Dr. Lauren Livelo 03 Aug 2022

The human body greatly benefits from regular exercise. Working out can help regulate weight gain, improve mood, and prevent non-communicable diseases such as hypertension and other heart diseases. However, Although there are many advantages to being physically active, there may also be some consequences that affect the skin. 

Exercise is heat-generating and can cause sweating. Sweating is the body’s way of regulating temperature – to keep cool and avoid overheating. Unfortunately, sweating also causes most of the skin problems found in athletes and in those who work out often.

Skin problems in active people

Infections (Fungal, Bacterial, Viral)

Those who work out and frequent the gym are prone to various infections. The most common acquired infections are fungal in nature. Tinea cruris (jock itch), tinea pedis (athlete’s foot), and tinea corporis (ringworms in the body) are some of the most common fungal infections that may burden active people. Bacterial infections, such as impetigo and folliculitis or inflammation of the hair follicles, are also quite prevalent in athletes, especially in activities that require body contact, such as wrestling. Viral infections such as herpes simplex are less common but can also happen in contact sports.

Topical and oral antifungals may be given to treat fungal infections. The management is dependent on the extent of the disease. For more disseminated and severe cases, oral antifungals are preferred over topical agents. Some topical antifungals include clotrimazole, miconazole, terbinafine, and sertaconazole. Examples of oral antifungals include itraconazole and fluconazole. For bacterial infections, oral and topical antibacterial agents such as mupirocin or clindamycin may be given. Symptomatic treatment is done for viral infections, but antivirals like acyclovir and valacyclovir may also be given if warranted. 

Foul odor of the body and feet

Sweating can lead to body odor. This happens because bacteria flourish in warm and moist environments. This causes a foul odor that can emanate from the armpits or the feet.

Topical agents containing aluminum chloride or oral auminum chlorohydrate may be given as antiperspirants. Antibiotics may also be prescribed if needed.

Friction, chafing, and blisters

When skin rubs on another skin surface or clothing, this can cause friction and chafing. This is common on the inner thighs and underarms. When these areas are moist, the friction between these areas is also increased. Blisters are fluid-filled pockets of skin that are painful. They usually appear on the palms and soles due to increased friction during exercise.

Seborrheic dermatitis

Sweating can cause flare-ups of seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff). Seborrheic dermatitis is caused by the yeast Malassezia, an organism that usually thrives in warm, moist areas. As a result, those affected may have red, itchy, and scaly plaques on their scalp, eyebrows, sides of the nose, and ears. The management of seborrheic dermatitis consists of using emollients, topical corticosteroids, topical calcineurin inhibitors, and topical antifungals. 

Sunburn, Frostbite

Many sports activities are done outdoors; therefore, those who do not use sun protection techniques are prone to sunburn. In addition, those who participate in winter sports and activities may also get frostbite with prolonged exposure to cold weather. These skin conditions will need proper evaluation and management by your physician. 

How to care for the skin BEFORE exercise

  • Make sure the skin is clean and make-up free. Make-up products mixed with sweaty skin can clog pores and cause acne breakouts.
  • Wear loose workout clothes and choose the right fabrics. Nylon and polyester clothes can wick sweat away from the skin and help cool down body temperature. Tight clothes and the use of accessories can cause more irritation, so it is better to wear loose clothing and avoid wearing accessories when working out.
  • Wear the right shoes and socks. Make sure that your shoes are the right size, as this will help decrease the risk of blisters and injuries when working out. Wear moisture-wicking socks as well to help with the sweating. 
  • Don’t forget sun protection. When exercising outdoors or participating in sporting events, it is best to stay protected from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Wearing sunscreen (at least SPF 30) and using sun-protective equipment such as hats, sunglasses, and umbrellas for shade will help prevent sunburn and further sun damage.
  • Use clean towels and workout equipment. When working out, use clean towels and disinfect the equipment, especially in the gym. This can help prevent the spread of bacteria and other infections that can affect the skin.

How to care for the skin AFTER exercise

  • Shower after your workout and wear clean clothes after. Showering gets rid of the accumulated sweat, bacteria, and oils left on the skin post-workout. Use mild and non-comedogenic products. Deodorants and antiperspirants can help reduce sweating and can mask body odor.
  • Wear slippers in the locker room and in the showers. This can help prevent infections such as athlete’s foot.
  • Avoid sharing personal items.
  • Keep cuts and scrapes clean, if there are any.
  • Check for other skin infections, and if there are any, seek consultation with a dermatologist.

Take-Home Messages

There are indeed many benefits to having an active lifestyle. However, it may also lead to skin problems such as infections, chafing, body odor, and sunburn. Athletes and active individuals should know how to take care of their skin pre-workout and after working out to decrease the risk for skin problems. It is advisable to consult with a dermatologist for any of these exercise-related problems, so that proper guidance and management can be given.  

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About the Author:
Dr. Lauren Livelo is a board-certified dermatologist from the Philippines. She has a degree in Medicine from the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center, and has completed her dermatology residency training in the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine. Aside from her private practice, she enjoys writing about skin care and diseases of the skin.


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  • How your workout can affect your skin. (n.d.). American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved August 1, 2022, from
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  • Ramsey, M. L. (1997). Skin Care for Active People. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 3, 131–132.
  • Stewart, B. (2020, December 8). How sweat and exercise affects your skincare regimen. The Sydney Morning Herald; The Sydney Morning Herald.

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