Although you might be long past the stage of teenage angst, adult acne could still be rearing its ugly head due to clogged pores, bacteria, or hormones.

After trying every skin care product, cream, and medication out there, the search for consistent clarity can persist.

Now, you may have heard that exercise brings quite a few health benefits. But when it comes to ensuring acne-free skin, that’s still being debated.

Does exercise help acne?

The answer is both yes and no. A vigorous workout helps to release endorphins, which then reduces stress and inflammation and improves skin condition. However, due to bacteria being trapped in your skin after a sweaty workout, it can be argued that exercise can increase the chances of breakouts.

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Let’s take a closer look at the power exercise can have when it comes to managing acne.

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Illustration by Maya Chastain

Acne is a common skin condition typically seen on the skin of your face, back, chest, neck, and shoulders.

It happens when your pores and hair follicles become clogged. These iddy-biddy openings in your skin can get jammed-up with oil and dead skin cells, which then become swollen and infected.

A pimple or pustule is your body’s natural inflammatory reaction to this situation. In other words, a zit is your body’s attempt at cleaning the bad stuff from your pores.

Acne usually affects teenagers, but may affect you into adulthood. Most people in their 30s and beyond are considered to be beyond the stage of acne woes. Nevertheless, it can still affect you in your 40s and 50s, albeit less commonly.

Oil and hormones

Your skin’s oil production plays a role in the likelihood of developing acne — as more oil = a greater chance of clogged pores. But it’s not just oil. Scientists speculate that hormone changes are also involved. Again, this adds up as many people experience acne during their teenage years or during pregnancy. Both are times that coincide with extreme hormonal fluctuations.

Many people blame acne flare-ups on certain types of food — we’re talking chocolate, pizza, and other foods that are considered to be greasy. But don’t panic yet. There is little evidence to back up this claim, so the candy remains fair game.

High blood sugar

High blood sugar levels can lead to acne, which could be fueling the idea of chocolate being a culprit as well.

High blood sugar levels cause insulin levels to rise, which then increases androgen production. Androgens are hormones that act on the oil glands, seducing them into producing way too much oil, and you know where this is going.


Stress can also be a contributing factor for some peeps. While stress itself doesn’t cause acne, it can worsen the situation. Why? Because stress causes low-grade inflammation, which can work its way out on your skin.

The most helpful thing that exercise can do for you when it comes to managing acne is relieving stress. While stress can’t cause acne by itself, it can def worsen it. And aside from meditation, a warm bubble bath, or an appointment in a rage room, getting physical is one of the best ways to say sayonara to stress.

Regular workouts, in any format (Jazzercise anyone?), boost hormones and neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. These jolly little chemicals are responsible for making you feel happy and energized, and they regulate those anxious feelings that get you down.

Physical activity also levels out your blood sugar levels, which we already covered can lead to oily skin and acne production. So, logically, keeping your levels in check through exercise helps prevent acne.

Exercising also boosts your circulation, meaning that every tissue in your body receives more oxygen, which your skin loves. To max out these oxygen-consumption benefits, try incorporating high-intensity interval training (HIIT) into your routine. These HIIT exercises will increase your metabolism and oxygen levels even after the workout has ended. Good for you, bad for your acne.

Even though there are no exercises that target acne specifically, any and all exercise can do you some good in that area — providing you keep your skin clean on a regular basis.

The crucial thing will be to find a form of exercise that you’re genuinely fulfilled by. Being consistently fulfilled by your workout improves the way you see yourself, which can boost your mood, reduce stress, and ultimately increase the likelihood that you stick with a routine that benefits you.

That said, workouts that really get your heart pumping for a consistent amount of time are especially beneficial.

If you incorporate HIIT exercises, your body consumes more oxygen throughout the day, which benefits your skin.

Think exercises like:

Plus, the great thing about these exercises is you only need to shade out short bursts of time on your schedule. That’s great news if you find sticking to hour-long workouts impossible.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are low intensity workouts. If you’ve concluded that your acne is mostly related to your stress levels, incorporating yoga and other mindfulness techniques into your routine can help you lower the pressure and reduce your skin concerns.

The sweat effect

When exercising, you’re going to sweat — particularly on your head and face.

Your workout juices can keep acne-causing bacteria trapped on your face. Also, when that sweat combines with heat and friction, your pores can clog, leading to acne.

So, while sweat itself doesn’t cause acne, it does encourage your skin to develop acne if you don’t clean it off directly after a workout.

On top of this clogging effect, you’re probably rubbing more bacteria onto your skin as you try to swipe away sweat midworkout. And that, my friend, is a surefire way of asking for acne if you fall short on a quality cleaning.

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While exercise can ultimately be helpful, all that hard-earned sweat you produce traps dirt and oil on your skin. So, you need to wash it away post-workout to reap those acne-busting benefits. If you know you can’t access a shower directly after, consider carrying some skin wipes for acne-prone skin with you.

In fact, you should be thinking about your skin even before you work out. If you’re wearing makeup, get rid of it to keep your pores from getting jammed with gunk as you exercise.

What about workout gear? Yes, those scrunched butt leggings are sexy AF, but it’s actually better for your skin if you wear loose-fitting clothing at the gym. Tight or snug clothing can rub against your skin, causing irritation and effectively massaging sweat and oils into your pores and hair follicles.

Also, don’t forget to take those nasty gym clothes off straight away when you’re done since they’re likely sweaty, and gross, which can also irritate your skin.

And if swimming’s more your thing, you’re at an increased risk of having breakouts because of the chlorine in pools. Yes, chlorine prevents you from having zits, but it also strips your skin of its natural oils. Your dried out skin then overcompensates by producing too much oil, which can lead to acne.

It’s all good, though, as some good washing and moisturizing after a dip will replenish the lost oils.

Acne is a common skin condition caused by pores and hair follicles becoming clogged with oil and dead skin cells.

There are no specific exercises to get rid of acne. However, all physical activity helps because it improves circulation, increases oxygen uptake, and moderates blood sugar levels — which is beneficial to skin.

After exercising, it’s important to shower, remove exercise clothing, and moisturize your skin (especially after swimming) to prevent acne.

Contrary to popular belief, greasy food and chocolate do not affect acne, but stress may play a role.

If your acne tends to get worse when you’re stressed, try yoga and other mindfulness activities to reduce it.