Working Out, Sweat And Body Acne

Yu Shing Ting
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Friday - November 03, 2010
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I admire people who take care of their bodies by keeping active, especially busy people who somehow make the time to burn off the extra calories, whether it’s going to the gym, pounding the pavement, doing yoga or riding the surf.

But one thing I often see on these amazing, buff bodies, especially at the gym, is body acne.

“Usually people get acne on their bodies from heat, sweating and irritation on their skin,” explains Kevin Dawson, a staff physician at The Queen’s Medical Center and an assistant clinical professor at the University of Hawaii. “Acne is a multi-step process. It starts with the hair follicle getting clogged and then a buildup of bacteria, which causes inflammation in the skin.”

People often associate pimples with stress or puberty, and Dawson agrees that these can be factors. However, genetics also can be a factor.

As for prevention, the best thing to do is to wash right after a good sweat.

“A lot of us have this busy schedule where you work out and then you go and pick up the kids and go to the store, and you have sweaty clothes sitting on you for several hours before you change them. And I think that’s one of the biggest thing that causes that sort of irritation,” notes Dawson. “Also, make sure you’re working out in clean shirts, because you’re reintroducing old bacteria if you have a workout shirt you’re using in the gym that you’re not washing every time.

“And make sure when you’re washing that you’re actually washing. I think many people don’t really actually use soap and scrub their backs. It’s hard to reach, so they don’t use a washcloth to scrub back there. They just kind of let the water run over it, and that’s not usually adequate.”

Dawson suggests using an over-the-counter acne wash and a gentle scrub brush to scrub your back on a regular basis. But don’t expect an overnight miracle. It could take several weeks before you see results.

“Some people get impatient and they overscrub and over-apply, and it gets itchy, so they have to be patient and consistent,” he says. “It should get better after a few weeks.

“The only thing you have to worry about is if it’s getting severe enough to where it’s causing scarring. It’s not dangerous, but it’s just something you always want to prevent. Also, with body acne, people can get bacterial infections, and that’s usually red, painful and it gets worse and worse. That can be something that’s dangerous if there’s a bacteria, not a common bacteria, but something like a staph infection in the hair follicles.”

Dawson adds that drinking a lot (usually more than five or six glasses a day) of non-organic dairy products seem to make acne worse, as do diets with high sugar or simple carbohydrates, such as rice and pasta.

And while you can’t catch acne from somebody, you can catch a staph infection or other acne like rashes, so it’s always good to bring a towel with you to the gym.

“Acne in general has a hereditary component and a hormone component, so sometimes even though somebody is meticulously cleaning, it’s not a hygiene issue,” adds Dawson. “Poor hygiene makes acne worse, but if you have good hygiene, you can still get acne.”

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