What I’m about to share with you is mind-bending. Does sweat cause acne?
Are you ready for this my friend?
I’m about to turn everything you currently know about sweat, acne and post-workout cleansing on its head.
Because N, O, no – sweat does not cause acne and in fact new and exciting science studies are showing the exact opposite to be true.
Sweat may be good for acne. It could help you get rid of acne, spots, breakouts and pimples.[and psst – not because you’re ‘purging toxins’ from your body ;)]
This means if post-workout you’re wiping sweat off your skin at super speed – you could be missing out on a natural acne-fighting serum.
If ever there was a statement worthy of a crying face emoji – this is it.
So keep reading my friend, I’m about to share with you a ridiculously hidden snippet of acne science I bet you hadn’t heard about till today. Knowledge bombs which are revealing the answers to these 3 questions I bet you’ve been wondering;
- Is sweat bad for skin?
- Does sweat clog your pores?
- Is sweating good or bad for acne?
So let’s get to this shall we?
Is Sweat Bad for Skin?
Before I get into the science, let’s think on this question for a quick moment. Is sweat bad for skin?
Sweat, something which your beautiful body makes every day of your life, being bad for your skin.
Like what Kryptonite is to Superman.
It doesn’t seem right eh.
If sweat was bad for our biggest vital organ, surely we would have evolved to not sweat. Or to have better sweat.
Funny you should say that 😉
Because here’s the deal. Not only can sweat help to moisturise your skin, but it also looks like sweat has superpowers – the ability to save your skin from bacterial infections.
Super common ones like staph.
And guess what acne, breakouts and pimples are – infections of your pores.
Take a peek at this science quote;
Sweat mainly consists of water, sodium, chloride, potassium, urea and lactate.Nat Immunol 2, 1133–1137 (2001)
Don’t worry if this all seems like crazy chemistry talk. I’m de-science-gooking for you now.
What I want you to focus on are those last two words – urea and lactate.
Because guess what, these two ‘juices’ are components of your skin’s natural moisturising factors. Exactly what that famous The Ordinary moisturiser is based on 🙂
A moisturiser which is named Natural Moisturising Factors and which contains;
- Sodium lactate and
And you can get them both for free from your very own sweat juices. Pretty awesome eh.
Does Sweat Clog Your Pores?
I’m about to blow your mind again my friend. No sweat does not clog your pores but yes in rare cases it can cause breakouts. A very specific type of breakout which the year 2020 renamed as Maskne. More about this soon.
First, we’re looking at all the reasons why sweat will not clog your pores.
Here’s the dealiO, sweat is made up from ingredients that are super small. Let’s take a look at that list from before. The list of what sweat is made up from.
- Water – never blocked anyone’s pores thank goodness 🙂
- Sodium – super small mass (for now think of this a bit like size) at about 22.8g/mol – don’t worry about those units, just look at that figure
- Chloride – 35.5
- Potassium – 39
- Urea – 60
- Lactate – 90
Psst – these figures are looking at the mass of (a mole) of each atom/molecule, not necessarily their ‘size’, however, the two are loosely linked – just like if I put on 3 stone, I will look bigger to you 🙂
Now take a look at this next mass number.
Lauric acid is an active found in coconut oil, it rates a 4/5 on the comedogenicity scale aka the pore blocking scale and it’s the key reason why coconut oil has hyper potential to block pores and worsen acne.
Now here it comes… Lauric acid has a molecular weight of 200.3g/mol.
Over double the size of lactate.
And if you’re all about the visual 😉 take a peek at these pictures;
The first reason why sweat is super unlikely to block your pores and therefore cause acne – it contains ingredients that can easily exit your pores because they’re small.
Think back to those days when we lived in caves.
We’d be in trouble if every time we got sweaty we got sprung with acne eh. It would make us look different and the other cave people we live with would worry why we look different. Maybe worry we’re contagious and leave us alone in a cave.
I mean, me-time is great until you realise you’ve got no one else to cook for you 😉
Bottom line; It wouldn’t make any sense for evolution to cause our beautiful bodies to get acne every time we sweat.
The second reason why sweat is super unlikely to block your pores – sweat is like a cup of tea with a teaspoon of sugar in it.
What I mean by this is that your sweat is almost completely water-based with just a spoonful of added extras.
Water does not clog your pores.
However, there is one exception. If you find your gym sweat causing pimples this is why.
Gym Sweat Causing Pimples
Sweat alone cannot clog your pores however pimples, acne and breakouts are not made only because of clogged pores.
They’re also made because your skin barrier breaks down.
Think of your skin barrier like a shield.
When your skin is happy and healthy, your skin shield is strong. This is great because your skin’s a bacteria planet just like your gut – in science, we call this your skin’s microbiome.
This bacteria planet also has small amounts of bad bacteria. Your skin shield keeps these guys out. But, when your skin shield gets holes in it, these bad bacteria can break in like a burglar.
…and guess what can break your skin shield?
Tight-fitting gym clothes!
Water held against your skin for too long (for example by clothes that don’t allow quick evaporation) also does this.
Which can make going to the gym a double whammy.
Until 2020 this type of uncommon acne was known as acne mechanica. Now we call it MaskNe.
Psst – extra – a study published in 2008 tested if waiting 4 hours to shower after a sweaty gym session would make acne worse. Guess what? It didn’t 🙂
I’m coaching you through how best to care for your skin after a gym workout inside the Acne Clinic.
My friend, now you know sweat can help hydrate your skin and does not clog your pores, it’s time to find out why sweat can help acne.
Is Sweating Good or Bad for Acne?
Spoiler alert – your sweat could be as good for acne as chocolate is in cake 🙂
All because of new sweat research. In this research, scientists looked at all the bits and bobs our skin sweats out.
Psst – I know this might seem crazy, to think we’re only just finding this out. But imagine only having a magnifying glass to look at sweat with, and then a microscope. It makes a difference eh. Science is always advancing which means we get to look deeper and deeper. Wahoo.
This sweat research revealed a secret that has been hiding from us.
Sweat contains a super-specific antimicrobial peptide. Basically an ingredient that can kill off stuff like bacteria.
One which works best specifically with the salty nature of your sweat aka with those atoms of sodium and chloride.
Scientists have named it Dermcidin.
Take a peek at this;
We determined that 1–10 ug/ml of the peptide DCD-1 was present in sweat, a concentration that proved toxic to most microorganisms we tested.Nat Immunol 2, 1133–1137 (2001)
Psst – DCD-1 is a type of Dermcidin.
And here comes the de-science-gook.
All this quote is saying is that the amount of Dermcidin found in sweat is toxic to lots of bad bacteria which can stage hostile takeovers of your skin.
One of the bacteria this study tested against is staphylococcus aureus.
About 43% of acne patients also have staphylococcus aureus infections – and guess what – these make acne, pimples and breakouts bigger, redder, hotter and way more inflamed.
Bonus – this very same study also tested Dermcidin against the most common cause of fungal infections – candida albicans. And it was like unleashing superman against an ant. We’re sweating out magic here 😉 and this means your magic sweat could also help prevent fungal acne. Will the benefits ever stop?
Does Sweat Help Acne?
Oh heck yes it does. Acne is an overgrowth of a specific kind of bacteria. A bacteria which we used to call P.acnes and which has now got married off 😉 and been renamed cutibacterium acnes.
Psst – pretty much all science papers before 2020 will call it p.acnes.
Take a peeky at this science quote;
The antimicrobial activity of… DCD… against P. acnes ranged from 68% at 50 μg/ml DCD to 83% at 270 μg/ml DCD.Acta Derm Venereol. 2015 Sep;95(7):783-6
De-science-gooking – all this quote is saying is that Dermicidin, that special antibacterial active found in your sweat is great at killing off acne bacteria and the more of it there is in your sweat the more acne bacteria it kills off.
This very same study shows healthy skin on average has about 136.7 μg/ml Dermcidin. Some people even have up to 201.6ug/ml. Wowee eh.
So on average, your sweat has over 68% killing power against the bacteria which cause acne.
Oh and by the way – not killing off all the acne bacteria living on your skin is actually an extremely good thing. And that’s because your skin needs acne bacteria. It just needs acne bacteria in the right concentrations.
Once again, your body knows best 🙂
Bottom line; does sweat cause acne? Nope siree, sweat does not cause or worsen the most common type of acne. Does sweat help acne? Oh yes, it can and that’s because it’s got super antimicrobial powers.
Has this rocked your world to find out? Have you been worrying about sweat making your acne worse? Tell me in the comments below how you treat your skin after a sweaty workout.
Oh and please do feel free to use that big green sharing button to forward this revelation to a friend in need. You’re the best!
Cheryl Woodman is a scientist & award winning skincare formulator who’s more friend next door than bow tie wearing professor. As creator of Honesty For Your Skin her aim is to help you care for your skin in the best ways possible. She’s founder of the natural & fragrance free skincare brand Honesty while also hosting 1 to 1 skincare coaching to help you get your best skin yet. Find out more here.