"We tend to focus on the cardiovascular benefits of physical activity, and those are important. But anything that promotes healthy circulation also helps keep your skin healthy and vibrant," says dermatologist Ellen Marmur, MD, author of Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman's Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin and associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
If you have dermatological conditions such as acne, rosacea, or psoriasis, you may need to take special care to keep your skin protected while exercising. But don't let skin problems prevent you from being active. Here's why.
By increasing blood flow, exercise helps nourish skin cells and keep them vital. "Blood carries oxygen and nutrients to working cells throughout the body, including the skin," says Marmur. In addition to providing oxygen, blood flow also helps carry away waste products, including free radicals, from working cells. Contrary to some claims, exercise doesn't detoxify the skin. The job of neutralizing toxins belongs mostly to the liver. "But by increasing blood flow, a bout of exercise helps flush cellular debris out of the system," Marmur tells WebMD. "You can think of it as cleansing your skin from the inside."
Exercise has also been shown to ease stress. "And by decreasing stress, some conditions that can be exacerbated by stress can show some improvement," says Brian B. Adams, MD, associate professor and director of the Sports Dermatology Clinic at the University of Cincinnati. Conditions that can improve when stress is reduced include acne and eczema. Although researchers are still investigating the link between stress and skin, studies show that the sebaceous glands, which produce oil in the skin, are influenced by stress hormones.
Regular exercise helps tone muscles, of course. That doesn't have a direct affect on skin, dermatologists say. But firmer muscles definitely help you look better overall.
The Healthy Skin Workout
For all its many benefits, however, exercise can pose risks to your skin. Fortunately, protecting your skin is easy.
"The main danger if you exercise outdoors is sun exposure," says April Armstrong, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of California, Davis. Sunburns increase skin cancer risk and rapidly age the skin, erasing any benefits your skin might get from exercise. The best advice is to avoid exercising outside during peak sun time, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
If you have to work out during peak sun time, however, wear sunscreen. "A lot of athletes are reluctant to put on sunscreen because it gets into their eyes when they sweat and stings," says Marmur. "But new Ph-balanced sunscreens are now available that don't sting." If you have naturally oily skin or problems with acne, choose a gel or oil-free product or the latest innovation, powder laced with SPF protection.