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Should You Do Your Skincare Before or After Your Workout? Yes, the Order Matters!

by Ella Goodman 31 Oct 2023

It’s the burning question on every fitness and skincare junkie's lips: when should you slather on that luxe serum?

Before busting a move in your Zumba class or after you’ve maxed out on the treadmill?

Let’s dive deep into the nitty-gritty of skincare and working out, and how the two can beautifully coexist.

Should I Do My Skincare Routine Before or After the Gym?

Before we dive into this, remember one thing: your skin is like that moody cat, unique with its own set of likes and dislikes.

So, the answers we provide here are guidelines.

Your skin might want to shake things up occasionally.

The Prelude: Skincare Before the Gym

There's a method behind this skincare madness, and here’s why you might want to give your skin some pre-gym love:

  • Barrier Protection: Ever wondered about the microscopic world of bacteria and grime that lurk on gym equipment? A thin layer of lightweight skincare acts as a shield, protecting your precious pores from these unsavory characters.
  • Sweat and Irritants: Sweat isn’t just water; it's a cocktail of salts, proteins, and other compounds. A gentle skincare base can reduce the chances of these components irritating your skin.
  • Light Over Heavy: Remember, before the gym isn’t the time to go for that rich, decadent cream or the super-serum with all the actives. Stick to basics. A gentle cleanser clears the canvas, and a light moisturizer preps it for action.
  • The SPF Commandment: Heading outdoors for a sun-splashed run or a yoga session? UV rays are the arch-nemeses of youthful skin. It’s essential to apply a broad-spectrum SPF. And no, your foundation with SPF isn’t going to cut it here. You need the real deal!

The Encore: Skincare After the Gym

Post-workout, your skin is like an audience after an epic concert, buzzing, open, and receptive.

This is your encore moment!

Here’s why and how to nail it:

  • Open Pore Galore: With increased blood flow and warmth, your pores are more open post-exercise, making it the perfect time to introduce them to your favorite products. They’ll absorb ingredients more effectively, giving you better results.
  • Sweat and Grime: Remember that sweat cocktail? Post-gym, it’s mixed with all the dirt, oil, and atmospheric pollutants. Left unchecked, this concoction can lead to breakouts and irritation. A gentle cleanse ensures you wipe the slate clean.
  • Rehydrate & Replenish: Exercising can dehydrate your skin. After cleaning, it’s crucial to reintroduce moisture. Depending on your skin type, you can go for a hydrating toner, followed by an anti-aging serum, and then a moisturizer. If you've had a particularly intense session, products with calming ingredients like chamomile or aloe vera can be a godsend.
  • Avoid Over-exfoliation: It might be tempting to use a deep exfoliating scrub post-workout to feel ultra-clean. Resist the urge! Your skin is already in a sensitive state; overdoing it can lead to redness and sensitivity.

What is 'Gym Face'?

We’ve all seen it.

Heck, most of us have sported it.

That just-left-the-gym, face-all-lit look.

Some call it a post-workout glow, but the more savvy fitness enthusiasts might dub it the “gym face”. And if you’re scratching your head right now wondering what in the world a ‘gym face’ is, let’s break it down.

Gym Face: Beyond the Surface

We’re not just talking about a charming rosy tint that makes you look like you’ve just returned from a winter stroll. Nope, 'gym face' is a bit more dramatic.

Think flushed cheeks, pronounced redness, sometimes with a side of irritation.

But why does this happen? Let’s get a tad scientific.

  • The Blood Rush: At the heart of 'gym face' is your circulatory system doing its job. When you're pushing through those squats or sprinting on the treadmill, your muscles are hard at work and they demand more oxygen. The body's response? Dilate those blood vessels and pump more blood to the muscles. And as a side-effect, more blood to the surface of your skin, leading to that rosy flush.
  • The Heat Factor: Workouts heat you up. Your body's natural air conditioning system (aka sweating) kicks in. While sweat is essentially a good thing, the process means your skin's temperature rises. Increased skin temperature can contribute to the appearance of redness.
  • External Aggressors: That yoga mat, the dumbbells, or even your own hands—think of all the things you touch during a workout. Now think about touching your face after. All those germs and irritants can transfer to your skin, potentially worsening the 'gym face' effect.

The Fine Line Between Glow and Gloom

While a bit of a flush can impart a youthful radiance, how do you know if your 'gym face' is crossing over from healthy glow to red alert?

  • Duration: A healthy post-workout flush will typically fade as your heart rate returns to normal and your body cools down. If the redness lingers unnaturally long or is accompanied by discomfort, it could be a sign of irritation.
  • Texture and Sensation: If your face feels itchy, tight, or you spot tiny bumps along with the redness, these might be tell-tale signs that your skin's not just reacting to the workout but to something more. Perhaps a product you've slathered on pre-exercise?
  • Location: While it’s common to see a flush on the cheeks and forehead, if you’re noticing redness in less typical areas like around your eyes or chin, it might be time to rethink your pre-gym skincare routine.

Should You Workout After Skincare?

The drama between your skincare products and your workout is real. Here's a play-by-play:

1. Exfoliants and Their Sweaty Tango with Exercise

Glycolic acid, salicylic acid, lactic acid—sound familiar? These active ingredients, known as AHAs and BHAs, along with retinoids, hold a revered place in many skincare regimens.

Their goal? To shed dead skin cells, promote collagen, and give you that radiant sheen. But, there's a catch.

When you get your heart rate up, your skin heats. Now, imagine these potent ingredients on your already warm skin. The increased absorption, combined with a rise in skin temperature, can turn your complexion from dewy to inflamed in no time. Especially if you're braving the outdoors, where UV rays can amplify the sensitivity.

The takeaway? Reconsider using potent actives before you flex those muscles, or brace for potential redness and stinging.

2. Heavy-duty Moisturizers vs. Cardio

Thick, luxurious moisturizers are a treat. They cocoon your skin, offering intense hydration. But, when it’s you against the treadmill, these creamy delights can become a bit of a party pooper.

How so? Well, they create a barrier.

When you're immersed in a high-intensity workout, you're bound to sweat bullets. But a layer of dense moisturizer can trap sweat, preventing it from evaporating naturally.

Trapped sweat, especially when mixed with sebum and dead skin cells, is a VIP invitation to acne and breakouts. If cardio is on the cards, maybe opt for a lighter, water-based moisturizer.

3. The Lightweight Champions: Serums and Strength Training

Serums, with their thin consistencies and potent formulations, have earned their stripes in the skincare league. They’re designed for rapid absorption and target specific skin concerns.

So, how do they fare in the workout scene?

Well, if you're pumping iron or doing some low-intensity exercises, a non-comedogenic serum can indeed play defense, shielding your skin from pollutants, especially during open-air workouts.

But timing is everything! Give your skin ample time (at least 15 minutes) post-application before diving into those reps to ensure it’s fully absorbed.

4. The Makeup Marathon Dilemma

Picture it: You’re at work, looking fabulous with your on-point makeup. And then it’s gym time. But wiping off that perfect winged liner and the highlighter seems heartbreaking. Should you, or shouldn’t you?

Reality check! During workouts, your pores widen. Keeping makeup on allows sweat, combined with foundation, eyeshadow, and whatever else you’re sporting, to dive deep into these pores.

The aftermath? Potential breakouts, blackheads, and a lot of regret. So, as tempting as it might be, always opt for a clean face when you’re getting fit. A quick swipe with micellar water or a gentle cleanser will do the trick.

Is it OK to Sweat After Applying Moisturizer?

Alright, let’s set the stage: You've just drenched your skin with your favorite moisturizer, feeling all sorts of hydrated vibes. Then the realization dawns - it’s gym time.

Oh, snap! Does this spell doom for your freshly pampered skin? Let’s dive deep into this slippery situation.

The Science Behind Sweating

First off, why do we sweat?

Apart from signaling an intense workout session or a nerve-wracking situation, sweating is our body's built-in cooling system. As sweat evaporates off our skin, it dissipates heat and cools us down.

Fun fact: On average, we have about 2 to 4 million sweat glands scattered all over our bodies! Now, let’s see how this interacts with our skincare.

The Lightweight Moisturizer Ballet

Imagine lightweight moisturizers as the agile ballet dancers of the skincare world. They glide, they absorb, and they let the skin do its thing.

These moisturizers are formulated to penetrate the skin quickly and don't leave a heavy film on the surface. This means when you start sweating, the moisture can usually evaporate off your skin without much drama.

The duo, in most cases, can coexist harmoniously.

Heavy Creams and Oils: The Double-edged Sword

Now, enter the drama queens of skincare – the heavy creams and oils.

Their goal? To lock in moisture and prevent water loss. This they do by forming an occlusive barrier. But when you start sweating, this barrier can be a tad bit problematic.

Sweat, which contains water, salt, and waste products, needs a way out. If trapped by thick moisturizers, it can't evaporate. This stagnant layer of sweat mingling with oils can become a breeding ground for bacteria.

And as we know, bacteria + skin = potential acne and irritation.

So, if a robust workout follows a heavy moisturizing session, you might want to rethink that combination or give it some time in between.

The Post-Workout Moisturizing Magic

Now here's a plot twist!

Applying moisturizer post-workout and then sweating a bit can actually be your skin's BFF.

Post an intense session, your skin loses moisture and might feel a bit parched. It's like it's asking for a hydrating drink, and your moisturizer is that tall glass of refreshing water.

When you apply a good-quality moisturizer post-workout, it helps restore the skin’s barrier. Any subsequent sweating actually aids in ensuring that this hydration is locked in, helping with quicker recovery. It's like giving your skin a hydrating boost, supercharging its rejuvenation process.

Tying It All Together: Lifestyle Choices for That Glow

Let’s wrap up with some golden nuggets to make sure your skincare and fitness journey gets a standing ovation:

  • Stay Hydrated: Inside and out! Drink up that H2O and use hydrating moisturizers for that inside-out glow.
  • Wear Breathable Fabrics: Let your skin breathe while you turn those calories to ashes.
  • Cleanse ASAP Post-Workout: Don’t let the sweat sit. Use a gentle cleanser to keep those pores happy.
  • Personalize: You do you! Experiment and figure out what combination works best for your unique skin.

Ready to rock that post-gym glow?

Remember, it’s all about balance. Both skincare and working out are love letters to your body. It's time to seal them with a kiss!

Happy glowing!

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