Does Sweat Cause Acne and Sweat Pimples?
Yes, sweat, build-up, and friction can lead to clogging of pores. The combination of these factors block your pores and create the perfect environment for bacteria to grow and end up in a pimple formation. Breakouts from sweat are more likely to appear in areas where sweat accumulates and in areas where pressure or friction is frequent: headbands, hats, clothing, or backpack straps.
Does workout sweat cause acne and sweat pimples?
Have you ever noticed breakouts in your skin after a workout session? Well you are not alone, this common condition is called sweat acne or sweat pimples. Sweat acne appears anywhere your sweat accumulates, on your face, hairline or your body. Common areas are the chest, back and buttocks.
Sweating is a cooling mechanism. As sweat is produced by sweat glands located in your skin, it evaporates and carries away excess heat from your body. Read ahead to learn how to take control of your skincare and prevent sweat acne.
What are Sweat Pimples?
Sweat pimples or sweat acne is a specific type of acne that appears as a result of sweat remaining on the surface of the skin that combines with buildup (dirt, bacteria, sebum) and clogs the pores in your skin. This type of acne is a common skin complaint in active people.
What are the common causes of sweat pimples (acne from sweat)?
As mentioned before, sweat is produced by your body and if left on your skin it mixes with makeup, bacteria, sebum and anything else that is in contact with your skin. All of these factors block the pore opening and create an inflammatory response that creates a breakout.
Your pores will be more “exposed” during your workout, as they open or dilate with the increased blood flow (your body is trying to release as much heat as possible) and you’ll be more prone to acne. That is why if you might feel a stingy sensation when you apply any cream after working out and feel like your skin is more exposed, well it is.
Athletes are at higher risk because they have extra risk factors like tight-fitted clothing that make you perform better but they occlude your pores and the use of synthetic fibers that absorb sweat so your clothing doesn’t look stained but it harbors the sweat that is in contact with your skin.
Sweat acne or sweat pimples can be caused by biological and behavioral factors. Below we explain how each of these factors affect predisposition to sweat acne.
Your sweat glands produce sebum which is intended to moisturize your skin. People with oily skin have a genetic predisposition for their gland to produce more sebum and makes them more acne prone. This gland is also controlled by your hormones, and that is why in puberty your sebum production increases and you have more acne. In women with each cycle you can have variations of your hormones that result in episodes of acne.
- Acne-prone skin (acne vulgaris)
Working out can cause excessive sweating, as well as a buildup of oil, dirt, and bacteria on your skin — all of which can lead to acne. However, you don't have to quit exercising in order to see clearer skin. The key is to maintain proper hygiene before, during, and after your workouts.
- Vitamin B
Vitamin B has a direct relationship with acne. Many athletes take multivitamin complexes and some get Vitamin B12 shots. There is a molecular link between high doses of Vitamin B12 and acne breakouts. For more information you can read this article by Kang and collaborators.
Testosterone is often used by some athletes to increase muscle mass. This hormone increases sebum production by the sebaceous gland which as explained previously causes body acne.
Food alone doesn’t cause acne or prevent it. Your genetics, lifestyle, and what you eat all play a role in the condition. But some foods may make it worse, while others help your skin stay healthy. Researchers say foods high in fat, sugar, and dairy (specifically skim milk) ingredients can raise the risk of adult acne. For more information you can read this article by Juhl and collaborators.
While effective in cooling our body, blocks your pores. The places where sweat accumulates are going to be the areas where you are going to have acne: most commonly chest and back.
If you are acne-prone, it's likely that dirt and oil are already clogging your pores, which sweat can exacerbate.
- Tight synthetic clothes
Almost all of sports wear are made of synthetic materials. The downside is that they harbor sweat, which if left for long periods of time can block your pores.
What do sweat pimples look like?
Acne from sweat usually looks like small red bumps that range from small papules, pustules, and nodules to blackheads and whiteheads. The physical appearance can vary because of your contributing biological factors.
Prevalent areas for sweat pimples breakouts
Sweat acne breakouts occur in locations of the body where sweat glands are most prevalent, which includes the face, armpits, neck, and groin area, as well as where sweat is most likely to accumulate, including chest, back and buttocks.
- Sweat pimples on face (forehead)
Sweat pimples mostly occur in the forehead where there is friction from visors or caps (also known as acne mechanica - anything that blocks your pores and is combined with sweat will create a pimple) or hair follicles (beard area or hairline).
- Sweat pimples on scalp
Your scalp is full of hair follicles and oil glands. If the follicle or pore becomes clogged with sweat, dirt and oil, this can lead to acne.
- Sweat pimples on legs
Pimples on the legs may arise from inadequate shave off technique that creates ingrown hair. In men the hair in your legs can combine with the sweat of your workout and clog the opening of the pore.
Tight clothes like compression leggings also create the perfect conditions for sweat pimples.
- Sweat pimples on back
Back acne (“bacne”) is acne that develops on your back. It happens when sweat, oil, dead skin cells and bacteria get trapped in your skin's pores.
Backpacks, sweaty shirts or sports equipment can create friction on your back and worsen back acne. Bacne is the most frequent location in active people that use Vitamin B12. If you are experiencing severe bacne and take Vitamin B12, talk to your coach or trainer to see if you can switch vitamins.
- Sweat pimples on chest
- Sweat pimples on buttocks
Perspiration (sweating) can cause acne-like spots on the legs. This is because sweat which isn't washed away promptly causes pores to become blocked.
Pimples caused by sweating usually appear on the thighs and buttock area in cyclists or triathlon enthusiasts, as they experience not only sweat but constant friction.
Sweat pimples vs. regular acne
The difference is what causes acne. In regular acne your sebaceous gland - which is in charge of producing your oil (sebum)- is working overtime this is due to genetics, hormones and stress. If you add to your regular acne sweat it will definitely make breaking out after a workout more likely.
Sweat pimples vs. heat rash bumps
Heat rash known as miliaria looks similar but the main difference is that the skin bumps are very itchy and the bump is clear looking not red. Sweat ducts get clogged which causes this condition.
Sweat pimples vs. Keratosis pilaris
While acne and keratosis pilaris are both essentially blocked skin pores, the main difference between the two skin conditions is that keratosis pilaris is caused by a build-up of a skin protein called keratin and acne is caused by a build-up of sebum, dead skin cells and bacteria.
To find out more of the difference between them, read our post on Keratosis pilaris popping: What you Need to Know and become an expert on this skin condition.
How to get rid of sweat Pimples?
You don’t have to, and shouldn’t, stop exercising to prevent or treat acne. There are other, more effective ways to maintain your skin’s health. Read ahead on how to prevent them from even appearing and how to treat them if you already have them.
How to prevent sweat pimples?
Always shower after an intense workout to remove sweat, dirt, oil and prevent your opened pores from getting infected. an after workout body wash for acne antimicrobial cleaning properties work to disinfect pores and eliminate whiteheads, blackheads, pimples and other blemishes.
Don’t forget to wash your face and hairline. a face wash for athletes is formulated for athletes’ skin. It is a syndet soap that removes sweat, dirt and sunscreen. It is tough on dirt while being gentle on your skin.
How to treat sweat pimples?
Once sweat acne is present, there are a few simple steps you can take to get clear skin:
- 1) Gently wash (not scrub) the area after a workout. Use an after workout body wash for acne and a face wash for athletes (day and night) as part of your after workout routine.
- 2) Pat dry your skin and apply a gel for workout acne on the pimples. Use it twice a day until the pimple disappears.
- 3) Use non-comedogenic, oil-free products for your sunscreen and moisturizer.
- 4) Resist touching your face as your dirty hands can deliver bacteria to your face and cause acne.
- 5) Don’t pick your breakout, you will create more inflammation and can lead to a scarring.
- 6) Always consult your dermatologist if your acne is not responding or it has nodules (painful bumps that even feel hot) that create scarring.
- 7) Wash clothing, sheets, or pillowcases every week to remove bacteria and accumulated oil.
How long do sweat pimples last?
The breakout, on average, will last two or three days. Avoid popping the pimple as it can last longer (more inflammation) and it can lead to scaring. To make a scar less apparent, always use sunscreen when out. Scars tend to get worse with the sun.
Sweat pimples can be a major cause of irritation, but they are treatable. You don't have to quit exercising in order to see clearer skin, maintaining proper skin hygiene and using the right skincare products are fundamental to treating/preventing sweat pimples.