As a dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet, Jordan Samuel Pacitti spent six hours a day “off and on, sweating then resting.” Add to that loop three performances a week under hot stage lights, in heavy makeup, and Pacitti’s once blemish-free skin revolted.
“There were extreme breakouts, sensitivity, inflammation — you name it,” Pacitti said. His efforts back then to achieve “happy — not perfect” skin became the foundation of his post-dance career as an aesthetician and founder of Jordan Samuel Skin, a collection designed to maintain balance and hydration.
“Most of us work out when we can squeeze it in throughout the day,” he said. “But that leads to a puzzle: When do I cleanse? Do I remove my makeup? When do I apply my skin care? It’s a surprisingly complex puzzle.”
To help you solve that puzzle, we consulted four skin-care experts. Developing a routine is important, they say, because of what’s happening in and on the skin as you work out.
When your heart rate is up, “you get vasodilation — vessels widen, and more blood, oxygen and nutrients go to the skin,” said Marnie Nussbaum, a dermatologist in Manhattan. “That’s the glow you see.” Your pores open up, too, letting in more of whatever is on the skin’s surface.
Sweat and heat also affect the skin’s microbiome. “Certain flora on the skin are protective,” said cosmetic dermatologic surgeon Howard Sobel of Sobel Skin in Manhattan. “When they’re out of balance, you can end up with inflammation, irritation or acne.”
Don’t engage in excessive washing
If your skin is clean, don’t wash it again. Skin is quickly irritated by excessive washing, particularly skin that is prone to acne and rosacea. “If you did your whole skin-care routine at night, woke up and your skin still felt clean — not excessively oily — don’t wash,” said Jeannel Astarita, an aesthetician and founder of Just Ageless, a skin care and body contouring studio in New York.
At most, splash your face with tepid water and wipe it gently with a microfiber cloth. “They’re less abrasive than regular washcloths,” Astarita said. “Buy several so you can use a fresh one daily.”
If your skin is dry or dehydrated, apply a light hydrating serum. Jordan Samuel Skin Hydrate Facial Serum Mini Packets ($1.25) contain the humectants aloe leaf juice and glycerin. And they’re gym-bag friendly.
Do not do your whole skin-care routine. “First, you’ll sweat it off,” Astarita said. “It’s money down the drain, and doing it all again a few hours later can be irritating to the skin.”
Later in the day, cleanse before sweating
Remove skin-care products and makeup before any sweat session. Remember, your pores are opening when you sweat, and you don’t want the day’s dirt that’s sitting on top of your skin to get inside. Overwashing is still a concern, so use a cleanser with a gentle surfactant and hydrating base, like Jordan Samuel Skin Matinee Gel Cleanser ($20). It also contains salicylic acid.
“Salicylic acid breaks up sebum and dead skin, which causes acne,” Nussbaum said. “A good cleanse is really what you need before and after working out, but if you can’t for some reason, wipe your skin with a salicylic acid pad,” like Dr Dennis Gross DRx Acne Eliminating Pads ($42).
A cleanser with probiotics, like OMI Re-energize Daily Glow Cleanser ($32) is beneficial before (and after) a workout since heat and sweat may disrupt the balance of good bacteria. This is particularly true for anyone with inflammatory conditions like eczema or acne.
“Probiotic skin care is very new,” Sobel said, “but the idea is that prebiotics are like fertilizer for skin-supportive good bacteria — probiotics.”
For makeup, use a mineral foundation
If you have active acne or scarring that you’d like to cover, you may find yourself working out in makeup. If so, the experts say to use a mineral foundation.
“Mineral makeup doesn’t contain those chemicals that tend to be most irritating to the skin,” Pacitti said. Some will have ingredients that nourish or support the skin, like Bare Minerals Blemish Rescue Skin-Clearing Loose Powder Foundation ($29) which contains salicylic acid.
Outdoors, use mineral sunscreen
Because it’s a physical block, mineral sunscreen works as soon as you apply it — no waiting for it to absorb before your outdoor run. Experts say, though, that their mineral preference is about more than convenience.
“We’re only now beginning to understand how the chemicals used in sunscreens enter the bloodstream and impact our bodies,” Astarita said. “And some are known skin irritants, so if you’re working out, you’d be more likely to have an inflammatory response to those chemicals.” Unsun Tinted Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 ($29) has titanium dioxide and zinc oxide protection that won’t leave a white cast on the skin.
Your lips need sun protection, too. Coola Mineral Liplux SPF 30 ($18) adds a hint of color while beeswax and shea butter moisturize.
Also, the sweat-then-air-dry cycle of an outdoor workout can dehydrate your skin. Spritz with a lightweight hydrating spray like Kinfield Sunday Spray Cooling Aloe Mist ($22) after (or during) your workout. Spearmint in the formula feels refreshing and is an anti-inflammatory.
After a workout, cleanse again
If you’re working out during the afternoon, don’t repeat your whole morning skin-care routine after the workout (hello, irritation). Simply cleanse gently, hydrate and apply sunscreen. If you work out in the morning or at night, do your full skin-care routine right after the workout so you don’t end up washing your skin a second time when you get home.
“And there’s a bonus benefit,” Nussbaum said. “Because your pores are open, any serums or other reparative ingredients you apply will be better absorbed.”
If you skip the preworkout wash, a double cleanse, particularly in the evening, is a great method to remove makeup, oil and dirt without scrubbing. Wash first with an oil cleanser, then follow with a gentle gel cleanser. Oil cleansers complement dry and mature skin because they don’t further dehydrate the skin.
“They’re good for oily types, too, because they remove the excess oil but don’t overly dry the skin,” Astarita said. Organic olive fruit, sunflower and antioxidant-heavy rosehip oil in Pai Skincare Light Work Rosehip Cleansing Oil ($52) easily melt away makeup and grime; it turns into a light cleansing milk when you splash on some water.
Remove workout clothing right away
Most moisture-wicking workout clothing is made of occlusive fabric, Sobel said. Remove it promptly to prevent body breakouts. If you end up getting body breakouts anyway, a chemical exfoliator helps eliminate dead skin cells that are clogging your pores. Skinbetter AlphaRet Exfoliating Peel Pads ($95) contain salicylic, glycolic and lactic acid along with a retinoid to increase cell turnover and clear up that back acne.