Does Sweating Cause Pimples?

Many people often experience breakouts after they have been excessively sweating, leading them to believe that these pimples have been caused solely by the sweat itself.

Is this true? 

Not necessarily. In fact, sweat can actually be good for your skin! 

While this may be the case, there is still an indirect link between sweating and pimples, and this is something well worth knowing more about if you experience post-workout breakouts. 

Sweat Glands and Hair Follicles

 

In order to understand the relationship between sweating and pimples, you need to first know about the differences between hair follicles and sweat glands. 

There are two types of pores within your skin, and these are hair follicles and sweat glands. 

Your sweat glands can be found all over your skin, and this is where your sweat comes from. 

Your hair follicles are where your skin’s sebaceous glands are contained, and this is where your skin’s natural oil, known as sebum, comes from. This is also where the hairs on your body grow from, with each hair coming from an individual hair follicle. 

Why does all of this matter? 

Because pimples form in hair follicles, not in sweat glands

The Connection Between Sweating and Pimples

So, if pimples form in the hair follicles and not in the sweat glands, how come sweating can sometimes lead to breakouts? 

Well, as mentioned earlier, your sebaceous glands produce sebum. The role of this sebum is to keep your skin supple and conditioned, while preventing the evaporation of moisture. 

The surface of your skin also contains thousands of tiny dead skin cells. This is completely normal, as your body will naturally shed these skin cells over time, replacing them with the fresh, new skin cells it has recently produced. 

So far, this is all normal…

However, the problem arises when the sweat that has been secreted from your sweat glands mixes in with the sebum and dead skin cells that are sitting around your hair follicles. 

This mixture forms a plug that then blocks hair follicles, resulting in a pimple. 

Preventing Sweat-Related Pimples

Since sweat itself does not directly lead to acne, preventing sweat-related pimples is actually quite easy. 

All you need to do is make sure that the sweat on your skin is either able to evaporate away, or is wicked away. 

How? 

Here are some tips to keep in mind the next time you are sweating: 

  • Gently pat a clean towel on excess sweat to prevent too much of it from building up on your skin 
  • When working out, make sure that you are wearing clothes made from fabrics that will absorb the sweat away from your skin, rather than trapping it onto your skin 
  • Cleanse your skin immediately after sweating. Use cleansing wipes if you are not able to properly cleanse, and then follow this up with a thorough cleanse as soon as you can
  • If you are already prone to acne, consider using a medicated cleanser 
  • If you are working out, try to exercise in cooler environments. Whether this means turning the air conditioning on or waiting until the early morning or evening, when it is cooler outside, to exercise, keeping your body cooler will help to reduce the amount of sweat it releases 

While those tips will help to prevent too much sweat from building up on your skin, there are other steps that you can take to prevent sweat-related pimples too…

By ensuring that there is not too much sebum, as well as dead skin cells, on your skin before working out, you reduce the chances of sweat mixing in with both of these substances, therefore preventing clogged pores. 

 

Make sure that the skin care products you are wearing while working out are non-comedogenic, which means that they will not contain any pore-clogging ingredients. 

You should also avoid wearing makeup when sweating, as this will only contribute to clogged pores. 

Regularly cleansing and exfoliating your skin is a must, as this will help to prevent dead skin cells from building up on your skin.

Infographic on mechanical exfoliation

How often should you be cleansing and exfoliating? 

You should be cleansing every day, preferably in the evenings, as this will clear away all of the dirt, oil and dead skin cells that have built up on the surface of your skin over the course of the day. 

When it comes to exfoliating…

Twice a week is usually sufficient, although those with sensitive skin may want to drop this down to once a week. Chemical exfoliants tend to be better than physical exfoliants for those who sweat a lot, as these will properly purify your pores and clear away any residue that your sweat may have left behind.

Your diet will also make a huge difference when it comes to pimples… 

How? 

Well, let’s begin by looking at the fluids you drink. 

Ideally, you should be drinking at least eight glasses of water a day in order to keep your body properly hydrated. If you don’t, then dehydration, even if this is mild, will set in, and this can trigger your skin’s sebaceous glands to produce more oil. All of this extra oil will then increase your chances of experiencing pimples. 

In terms of food, high glycemic diets have been linked to acne. 

What is a high glycemic diet? 

It is one that features a large amount of chips, baked foods made from white flour, and sugary processed products, such as soft drinks and sweets. Not only are these not very nutritious, meaning that your skin will end up missing out on nutrients that it needs in order to thrive, but they also cause a spike in your blood sugar levels, which can lead to acne. 

One other thing that can really help is minimizing the amount of stress you are experiencing. 

Of course, when you have a massive pimple on your face, this is easier said than done, but is something that you shuold really put some effort into. 

Why is stress reduction so important? 

Because stress causes an increase of cortisol in your body, which is also known as the stress hormone. Not only can excess cortisol lead to a number of different health conditions, but it also stimulates your skin’s sebaceous glands into producing more oil, increasing the chances of clogged pores and pimples. 

Sweating and P. Acnes Bacteria

Of course, bacteria on the skin can contribute to breakouts too, so this is something else that you should try to keep as minimized as possible. 

Unfortunately, sweating makes this difficult. 

How? 

Well, the p. acnes bacteria naturally lives on the skin, but contributes to breakouts. This bacteria requires certain nutrients in order to thrive, and it finds these in the sebum produced by the skin, as well as in the dead skin cells on the skin’s surface. 

There are a few different sets of nutrients required by the p. acnes bacteria, one of which is the B vitamin complex, including thiamin and biotin. 

What does this have to do with sweating?

Well, sweat actually contains quite a significant concentration of B vitamins. 

When your sweat is released onto your skin, those B vitamins are then feeding the p. acnes bacteria on your skin, enabling it to grow and multiply, and therefore triggering a breakout.

You probably want to know what you can do to prevent this…

Well, while you can’t take away the nutrients in your sweat, there are steps that you can take to minimize the amount of p. acnes bacteria on your skin, so that this population doesn’t end up rapidly growing each time you sweat. 

How can you do this? 

Well, the regular cleansing mentioned earlier will go a long way in doing so, but try to also avoid touching your face, especially while you are sweating. 

This is even more so the case if you are working out at a gym, as the equipment will likely contain quite a bit of different bacteria, and you don’t want to end up transferring all of this onto your skin. 

Treating Sweat-Related Pimples

The treatment options for pimples that have been triggered by excess sweat on the skin are varied, and are exactly the same as treating other types of acne. 

You have many choices available to you, so make sure that you explore all of your options before making your decision. 

Here are a few of the ways in which you can treat pimples: 

  • Keep it cool – applying a cold compress to the pimple for a few minutes, multiple times a day, will help to keep inflammation and swelling to a minimum 
  • Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide – both of these ingredients are common go-to’s for treating acne. While benzoyl peroxide is stronger, and destroys acne-causing bacteria as well as treating current pimples, it does tend to be more drying on the skin. If your skin is already dry or sensitive, salicylic acid may be the better option for you. Keep in mind that sweat is known to be able to transfer benzoyl peroxide from the skin onto clothing, causing stains
  • Tea tree oil – while this botanical can be irritating for some, research shows that a 5% concentration of tea tree oil is just as effective at treating a pimple as benzoyl peroxide (mentioned above), but without the same drying effects. Make sure that you dilute the oil with either a carrier oil or water before using it on your skin, as this will help to prevent any irritation
  • Natural treatments – these work well for some, but don’t work as well for others, so you would need to give them a try to see how effective natural treatments are on your pimples. There are a variety of natural treatments out there, from aloe vera to green tea to rosemary and lemongrass essential oils 
  • Topical retinoids – these are ingredients derived from vitamin A, and are extremely effective at preventing clogged pores, due to the mild exfoliating effect they provide, while also regulating the amount of oil that the skin produces 

Other Skin Conditions Related to Sweat

In addition to contributing to pimples, sweat can lead to a few other skin conditions too. 

It is helpful to be aware of all of these, so that you can easily identify which one you are dealing with if you experience any post-workout reactions. 

Here are a few of the most common skin conditions linked to sweating: 

  • Heat rash – caused by blocked sweat glands, heat rash refers to those tiny, itchy bumps that appear on the skin. When these bumps burst, they cause a prickly sensation because they release sweat back on to the skinInfographic on heat rash
  • Folliculitis – this condition looks quite similar to pimples, but is actually caused by infected hair follicles. Both single follicles as well as multiple follicles can be affected 
  • Fungal infections – certain types of fungus thrive in warm, moist and dark areas of the body, meaning that sweating can sometimes lead to the onset of a fungal infection 

The Skin Benefits of Sweating

Don’t worry, it’s not all doom and gloom…

You may be forgetting that your body sweats for a reason. Sweating serves a purpose, and brings with it a number of different benefits. 

These not only apply to your skin, but also the rest of your body, such as: 

  • Sweating flushes out toxins from the body, preventing these from leading to skin issues 
  • Sweating stimulates certain parts of the brain that help to control mood swings 
  • Sweating prevents the body from over-heating 
  • Sweating prevents kidney stone

As you can see, sweating is actually quite important, and is something that your body needs to do in order to stay healthy. 

While sweating itself does not lead to acne, any excess sweat sitting on the surface of your skin is likely to contribute to a pimple. Fortunately, this is something relatively easy to avoid, so long as you follow the tips mentioned above.