Acne and Sweat – Does Sweat Cause Acne?

“When I start working out and going to the gym, my acne gets worse. Does my sweating cause acne?”

Clients ask regularly if sweat causes acne. We’re going to give a pass to the word “cause” here. If you’ve read the other articles on this site you know that acne is actually “caused” by our genetic tendency to produce:

  • excess dead skin cells,
  • excess oil (sebum) and
  • normal skin bacteria that feed on the first two and excrete acid.

When people ask about whether sweat “causes” acne, they are really wondering if sweat can make acne worse. So can sweat make acne worse?

An Internet search would indicate it does not.

  • The sweat pores are separate from the sebaceous follicles, those openings we think of as pores, where acne occurs.
  • Since the sweat on our faces and backs and chests is from our eccrine glands, not the stinky type apocrine glands found in our armpits, it is composed primarily of water and salt and has little bacterial activity.
  • Sweat is not pore-clogging

So writers on the Internet conclude that sweat has no effect on acne.

However, those of us in acne practice know that there is a connection. Sweating does seem to make acne worse! What is going on here?

There are several factors at work.

  • First of all, not everything that looks like acne is acne. There are several conditions that mimic acne. One of these is pityrosporum folliculitis, a yeast infection of the follicles. If your acne is itchy and comes and goes, it may be this type of folliculitis. Yeast thrives in warm, wet places, so when you sweat a lot, you are creating a great environment for this acne imposter.
  • Second, when you sweat, you usually rub it off, either with your hand or a towel creating friction on your skin. Friction is a no-no for acne. It causes what is known as acne mechanica. The friction causes you to generate and slough even more dead skin cells leading to more and larger plugs.
  • Third, and most intriguing, the bacteria that live on our skin and contribute to acne, require nutrients, most of which are in our dead skin cells and our skin oil. One of these sets of nutrients are the B vitamins, including biotin and thiamin, which are present in sweat. The concentrations of these vitamins increase in our sweat with the rate of sweat production. When you sweat more, as you do during vigorous exercise, you are concentrating those B vitamins – in essence feeding your p. acnes bacteria a perfectly tailored vitamin pill.

So don’t believe everything you read on the Internet; sweat does make acne worse. But fortunately, at the Acne Treatment Center, we have solutions to the effects of sweat on your skin.

Give us a call today and let’s get started.