"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.
Don't count of sunscreen alone to protect you, however. "Sweating can remove the sunscreen that athletes put on and there is evidence that sweating actually increases the chance of burning," Adams tells WebMD. "After athletes sweat, it takes 40% less ultraviolet rays to burn than when they are not sweating." For added protection, wear clothes that cover as much skin as possible and a hat to shade your face, if possible.
Another skin problem that can arise during activity is chafing, which can cause rashes. For people prone to acne, the irritation and increased perspiration caused by tight-fitting workout clothes may lead to a form of acne aptly called acne mechanica. "The two keys to prevention are to wear moisture-wicking clothing, such as bras and hats, to keep skin drier and cooler and to shower immediately after exercising," says Adams. Wearing loose-fitting workout clothes can also help. Make sure your skin is clean before you work out to prevent clogged pores that lead to acne. Avoid wearing makeup when you exercise. After showering, apply a soothing skin moisturizer or powder to help prevent skin irritation.
Rx for Exercise-Related Skin Problems
Several other skin conditions can be exacerbated by physical activity, including rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis. That's no reason not to exercise, dermatologists say. The benefits of exercise outweigh any temporary problems it can cause. And there are simple strategies to prevent flare-ups when you work out.