The best way to set your skin up for success in any workout routine is to head into it with a fresh, clean face. When we sweat, our pores open to control our body temperature, which makes it easy for any dirt that’s sitting on the surface to sink into the skin (hello, breakouts). Post-workout, as our bodies begin to cool down, our skin naturally re-absorbs all of the sweat, dirt, and debris—which can lead to inflammatory skin conditions such as acne, dehydration, and even milia.
But thanks to the fact that many people are experiencing more flexibility in their workdays, hitting the gym can happen at pretty much any time. And while this is great news for your fitness regimen, it can be admittedly confusing for your complexion. For example, imagine you decide to boost your endorphins with an afternoon sweat session between meetings, but you have to head back to the office shortly thereafter. This creates a beauty conundrum: Should you wash your face before your workout to rid your skin of makeup, wait until afterward to whisk away sweat and create a clean canvas to re-apply your makeup to, or both? And once your face is clean, what else are you supposed to do to it?
To help you maintain balanced skin while staying active, I chatted with Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. With her background as a skin doc and mine as a master esthetician, we put our expert heads together and created easy-to-follow templates on howwww you should approach your pre- and post-workout skin care routines at any time of day.
If you’re starting your day with an a.m. workout, Dr. Garshick recommends simply “rinsing skin with water or cleansing with gentle hydrating cleanser.” If you’re properly cleansing your skin before bed, there shouldn’t much grime on your face to wash off in the morning, so a rinse should be enough to flush your pores a bit and break up any oil or minor debris without disrupting your acid mantle or microbiome (it’s what I do, and it’s changed my skin for the better). Follow up with a moisturizer and a water-resistant SPF 30. Dr. Garshick likes ELTA MD UV Sport ($53), which is great for standing up to sweat. Note: Your full routine should wait until after your workout, as whatever you put on beforehand will likely come off with sweat or in the shower.
Now’s the time to really wash your face with a gentle cleanser, then follow up with your standard a.m. non-negotiables: an antioxidant serum, a moisturizer, and an SPF.
If you’re planning to work out during the day, you should always remove your makeup before you start to sweat. “Always remove makeup before exercising as “It’s key for preventing the clogged pores and buildup that can occur with exercise and sweating,” says Dr. Garshick. An amazing way to remove makeup while also preventing skin dryness is to use micellar water, which is very gentle, or a cleansing balm. Depending on your skin type, you may not need to apply moisturizer after you cleanse, but if your complexion feels stripped or tight, consider layering on a light lotion.
Cleanse, tone, moisturize, and apply SPF, then follow up with makeup if you so choose. Some great options for a mid-day toner include the Epi. logic Even Balance Toner ($65), which is especially good for the winter months as it contains aloe vera to soothe and calm while hyaluronic acid boosts hydration. For a lightweight SPF to apply before heading back out for the day, the Charlotte Tilbury Invisible UV Flawless Primer ($55) “hydrates with hyaluronic acid and protects the skin, which makes it great for midday application,” says Dr. Garshick. Plus, it plays well with makeup
“Use a cleanser, makeup remover, and/or toner to ensure all of the makeup and residue from the day is off before starting a workout,” says Dr. Garshick. This is important for all skin types, but should be considered a non-negotiable if you wear makeup, sweat a lot, or are prone to acne and excess oil. says Garshick.
Depending on your preference, it might make sense to do your entire evening skin-care routine immediately after exercising, even if it’s a few hours before you go to sleep. In my opinion, it gives your products ample amount of time to absorb into your skin (instead of into your pillow). To take advantage of your skin’s overnight repair cycle with only three steps, wash your face with a gentle cleanser, use a retinol or exfoliating treatment, and finish things off with a moisturizer.