The Truth About Sweat & Acne

With an increase in ”workout friendly” makeup products (some offering cruelty-free options like Tarte, and others significantly less so like Clinique) on the beauty counter circuit, gym-goers might find themselves heading from a class out to work or play without washing or wiping their face.

Sweat has often been mentioned as a cause of acne alongside the usual (often myth-based) suspects like chocolate, but there is minimal information linking perspiration directly to acne production and inflammation.

As discussed in a 2015 Biomicrofluids article, our eccrine sweat glands produce perspiration made up primarily of water, trace levels of minerals (including sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium), lactic acid and urea, at a skin-friendly ‘moderately acidic to neutral pH level.’

With this makeup, it seems unlikely from the onset that sweat itself would have the potential to cause acne, even if left on the skin for a long duration than desired, however there is varied information on the subject.

Looking back, a 1974 British Journal of Dermatology article names a 20% figure as the number of acne sufferers who experience a “deterioration in their acne” when sweating. There could be other skin disorders at play here, as discussed in the 2012 “Acne mimickers: Another cause for unresponsive acne”  , “Miliaria is a common disorder caused by the blockage of the eccrine sweat ducts…miliaria rubra, the most common clinical form of miliaria can be confused with acne. This eruption typically occurs after days to weeks of exposure to hot and humid environment..this eruption is differentiated from acne vulgaris by the absence of comedones and positive history of excessive sweating.”

It is recognised that excessive sweating can be linked to those with acne, most often through androgens (our steroid hormone synthesized in the testes, ovaries and adrenal glands). Our sebum, however, is much more heavily involved in acne, and is also stimulated by androgens. Discussed in “The Hormonal Treatment of Acne in Women”, “Sebum production plays a vital role in acne formation. The number, size, and activity of sebaceous glands may be inherited. Human sebum contains unique fatty acids that support the growth of P. acnes.”

Perhaps the best way to view the association between sweat and acne is detailed in the 2016 “New Insights Into Acne Pathogenesis”, where it is noted, “the skin is predominated by factors such as pH, temperature, moisture, sweat, and sebum content, making it an intricate habitat for a rich community of microorganisms that outnumbers the human body’s own cells.”

While sweat alone does not seem to be named a sole cause of acne, in combination with other factors like acne severity, environment and location of the breakouts, it is wise to rinse your face with a gentle, vegan cleanser if you find yourself perspiring more than usual, and keeping an eye on your sweat levels to note a significant increase that may be hormone-triggered.

Do you find working out and leaving sweat on your skin increases your levels of acne? Let us know in the comments below!

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Holly

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