7 Steps to Prevent Gym Acne

7 Steps to Prevent Gym Acne
by Samantha

A lot of people are discouraged from participating in sport, either because they fear being judged for their acne, or because they fear that sweating it out will make their acne worse. Since many people report experiencing gym acne upon starting a new fitness routine, is it true that going to the gym can make your acne worse?

I admit that I noticed an increase in both body “acne” and facial acne once I started hitting the gym. Was being physically active somehow making my acne worse, or was I losing my mind? A study done in 2005 showed that being physically active didn’t increase body/back acne, but could this be applied to facial acne, as well? And was this study really all-encompassing?

Turns out, there are other ways we can get gym acne and some of it might not even be acne!

Could your protein powder be causing your gym acne?

Protein powder is a quick and easy way to make sure you’re getting enough protein to meet your fitness goals, but not every protein powder is the same, especially when it comes to acne.

If you’re using acne-prone and want to use protein powder, it’s best to choose a non-whey option. One study showed that the use of whey powder protein-calorie supplements can result in the onset of acne, particularly in women and people with no current acne or prior family history of acne. Another found that whey protein supplements resulted in body acne in men. Instead, pick a plant-based protein powder such as soy, rice and pea protein, to prevent this type of gym acne from developing.

Gym acne: is it acne mechanica?

This type of acne generally develops in people who wear helmets or straps during sport, or anything that rubs against the skin and prevents breathability. So if you’re taking any taekwondo classes, or if you’re just wearing really tight, non-breathable fabrics, acne mechanica could be the cause of your gym acne.


When I was in the women’s only section of my old gym, mostly everyone was courteous enough to wipe down their equipment after use. Now that I’m going to a unisex low-cost gym, it’s hard not to notice all the sweaty, bulging gym-goers who don’t wipe their equipment down after sweltering all over it (barf).

Gyms are warm public places full of moisture in the air, where people often sweat and also practice poor hygienic habits. When you think about it, gyms are pretty dirty places, which means they’re a potential breeding ground for germs that can cause all kinds of skin issues. Take, for instance, staph infections and tinea fungus which, if on the face, could easily be mistaken for a variation of acne.

The bottom line is, there’s a lot of icky stuff you can pick up at the gym, and a few ways that doing your daily workout could result in a worsening or onset of gym acne. Thankfully, there’s some preventative steps we can take to ensure that doesn’t happen!

Prevent gym acne with these simple steps

1- Don’t workout with makeup on! Just don’t do it! Otherwise that makeup is just going to get clogged up in your pores with your sweat, dead skin cells and bacteria. Don’t worry about people judging your bare skin – you’re there to get your sweat on, not win a beauty contest.

2- Tie your hair back. Having your hair rubbing up against your skin can create friction, and transfer bacteria or hair care products onto the skin where it can clog pores and irritate. You may even want to consider wearing a headband, if you’re especially prone to sweat dripping down your face.

3- Bring a towel or clean cloth from home to pat away sweat rather than using your shirt or hands which are frequently in contact with germs. It never fails that when I touch my skin a lot in the gym, I end up with pimples. Hands off!

4- Wipe down your machines, equipment and mats with an antibacterial spray or wipe before and after use. Nobody wants to sit down in a puddle of your germ-y sweat, and I’m sure you don’t want to sit in someone else’s, either. Most gyms offer an antibacterial spray of some kind that you can use. Try to focus on the places your hands and skin will come into contact with the most (handles, back rest).

5- Wear loose-fitting (but not so loose that it interferes with your workout!), moisture-wicking clothes. Most fitness apparel is designed to be moisture-wicking and breathable, so just check the labels!

6- Wash your hands after you’re done at the gym, or use antibacterial sanitizer if you’re in a pinch. Just in case there’s any germs lingering on your hands after you’re done, you don’t want to risk carrying them around with you.

7- Wash yourself as soon as you can after a workout, including your face and body. You don’t want to be lingering around in your dirty, sweaty gym clothes for longer than you have to. If you can’t shower right away, wipe your acne-prone areas down with a gentle cleansing wipe. If you don’t wash your hair every time, try to remember to at least wash along your hairline to prevent pimples. I found that the addition of a sulfur soap really amped up my routine.


I hope at this point you’re not put off from going to the gym. While there are ways that we can develop gym acne, it’s pretty easy to avoid with a good routine. Plus, there are so many health benefits you’d be missing out on which could improve your skin – drastically!

One study found that human sweat contains antimicrobial proteins which may help our skin stave off fungal and bacterial infections, so sweating it up at the gym may help to keep your skin clear from acne!

Another study found that people over the age of 40 who exercise regularly had healthier skin, comparable to that of 20 and 30 year olds! Now that’s cool news.

Although it has been claimed that exercise, especially vigorous exercise, can affect sex hormones (namely androgens) which can result in acne, the effects would only be short-lived and are therefore negligible. For example, even known contributors to acne, such as IGF-1 and testosterone, are only temporarily increased during weight training, and levels quickly return back to normal. On the other hand, other hormones that we know are affected in a good gym sesh could actually help by reducing your stress and improving your sleep, such as cortisol, serotonin and dopamine. In fact, physical activity has been shown to improve mood by relieving tension and anxiety, which may also help with your stress-related acne.

With all of this in mind, if you have developed a persistent rash since going to the gym, it’s important to see your doctor for a diagnosis.

I hope that you won’t let any of these factors deter you from exercising! It’s benefits for your long-term health are invaluable and your skin will thank you!



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