Struggling to stick to your fitness New Year’s resolution?

Here’s another reason to stay motivated: exercise not only improves your physical and mental health, it also affects your skin!

Sustaining a healthy weight, building skeletal muscle and improving your mood are pretty well known benefits of regular exercise. People who are regularly physically active also have a lower risk of health conditions like cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and even some types of cancer.

If that wasn’t enough to get you moving, working out also promotes healthy skin!

Woman playing tennis on red tennis court

Increased Skin Blood Flow Makes You Glow

Physical activity causes your blood vessels to dilate in order to pump more blood around the body. This increase in blood flow provides your hardworking muscles with the oxygen and nutrients they need, as well as removing waste products.

The improved circulation also increases skin blood flow which helps nourish skin cells, remove free radicals and give you that “post-workout glow”.

Close up shot of a woman dressed for exercise wiping her face with a towel from around her neck.

Sweat It Out

While the thought of sweat might not be that desirable, it’s actually really important for maintaining your body temperature. As sweat evaporates, it reduces your skin temperature and helps prevent you overheating.

Intense exercise also leads to sweat flushing out toxins from your pores. This helps avoid irritation and blemishes, provided you remember to cleanse after your workout.

Human skin has two types of sweat gland: eccrine and apocrine glands. Eccrine glands are found all over the body and release a watery, salty sweat directly onto the skin surface to cool you down during physical activity. Apocrine glands are mostly located in the armpit and groin area, and release more concentrated secretions into hair follicles – particularly when you are stressed.

The differing activity of these types of sweat gland can change the environment on your skin to better suit different types of bacteria. A common misconception is that sweat smells. In reality, it’s certain types of bacteria on human skin that break down apocrine gland sweat into odorous by-products.

An arrangement of bottle of a skincare product, bowl and scoop of bath salts, a body brush, leaves and pebbles.

Your Skin Microbiome

Your skin microbiome is made up of millions of bacteria, fungi and viruses on your skin. Most of these tiny organisms are harmless or even beneficial to you. However if the balance of your skin microbiome is disrupted, it can lead to skin problems such as acne, sensitive skin or eczema.

Sweat affects skin hydration, surface pH (acidity) and sebum secretion. Sebum is an oily, waxy substance that naturally coats, moisturises and protects your skin from excess water loss. Compounds found in your sebum provide nutrients for some bacteria, but inhibit growth of other potentially harmful bacteria such as Staphyloccocus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes.

The distribution of sweat glands and sebum secreting sebaceous glands across your body affects the diversity of your microbiome in different areas.

Woman doing yoga outside on a pink yoga mat looking out over buildings and skyscrapers

Stress And Your Skin

Your skin needs balance – too little sebum leads to dry skin, but too much sebum (in oily skin), can clog pores and contribute to acne. Elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, increases sebum production which can worsen acne for people who are prone to spots. Physical activity reduces cortisol so it may help you achieve a clearer complexion.

Stress hormones are also linked to increased blood sugar levels. This can damage collagen via a process called glycation. Damaged collagen cannot support your skin structure as well, leading to a decrease in skin elasticity, and formation of wrinkles and areas of loose skin. To reduce the effects of glycation, try to keep your stress hormones at a healthy level by regularly exercising and avoid eating too much sugar. Glycation is also linked to UV radiation so don’t forget your sunscreen!

Flare ups of chronic skin conditions such as psoriasis and atopic dermatitis can also be triggered by periods of stress.

Not only does exercise reduce stress, it also stimulates the production of endorphins. Endorphins interact with receptors in your brain to reduce your perception of pain, and to make you feel good!

Woman running up a flight of steps outside

Anti Ageing

You may have seen facial exercises or ‘face yoga’ advertised as an easy at-home method for smoothing lines and wrinkles, or toning facial muscles. Unfortunately there is currently no substantial evidence to prove that facial exercises are an effective method of facial rejuvenation.

However, early research suggests that other forms of exercise might actually have some anti-ageing effects. More in depth studies need to be carried out, but initial findings link endurance and interval training to an increase in an enzyme called telomerase. Telomerase offsets cellular ageing by lengthening the protective caps at the end of DNA. These protective caps (telomeres) naturally shorten over time as your cells age, until they are too short to protect the DNA. When this happens cells can no longer do their jobs properly. The exact molecular mechanisms for this potential link has not yet been established, but research is ongoing.

While there is currently no way of stopping or reversing the ageing process altogether, regular exercise may keep you feeling fit and healthy for longer.

Exercise Skincare Top Tips

To make the most of the skin health benefits of exercise, we recommend:

  • Avoid exercising with makeup on. Makeup can trap sweat and bacteria in your pores leading to a higher risk of breakouts. If you can’t go makeup free, avoid heavy foundations, try not to wipe your skin during your workout (this can rub dirt, makeup and oil into your pores), and cleanse after your workout.
  • For a really thorough cleanse post workout, consider double cleansing. Start with an oil-based cleanser as these are great for removing oil-based impurities such as makeup, sunscreen and excess sebum. Then follow with a water-based cleanser to wash any remaining sweat or dirt from your pores.
  • If you are exercising outdoors, protect all exposed skin from UV radiation with sunscreen. Opt for a water-resistant broad spectrum formula of at least SPF30.
  • Some chronic skin conditions can be exacerbated by changes in skin temperature. For example, if you are eczema-prone or have rosacea, avoid allowing your body to overheat. Try to exercise in a cool environment such as an air-conditioned space, in front of a fan or at a cooler time of day. Also consider splitting up your workout by taking breaks or alternating between ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ activities to allow yourself time to cool down. If you are going swimming, you may find it beneficial to apply moisturiser as a barrier beforehand.
  • Avoid sitting in your sweaty gym kit for hours after working out. Get showered and changed as soon as you can to clean off unwanted sweat, dirt and oil that could get into your pores.
  • Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water!
Two bottles and two round pots of skincare products, a sponge, bar of soap and a round lid arranged with roses and leaves

Maintaining a balanced skin microbiome is important for overall skin health. Your microbiome is influenced by many factors including age, gender, environmental factors, skincare routine, and lifestyle choices such as exercise.

With the Skin Trust Club plans, you can book recurring at-home skin microbiome tests to see how changes in your lifestyle and skincare routine truly affect your skin.

Sign up today to learn more about your unique microbiome, and receive personalised skincare routine suggestions and advice from our experts.