What is the best pre and post workout skincare routine? | Ask Doctor Anne



Is working out regularly on your list of New Year’s Resolutions and you are wondering if you need a special skincare routine before and after hitting the gym? Or do you already have a workout schedule, but struggle with breakouts on your face or your body whenever you stick to it?


The best skincare routine when working out
The best skincare routine when working out


No matter what, you have come to the right place, as today we will discuss what your skin needs pre and post workout!



The basic rules that always apply

Now the best skincare routine to do before or after your workout depends on a few things, mostly the time of day you work out, your skin type, the type of workout you do and the place you work out at. While I will go into the different times of the day in depth later, here are some ground rules for the other things.

First: Your skin type will determine the products you use. While oily skin can skip moisturizer before a workout, very dry skin will probably feel uncomfortable when doing it. In this case, use a moisturizer, but pick a lighter one than you would normally use throughout the day. (More info: Which skin type do you have and why it matters)

Second: If you do a light workout that doesn’t make you sweat, like a light Yoga session or light walking, none of this applies to you. You just carry on with your day in terms of skincare as if you hadn’t worked out. If you do break a sweat though, there are some things to consider.

Third: If you workout at home or in a gym that doesn’t have a lot of windows, you can skip SPF. If you work out outdoors or leave the house to get to your workout place, you really shouldn’t do that.

And, no matter where you work out, try not to touch your face with your hands too much. Especially when you use gym equipment, you will have bacteria on your hands that you don’t want to transfer to your face. Instead use a clean towel to pat off sweat – a clean one, NOT the one you put down on the machines and not one that has been sitting in your gym bag for a few weeks already. Speaking of machines at the gym or any shared equipment, wipe it down before you use it, especially when you come in contact with it with your skin. You really don’t want to get other people’s bacteria and sweat all over you.

Use clothing made for working out to ensure it is breathable and doesn’t trap the sweat underneath, working out in your regular clothes is usually not a good idea. And change out of your sweaty gear as soon as possible. Damp clothing rubbing against the skin does not only encourage irritation, but also folliculitis, a skin infection that can look like acne and is often found at your butt after sitting on sweaty clothing or underneath the workout bra strap for those of us that wear one.

With these things that apply no matter the time, let’s now look at the best routines depending on the time of the day.


blonde woman with boxing braids wearing workout gear.
Workout clothing and hairs out of the face – ready for the session


Skincare routine when you work out first thing in the morning

When you get up and workout, you really don’t need to do any routine beforehand. Obviously if your skin is uncomfortably dry, use a moisturizer and if you train outdoors or travel to the gym, apply sunscreen, but other than that, just leave your face be and get going.

After the workout, you can do your regular morning routine and makeup. If you usually don’t wash your face in the mornings, I recommend at least rinsing it with water to get rid of the sweat. Sweat is water soluble, so you don’t need a cleanser for that, but having it sit on your skin for a prolonged period of time after working out isn’t something you should do. (More info: Is Double Cleansing really necessary?)


Woman on a Stand-up Paddle Board on the water
This workout definitely needs a lot of sunscreen.
Image by ❄️♡💛♡❄️ Julita ❄️♡💛♡❄️ from Pixabay


Skincare routine when you work out during the day

When you workout in your lunch break or straight after work, but before you meet friends or do other things that require you to leave the house, it is the most complicated. You will obviously do your regular morning routine and makeup and then go about your day.

Before you workout now, I recommend you quickly cleanse your face to remove heavy makeup and dirt – note: When I say makeup, I am referring to foundation, blush, powder, these things – you can keep your smokey eye on or rock that red lip, that really doesn’t matter. If you are not comfortable working out without makeup, you can skip it – I will touch on that in a bit – but especially if you are prone to breaking out I’d prefer if you did.

After the workout, you rinse your face with water to get rid of the sweat, depending on your skin type apply a light moisturizer, reapply makeup if you want to and go about your day until at night you do your regular routine. If you kept your makeup on during the workout, do a more thorough cleanse afterwards using a cleanser instead of just water, to really make sure you get the mixture of sweat, makeup and dirt off your face. (More info: How to find the right cleanser for your skin type)


Woman training with weights for well aging
Doing an evening gym session right before you head home


Skincare routine when you work out in the evenings

When you workout in the evenings with nowhere else to go afterwards, it is easy again. In the mornings you do your regular routine and when it comes to working out, you quickly get your makeup off, work out and then do your regular night time routine. Or workout with your makeup, head home and do your regular routine including a thorough cleanse there.


Close up chin rosacea skin
What do you need to think of when you work out with rosacea?


Special tips for those with rosacea, acne or melasma

Now if you suffer from a skin condition like acne, rosacea or melasma, you might need to approach it a little differently. (More info: Everything you need to know if you suffer from rosacea and The different forms of hyperpigmentation explained)

Those with acne or prone to breakouts can wash their face with a Salicylic Acid face wash after the workout, to prevent clogged pores – only if your skin isn’t too stressed already from other acne medication like Tretinoin though.

And those with rosacea or melasma should consider taking measures to stop their face from overheating, as the increased blood flow and heat can aggravate both the redness in rosacea and the melasma. That can be as easy as having a cold water bottle or a towel soaked in cold water at hand that you press on your face occasionally or as fancy as a cooling face mist, just experiment and see what fits your workout style. Cooling face mist as in a face mist from the fridge, not one with menthol though. And make sure to let your skin cool off after you complete the workout before you apply heavy creams, I will have some suggestions below the post.


woman doing yoga next to her bed
Early morning yoga session


Do you need to reapply your actives after a workout?

A common question is if after a sweaty workout, you need to reapply your actives in order for them to work, and the answer here is no, with sunscreen being the obvious exception. When you do your workout in the middle of the day, your morning actives have been sitting on the skin long enough to work their magic already and your night time actives aren’t affected. Reapplying them would give you a double dose with the risk of irritation. If you work out first thing in the morning or late at night, apply them afterwards with your regular routine. (More info: The 5 steps you need to take to repair your damaged skin barrier)

No need to overcomplicate things.


Tribal Fusion Makeup
Close up of the makeup I wore for a Dance Show – this is not how I would usually work out


Is wearing makeup when you work out bad?

Should you work out with a full face of makeup? No, you shouldn’t.

But it isn’t the end of the world if you do. The reason why I recommend going makeup free is because your sweat and oils will mix with particles and oils in your makeup as well as with the dirt that over the day accumulated on your skin, and that is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, meaning if you work out with a full face of makeup, you increase your risk of breakouts.

As someone that struggled with severe acne for a long period of my life though, I understand that being in public with your breakouts shining red for everyone to see might not be something you feel comfortable with. Or maybe you are taking a class with or know you will be meeting your crush and want to look that extra bit better. In that case, working out in your makeup is better than not working out at all because you can’t bring yourself to do it without.

Just make sure that right after the workout you thoroughly cleanse your face to remove that mixture – you will probably want to redo your makeup anyway after all the sweating you did. Unless you spend six hours working out in a full face, it shouldn’t be too bad.


Pre- and post workout skincare routine and tips
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The best skincare routine when working out depends on your skin type, the type of workout you are doing and the time of day you will be working out, but it is less complicated than you might think.

If you do a sweaty workout early in the morning, just use sunscreen beforehand if you get outdoors and do your regular routine including a face wash to get rid of the sweat afterwards. If you train in the evenings with nowhere else to be afterwards, remove your makeup beforehand and do your regular evening routine after you are done. When working out in the middle of the day, remove your makeup, get your workout in and afterwards rinse the sweat off and reapply a light moisturizer, sunscreen and your makeup while keeping the rest of your routine the same.

While it is best to workout makeup-free, it isn’t the end of the world if you wear it, just make sure to clean your face thoroughly afterwards.


My product recommendations to use around your workout


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