It turns out, exercising can actually help you have healthier skin too. “Working out helps maintain your weight, boost your overall mood and self-esteem and motivates you to eat healthier,” says Dr. Shereene Idriss, founder of Idriss Dermatology in New York City and creator of the #pillowtalkderm series on Instagram. “All of this can and does do wonders for your skin.”
However, how you treat your skin before and after your workout makes a difference. Not cleansing the skin after exercising “can lead to clogged pores, which can lead to inflammation, which can lead to acne and breakouts and, overall, a disrupted skin barrier,” says Idriss.
Sweat is the biggest perpetrator when it comes to post-workout skin concerns. “When you’re working out, the sweat, oil and bacteria can lead to congestion and breakouts if you don’t remove it,” Idriss says. “Additionally, if you’re working out at a gym, you’re also exposed to other people’s sweat and bacteria, so cleansing afterwards is essential to keep your skin healthy, clear and glowing.”
Luckily, adding in a few skin care steps before and after you work out — with products that you probably already use in your morning or nighttime routine — makes pre- and post-exercise skin care easy to add to your gym bag.
Pre-workout skin care routine
Whether you work out in the morning, daytime or evening, you’ll want to start with clean skin.
“It’s always best to start your workout with clean skin and sunscreen if you’re working out in the morning or midday,” celebrity facialist Shani Darden says. The esthetician recommends keeping a gentle cleanser, such as the Cleansing Serum from her own skin care line, in your gym bag for both pre- and post-workout cleansing since it won’t strip the skin of natural oils but will remove sweat and dirt from your workout. For SPF — a must whether you’re working out inside or outdoors — she recommends Supergoop!’s Play Everyday Lotion SPF 50, which is water- and sweat-resistant.
If you’re working out later in the day, Idriss notes that you’ll want to remove any makeup beforehand. “if you’re working out with makeup, that is a huge no-no because not only are you going to be clogging your pores with all of the makeup but you’re also going to be sweating through it, so it’s just going to be the perfect storm for clogs and breakouts,” she says. “Sweat mixing with makeup is obviously much more damaging to your skin, so take off all the makeup.”
If you have access to a locker room or bathroom where you can use a cleanser, go for it; otherwise, makeup-removing wipes will work in a pinch. The Burt’s Bee’s Sensitive Facial Towelettes With Aloe are gentle and nonirritating.
Post-workout skin care routine
“What products you put on your skin after a workout depends on what time of day you work out,” Darden says. “In the morning, follow up with your a.m. routine; if working out at night, follow with your p.m. routine.”
Either way, however, cleansing the skin is key. After working up a sweat, Darden recommends “following up again with a gentle cleanser to remove sweat, dirt and bacteria.”
The ideal choice is to take a shower right after exercising so you can wash the sweat from your whole body, but in instances where that isn’t an option, Darden suggests using micellar water and a cotton pad. At a minimum, Idriss says to wash your face with water “just to make sure that you’re getting rid of any of the residue that built up on your face.”
Once you’ve washed off the sweat, you can carry on with your daytime or nighttime skin care routine. If you go to the gym and don’t have your full lineup of skin care with you, the experts recommend keeping the following essentials in your gym bag.
Skin care to keep in your gym bag
$38 at Sephora
Darden’s gentle cleanser contains “oat bran extract to repair the skin’s barrier along with hyaluronic acid to help skin attract and retain moisture,” according to the esthetician.
From $10 at Supergoop!
This lightweight sunscreen is sweat-resistant for up to 80 minutes, the perfect amount of time for squeezing in a good workout. “It’s my favorite lightly hydrating sunscreen with SPF 50 that won’t cause any congestion,” Darden says.
$7.99 at Target
“Garnier’s Micellar Water is a great solution for a post-workout cleanse if you’re not able to do a normal cleanse,” Darden says. “It’s super refreshing and great at removing dirt and oils, plus it’s also super gentle on the skin. You can just use a little micellar water on a square of cotton gauze to remove buildup quickly and easily!”
From $21 at Kora Organics or from $46 at Sephora
A lightweight moisturizer is a good option after working out, as it won’t feel heavy or slippery on the skin. This one from Kora Organics is made with green tea and green algae to hydrate and soothe the skin.
$89 at Trinny London
Idriss says a vitamin C serum, which helps brighten and heal the skin, is a good idea for those who are acne-prone. “It’s a great antioxidant, and [use it with] sunscreen to help boost the effects of vitamin C,” Idriss says. This serum has a nice gel-like consistency that gives the skin a dewy finish.
$46.99 $34.07 at Amazon
If you work out at night, Idriss suggests using a retinol product, which should be a part of your nighttime skin care regimen. This expert-approved moisturizer is a gentle option that won’t irritate the skin.
$6.99 at Ulta
Deodorant is a gym bag no-brainer, and this scentless one has arrowroot, tea tree oil and shea butter to soothe and moisturize the underarms.
From $13.99 at Ulta
Idriss says you’ll also want to keep a body lotion on hand to keep skin moisturized post-shower. This option from CeraVe can help save some space in your gym bag since it’s safe for the face and body.