Here’s What Your Post-Workout Skincare Routine Should Be

Breaking a sweat is great for your overall health, but it may be damaging to your skin. From how to cleanse to what actives to avoid, here are the dos and don’ts of post-workout skincare.
Written by Vivien Moon
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Here’s What Your Post-Workout Skincare Routine Should BeAnastase Maragos/Unsplash

A sweat session is great for the body and the soul. But, if it’s not followed by a skincare savior or two, it could lead to breakouts, inflammation, and more – now your skin is the one doing the heavy lifting. While acne can manifest in different forms and sweat is not the root of all breakouts, experts recommend having a carefully curated post-workout regimen to reduce sweat and bacteria-induced skin concerns. So, whether you’re hitting the Reformer machine or heading out for a run, here’s what you should do to keep your skin in tip-top shape.

What Happens to Your Skin During a Workout

“When you’re working out, your core body temperature rises, the oil glands become more active, you sweat more, and all of that contributes to a build-up of dirt, oil, and debris,” explains Michelle Henry, MD, a board certified dermatologist and founder of Skin & Aesthetic Surgery of Manhattan. “This allows for dirt to build up in your pores.” In fact, those effects linger long after your last rep. “Even after you’re done working out and sweating, your skin needs ample time to restore to its natural state,” explains Annabel Short Berroya, senior brand manager at Lique Cosmetics.

Safe to say, the body is under a lot of stress during exercise, and the skin is not immune (flushed cheeks, anyone?). But your post-workout skincare regimen actually starts before you hit the gym. “I always recommend that your skincare routine begin before you work out,” Dr. Henry explains. Her recommendation? Remove any makeup or skincare products in advance to prevent additional build-up — especially for those who are acne-prone. But, if you’re heading outside, don’t use this as an excuse to skimp on sunscreen. “You can’t have healthy skin if it is burned and the barrier is compromised,” she cautions.

What To Do After Your Sweat Session

Properly prepping the complexion pre-workout will set you up for success, but it’s important to be equally prepared for the immediate aftermath of your sweat-sesh, too. Here’s what you need to know and what you need to do when it comes to post-workout skincare.

1. Pack It Up

If you’re not WOFH (working out from home) and have plans post-workout, the best course of action is to pack a toiletry kit. No need to stash your whole vanity — just the key products that will keep you dewy, not sweaty. When examining which products to utilize in this time, ingredients are key. “Activated charcoal is a key ingredient for drawing out excess dirt, oil, and impurities from the skin,” explains Philip Taylor, founder of Carbon Theory. “And tea tree oil is an anti-inflammatory ingredient that can help minimize redness from the skin.”

Carbon Theory’s products are formulated for those who are acne-prone or who have an active lifestyle and want to ensure their physical activities do not factor into their skin concerns. And they are also packaged with portability in mind. “I love the Carbon Theory Breakout Control Facial Cleansing Bars because they are super light and you can transport them in the pouches they come in,” explains Morgan Brennan, a soccer player and founder of the Victoria Park Vixens. Her other must-have? Wipes, in the event that a shower may not be accessible or in the schedule (we’re fans of the Yuni Shower Sheets).

2. Cleanse

Yes, Dr. Henry recommends removing makeup prior to exercising, but you need to wash your face after, too. “After a workout, it’s important to cleanse your skin with warm water to remove the sweat,” Taylor says. Doing so removes any “bacteria and dirt that may have built up during the workout,” he says. You can pick your cleanser based on your skin type.

3. Exfoliate

Cleansing alone won’t always do the trick. To properly get into the pores and remove the toxins, Dr. Henry recommends a chemical exfoliant. “Something with salicylic, glycolic, or lactic acid can help the skin cut back the oil and debris,” she explains. For those who are acne-prone, be gentle. “Your skin is going to be more prone to be inflamed, so you don’t want to be too aggressive just because you’re working out,” she cautions. If you have sensitive skin, Taylor suggests “waiting until the evening to use an exfoliator, as the skin can sometimes be more prone to irritation after a workout.”

4. Step It Up

Whether it’s a hydrating dose of hyaluronic acid (HA), a brightening vitamin C, or a peptide-powered serum, don’t forgo your usual skincare routine just because you worked out. If you’re the kind of person who starts their day with a sweat session, Dr. Henry says to follow it up with your regular regimen — albeit with a few key exceptions. You may want to skip heavy oils or rich moisturizers that can clog the pores, especially in the warmer months.

5. SPF

We don’t need to remind you about the importance of sunscreen in the morning (and throughout the day), but we'd be remiss not to tell you that it is perhaps the most integral part of any skincare routine. In addition to preventing sun damage and reducing skin cancer risk, applying sunblock after exfoliation is key to counteracting the skin- and sun-sensitizing effects. “You can’t use your active products if your skin is compromised,” Dr. Henry notes.

6. Don’t Forget About The Body

Of course, the body is susceptible to breakouts (hello, backne!), too, and that’s why Dr. Henry recommends using similarly exfoliating products to help prevent the build-up of sweat and debris. “Use the same principles as you would with your face and utilize the same chemical exfoliants,” she says, adding that it can also be beneficial to try benzoyl peroxide (just remember that bleaching element of the chemical compound can take the color out of clothing). Unlike the face, the body can handle a bit of gentle physical exfoliation as well. “I love light manual exfoliation,” Dr. Henry says. If you aren’t interested in bringing a loofah to the gym, Taylor suggests reaching for a product with natural exfoliating beads.

Brennan admits that it may be tempting to skip the shower — particularly if the locker rooms are packed and you’ve got a schedule to abide by — but it’s not the way to go. “Some people just do their armpits or the main sweaty areas, but you have to remember how sweaty you were during that workout or match,” she says. A shower should always be factored into your overall routine.

7. Change Your Clothes

Last but not least, don’t forget to get out of your wet and, likely, compressive garments as soon as possible. Dr. Henry says to pack breathable, lightweight alternatives to change into. While we don’t condone skipping the shower, the simple act of removing your sweaty clothes will help prevent breakouts, chafing, and the like.

A Note About Post-Workout Beauty

Are you wondering about what your post-workout beauty routine should look like? Turns out, it’s fine to apply makeup after the gym — so long as you do your skincare first and pay attention to what you are putting on your face. “I suggest oil-free makeup post-workout,” Dr. Henry says.

Although not all beauty products feature skincare ingredients (nor do they need to), using makeup with hydrating, brightening, or soothing actives can help to extend your post-workout glow. “Adding products with ingredients such as cucumber extract, green and white tea, botanical extracts, and vitamin C will help calm and revive your skin, which ultimately helps deter redness, irritation, and breakouts,” Berroya says. The Lique Active Beauty collection is full of multitasking balms, highlighters, mists, and BB creams that fit the bill.

For a quick hair refresh, waterless shampoo is your best friend. Any dry shampoo formula will do, but, if you struggle with the powdery product, we recommend SWAIR Showerless Shampoo. Simply spritz it into your locks for a clean look and feel — sans suds, rinsing, or residue.

The Takeaway

Exercising takes care of your mind and body, but it’s important that you take care of your skin. We know it’s inconvenient to pack up your vanity, which is why we recommend focusing on a few key ingredients that cater to your skin type and concerns. Fortunately, there are more and more skincare and makeup products designed with workouts in mind.

All products featured are independently selected by our editors, however, AEDIT may receive a commission on items purchased through our links.

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VIVIEN MOONis a senior editor at AEDIT.

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