Hit the showers! It’s an old phrase that many sports coaches and trainers have used after a training session or workout, and for many of us we have followed that advice without giving it too much thought other than not wanting to stink for the rest of the day. It turns out however that showering immediately after exercise can boost skin health in a number of ways.
Sweating is good and bad
Sweat during exercise is great. In general, the more you sweat the better you regulate internal body temperature – and in turn, the better your athletic performance. Elite athletes sweat earlier and more than non-elite athletes, so never feel embarrassed about being a ‘sweater’ – it’s good for you.
Sweat is composed of water, salt, and other minerals including sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. As sweat evaporates from the skin, it leaves behind these minerals, creating an ideal environment for bacteria to accumulate. Bacteria can thrive on the skin's surface – and it’s these bacteria that can cause unpleasant odours.
The accumulation of these minerals can also cause irritation and dryness of the skin and in some cases a condition called sweat-induced dermatitis, where people develop an itchy, red rash in areas where sweat accumulates on the skin, such as the groin, underarms, and behind the knees.
Small cuts and abrasions need care
In the 2021 Tour de France, Peter Sagan was favoured the win the green jersey. Peter crashed on stage three however suffering what looked like a minor cut to his right knee.
His knee was subsequently exposed it to sweat, dirt, and bacteria during the following stages leading to an infection, and despite receiving medical attention, Sagan had to withdraw from the race after stage 12 due to the severity of the infection, which required surgery.
Image: Peter Sagan at the 2021 Tour de France
The moist and warm conditions created by sweat likely facilitated the growth of bacteria. Whilst I’m writing this blog in the context of the importance of showering after exercise – and I’m sure Peter did, the incident highlights the importance of good hygiene practices, particularly in situations where there is an increased risk of exposure to sweat and bacteria.
Acne can be exacerbated by exercise
Sweat acne, also known as acne mechanica, is a skin condition that occurs when sweat and friction combine to create an environment that promotes the growth of acne-causing bacteria.
Sweat acne typically appears as small, red, and inflamed bumps on the skin's surface, particularly in areas where there is tight clothing or equipment that rubs against the skin, such as the back, chest, and forehead.
The friction caused by tight clothing or equipment can lead to the formation of micro-tears on the skin's surface, which can become irritated when exposed to sweat. This irritation, combined with sweat and bacteria, can cause inflammation and the formation of acne.
OK, so you need to shower
Yes, showering as soon as possible after a workout is crucial to maintaining optimal skin health – helping prevent body odour, skin redness and/or dryness, acne and bacterial infection of minor cuts and abrasions.
Aim to shower within 30 minutes if you can. Keep the shower as cold as possible as this will benefit in two ways:
- A cold shower will help reduce your body temperature, making it less likely that you’ll continue sweating after you’ve washed off all the sweat and bacteria.
- A cold shower will also help soothe and calm irritated skin – hot water can strip the skin of natural oils, leading to dryness, irritation and even skin damage over time.
If you can’t shower immediately after exercise:
- Use environmentally friendly wet wipes, or pack a small damp towel in your gym/sports bag.
- Rinse as best you can at a sink, or using your water bottle
- Change into clean clothes, including bras
- Use a dry shampoo
My recommendation is to also apply a suitable moisturising/recovery cream after showering because the water and soap can strip the skin of its natural oils, leading to dryness and irritation. Applying a restorative cream after showering helps to replenish the skin's moisture barrier and lock in hydration, keeping the skin strong and resilient.
Choosing the right repair/recovery product for your skin type is important. Look for products that are free of harsh chemicals and fragrances and contain ingredients such as niacinamide and allantoin, which can help soothe and repair the skin's barrier.
The Premax Recovery Cream has been specifically formulated to help the skin recover and repair from the stresses of sports and exercise.