfers, marathon runners or long‐distance walkers), usually in hot weather. 

If you really want to exercise outside, you should try and avoid the hottest part of the day and go for a run in the early morning or evening.


4. Gym equipment can be nasty

When you’re cross-training in the gym, be aware that gym equipment from exercise mats, to running machines, are all teaming with a host of nasty bacteria and infectious germs. With so many people using the same equipment on a regular basis and not giving enough attention to disinfecting or wiping down after use, these germs and bacteria are easily spread. These infections mixed with clogged pores and excess sweating is one of the main contributors to athlete’s acne and a range of other nasty skin infections. To ensure these germs are not spread across acne prone regions, try to avoid touching your face with your hands when working out and clean down any surfaces with disinfectant after you finish your workout.

It is important to remember that exercise significantly helps to reduce stress levels and release endorphins, and as such can have a positive effect on your skin. Those suffering from exercise induced skin problems should not give up exercising, but should take preventative treatments to avoid future flare ups.

If you’ve noticed a significant change in your skin since increasing your exercise and you are concerned about what you see, be sure to seek the professional help of an expert dermatologist.