Need a little extra motivation to actually get to the gym instead of hitting snooze? Exercise is good for your skin. Sure, you’ve probably noticed a rosier, dewier complexion after a sweat session before — the #postworkoutglow is real — but it turns out, the benefits of working out go way beyond a momentary flush and a sheen of dew, er, sweat. A consistent fitness routine can boost circulation, detox your lymphatic system, clean out your pores, kill acne-causing bacteria, and even reverse aging. Seriously.
“Regular exercise can have a great impact on your skin,” Dr. Lily Talakoub of McLean Dermatology and Skincare Center tells The Zoe Report. “For one, your heart rate increases which vasodilates — aka, opens blood vessels in your face.” This boost in blood flow brings in “growth factors,” naturally occurring substances that help repair damaged cells; along with vital nutrients and a boost of oxygen. “There’s a reason why oxygen facials are so major,” Katie Dunlop, creator of Love Sweat Fitness and the soon-to-launch Love Sweat Fitness App, tells us; referring to the fact that increased oxygen flow can help the skin produce more collagen and retain moisture. “Think of exercise as the ultimate oxygen facial.”
“In order to really see the skin benefits from your sweat sesh, you need to make sure both your cardiovascular and lymphatic systems are working together,” Dunlop says, with Dr. Talakoub agreeing that lymphatic drainage is essential for skin health.
The lymphatic system is basically your body’s detox center: It collects excess fluid and toxins from the body, and carries white blood cells that fight off infection. When the lymphatic system becomes stagnant, however — whether from lack of movement, a high-sodium diet, dehydration, or inflammation — fluid and toxins can build up under the skin, resulting in puffiness and pimples. Exercise keeps the lymph moving, thereby releasing toxins and keeping skin clear and toned. (This is also why lymphatic facial massage, facilitated by tools like jade rollers and Gua Sha, is so popular.)
Certain exercises are particularly beneficial for the lymphatic system. “The rebounder is famous for activating lymphatic flow,” Lauren Kleban, founder of LEKFIT (the LA-based workout class beloved by celebrities like Busy Phillips, Emmy Rossum, and Jen Atkin) tells The Zoe Report. “We use a mini rebounder as part of our main concept, BOUNCE, which helps to rid the body of toxins.” LEKFIT’s lymph-draining classes are all streamable online, so you can get in on the detox action at home.
“The lymphatic system can also be drained and cleansed through yoga,” Claire Grieve, a yoga specialist and health coach, tells us. “Any pose that places your head below your heart — inversions such as shoulder stands, forward bend, handstand, and plow — will drain your lymphatic fluid.” Some of yoga’s twisting positions stimulate the gut and liver as well, both of which have been linked to clearer skin.
“Aside from the lymphatic system, your skin itself is one of your greatest tools to detoxify your body,” Dunlop tells us. “Being that it’s our largest organ it’s kind of our first line of defense, and sweat allows us to get rid of toxins via the skin.” Not only can sweat carry toxins out of the body through the pores, but it kills acne-causing bacteria on the way out. “Sweat is salt water, which has a great antibacterial effect,” Dr. Talakoub says.
“Exercise also decreases [the stress hormone] cortisol,” the dermatologist tells TZR. “Cortisol is bad for the skin, as it causes acne, inflammation, and puffiness.” Additionally, excess levels of this hormone impair the body’s ability to produce collagen — so decreased cortisol can mean younger-looking skin.
One study from McMaster University in Ontario published in the New York Times even found that a consistent fitness routine can actually alter the thickness of the outer and inner layers of the dermis; essentially making skin appear firmer and bouncier from head to toe.
But all of that pretty much means nothing if you wear makeup to the gym (guilty) or allow sweat to linger on your face after working out. “Makeup can clog your pores and make it more difficult to allow your body to get rid of the toxins through sweat,” Dunlop explains. “A fresh face means you can easily sweat it out.”
“If you hope to maintain healthy skin, I definitely recommend washing your face, taking a shower, or using a full body wipe post-sweat,” Kleban tells us. Dr. Talakoub suggests 107 Oil-In-Gel Cleanser, because it cleanses without stripping the skin.
Or, stash gentle makeup-removing wipes in your gym bag to “do a quick face clean up to keep your skin on point before and after a workout,” Dunlop says. “It will save your skin and allow you to soak up all the benefits of a solid sweat.” Just remember to give your face a proper wash as soon as you're back home.