The reward for getting healthier is breaking out—what gives?

Lisa DeSantis
March 26, 2018
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I began my fitness journey with beautiful, clear skin. Sure, I'd get the occasional cystic breakout, but I managed to keep a pretty good handle on those suckers with birth control and a cortisone shot from my dermatologist every once and a while for the real whoppers. But then I started working out...a lot. My reward? Well, along with a more toned physique, I was greeted with a speckled complexion that made me rethink my daily sweat sessions. As a result, I went from not even taking off my makeup before hitting the gym to having a full pre- and post-workout skincare regimen to keep my skin in check. This is the combo that finally helped me kick my breakouts to the curb.

As a beauty editor, I always tell others not to wear makeup when they exercise because it can clog your pores. But I never practiced what I preached, mainly because I never had any trouble...until I did. Though I can't pinpoint why all of a sudden I started flaring up, it was very clearly related to wearing makeup. I found that if I worked out without wearing any, I'd wind up with less irritation. Once I had that realization, I started booking early morning classes that I could show up to with a bare face. If I only have time after work, though, I always wash my face first. I keep Yes To Tomatoes Detoxifying Charcoal Facial Wipes ($10; amazon.com) in my gym bag for a quick removal process. The cloths are black, so they feel a little more luxe and they're made with charcoal, which acts like a magnet for impurities. If I have access to a sink and a little extra time to spare, I like to pair the wipes with Eve Lom Gel Balm Cleanser ($60; sephora.com). Not only does it smell like a spa and gets me in the zone for a good sweat sesh, the gel-to-balm formula is an all-star at whisking away every trace of dirt and oil.

If I'm in a super rush and maybe didn't do such a great job with removing all of my makeup, I have a saving grace: the Lumion Skin Oxygen Mist + HOCL ($24; amazon.com). I spritz it generously over my face, and the hypochlorous acid it packs kills breakout-causing bacteria. While I'd prefer to go completely makeup-free, it helps me sweat easy knowing that I used it. I spray it on after I workout, too, as a refresher. And I keep one on my desk and use throughout the day to make sure that my skin is protected from environmental aggressors like pollution and sweat. 

After my workout, I try to wash my face as quickly as I possibly can. The less time I spend with sweat on my face, the less opportunity there is for a breakout to manifest (at least that's what I tell myself to force myself into the shower rather than get sucked into a Gilmore Girls black hole.) In the shower, I keep Dermalogica Precleanse Balm ($45; dermstore.com), which isn't dissimilar to the Eve Lom—hey, I like what I like! This one goes from a balm to oil, though, and comes with a little silicon mit that I slip on my hand and scrub my face with. It's so satisfying to get into all the nooks and crannies knowing that I've removed every last bead of sweat. To finish, I sweep a Sonage Glow To Go Glycolic Acid Peel Pad ($30; amazon.com) over my face. They look like cotton rounds and have been soaked in a natural AHA formula, which is known for helping with cell turnover to help brighten dark spots and acne marks and leave an all-over radiant glow. Packaged in a convenient travel case, they're easy to bring to the gym, too.

Before bed, I bring out the big guns. When it comes down to it, I really credit my overall clearer complexion to Differin ($15; amazon.com). It's an over-the-counter, full-strength retinoid cream that helps to both clear and prevent acne. So, rather than using it as a spot treatment when you already have a pimple, it's recommended that you use about a pea-sized amount and spread it over your entire face. Because it's a retinol, which are known for being drying (and I've peeled in response to it in the past), I slather on a generous amount of moisturizer on top. My cream of choice right now is Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Cream ($68; sephora.com) because it's rich, but not overly so, and my combo skin reacts well to it. When I wake up in the AM, my skin feels smooth and looks blemish-free (most of the time). What more could I ask for?