The last installment in our Debunking Common Acne Myths series focuses on whether sweat causes acne. It’s a big misnomer, and one that has tons of information written about it — much of it incorrect.
So what’s the truth? Does sweat cause acne? Does working out make you more prone to breakouts? What’s the right pre- and post-workout regimen to ensure breakouts stay away? Read on for all the answers.
Myth: Working out and sweating make me break out.
There’s a ton of contradicting information out there about how sweating is related to acne. Let’s clear all of that up: Sweating does not cause acne. However, sweating can be a contributing factor to breakouts if you aren’t properly washing your skin post-workout.
To understand why it’s inaccurate to claim that sweat causes acne it’s helpful to understand the structure of our skin’s pores and sweat glands. Our skin contains two types of pores (hair follicles and sweat pores) and two types of sweat glands (eccrine and apocrine). Hair follicles contain a sebaceous gland that works to lubricate our skin by producing sebum (that waxy, oily substance). Sweat pores connect to our eccrine sweat glands, are present all over our skin, and are separate from our hair follicles. Apocrine sweat glands, on the other hand, are found on the scalp, in our armpits and near the genitals, and are connected to our hair follicles. Eccrine sweat glands produce the sweat that naturally cools your body, whereas apocrine sweat glands produce a thicker, milkier, smellier type of sweat.
Here’s a visual of these different pores and glands:
So how does all of that relate to acne? For starters, eccrine sweat glands and our sweat pores are separate of our hair follicles, where acne forms. Plus, the type of sweat we secrete from sweat pores is liquid and doesn’t block our pores. If sweat is causing acne it’s because it’s mixing with oil and clogging pores. This type of breakout (called acne mechanica) looks almost rash-like, consists of small, red bumps, and is often a result of material or equipment — such as a hat, helmet, or sweat band — being pressed against the skin for an extended period of time.
Apocrine sweat glands do secrete through certain hair follicles, and are capable of blocking our pores, but this condition is referred to as folliculitis, not acne.
The best way to ensure you aren’t breaking out after you sweat is to wear workout clothes in fabrics that absorb sweat from the skin. Ensure you’re washing your body (and face!) thoroughly post-workout, but avoid scrubbing too hard — that can irritate your skin.
Learn the answers to other common acne questions:
Does eating oily foods make you break out?
Will having dirty skin cause pimples?
Does washing your face several times a day clear up breakouts?
Is having oily skin a bad thing? Is all sebum bad for our complexion?
Do common household products clear up acne?
Is it true that spending time in the sun will clear up my zits?
Does working out and heavy sweating cause breakouts?