Post-workout skincare routines: 5 ways to take care of your skin after a workout

Say goodbye to sweat-induced acne and irritated skin with these skincare routine hacks

Wiping sweat after workout
(Image credit: Getty)

If you go to the gym, you need a skincare routine in place. Why? Because your gym bag and workout equipment are magnets for all manner of unsanitary germs, causing unsavoury skin conditions. A two-minute hot shower after a workout just won't cut it.

Let's pitch you a scenario: you're just finishing up a barnstorming session at the gym. Weights were lifted, inclines were conquered and stretches were... stretched. However, your old t-shirt is clinging to you, you're covered in sweat and, looking around, so is everyone else. Gross. You shower, dry yourself off with a towel still damp and musty from last session and you hurry out to work - but you still can't stop sweating. 

Sound familiar? If so, you need to implement a post-workout skincare routine stat. Here's five tips to go from dermatological nightmare to skincare savant. 

Barbell Workout

Do you rub your face after a workout? There's a lot of grime on those communal barbells.

(Image credit: Victor Freitas/Pexels)

1. Kill bacteria after handling workout gear

A post-workout skincare routine starts during the workout. The amount of people who have run their hands through their hair, wiped sweat from their forehead and then grabbed the same weights you're using should not be underestimated. One study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, found that fitness centre workout equipment contains 25 different types of bacteria - including nasty customers like salmonella.

If you're using the weights, yoga mats or handling anything else at the gym, it's obviously not practical to run away from your workout and wash your hands every five minutes. Instead, keep a little bottle of hand wash or sanitising gel with your water bottle and towel, and use it occasionally during and after long gym sessions. Luxury skincare brand Aesop packs its alcohol-based Resurrection Rinse-Free Hand Wash, perfect for keeping in your gym bag. 

Where to find:

Battling ropes workout

Breathable, sweat-wicking clothes are your best bet when battling irritation and body odour

(Image credit: Fitbit)

2. Wear sweat-wicking clothing 

Working out in an old t-shirt is fine when you first start out, but while huge pools of sweat on your shirt may be good for your ego, they're terrible for your skin. Wet clothes cause friction, which leads to skin soreness, irritation and increased body odour as sweat is trapped against your skin. 

Good sweat-wicking fabrics, however, don't have this problem, and your choice of workout clobber should contribute to your skincare routine. They're designed to not be absorbent at all: instead, sweat is moved around and pushed through small spaces in the fabric onto the outside of the shirt, where it can evaporate safely. The end result is a cleaner, more hygienic  workout that's better for your skin. 

Nike's Dri-FIT range, such as this men's Miler t-shirt, is perfect for this, as is Adidas' Freelift Sport range. Some men might even find it worthwhile to invest in a pair of sweat-wicking boxers such as these LuluLemon long "No Boxer" boxers

Where to find:

Shower after workout

If you're sweating even after a shower, don't panic: there are some quick fixes available

(Image credit: Getty)

3. Stop sweating after your shower

If you've ever been sat at your desk after an early-morning gym session only to feel your shirt darken, you're not alone. We sweat not only during exertion, but also when our body overheats in order to regulate temperature. Coming from a demanding workout, jumping into a hot shower, then walking into a warm office with layers on will only cause us to sweat more than we need to - through our clean clothes, causing all the problems we were trying to avoid with the sweat-wicking gear.

There's a few things we can do to mitigate this. Firstly, allow yourself time to cool down between working out and showering off. Take 10 minutes to stretch (which you should be doing anyway) and cool down after a workout, perhaps doing some gentle yoga poses. Then head into the shower at a lukewarm setting, helping to bring your body temperature back where it needs to be and seeing off the post-workout sweats.


Exfoliation is key to unclogging bunged-up pores after a heavy workout

(Image credit: Getty)

4. Exfoliate

Exfoliation has always been a vital part of a good skincare routine. It may have its detractors, but a study from the journal Functional Plant Science And Biotechnology found regular exfoliating "enhances absorption and retention of moisturising agents and restores the skin’s own natural moisture factor". 

Given that your skin has just finished pushing lots of moisture out of your body after a workout, a good exfoliant primes it to replenish what it loses. It also unclogs pores, stopping the formation of blackheads.

In addition, skin exfoliation "improves the quality and tone of skin by assisting in the removal of dead skin cells from the surface". Beading sweat can often capture and redistribute dead skin into places you don't want it to go, like eyes and mouths, so regular exfoliation is key to ensuring your workout stays hygienic. Tom Ford's Exfoliating Energy scrub from John Lewis, priced at £39.00, is specifically designed to unclog pores using crushed apricot seeds, and T3 also recommends Acqua di Parma’s Barbiere face scrub. A more budget-friendly version might be Garnier Pure Active 3-in1 clay at just £3.00. Just bring your exfoliant of choice into the shower and lather away. 

Where to find:

Towelling off after workout

Drying your face with a bacteria culture won't help your skin. Find a towel that will

(Image credit: Getty)

5. Use a dry (or quick-dry) towel, not a damp one

So you've kept your hands clean, cooled down before your shower and exfoliated while you're in there. You step out and grab... your dingy, damp towel that's been living at the bottom of your gym bag for a week. That's no way to end your skincare routine.

Damp towels rolled up in bags are a moist, warm climate which will encourage microbial growth. Among the residents are E.coli and dermatophytes, fungi which contribute to athlete's foot, and you're rubbing them all over your face and body. A simple way to solve this problem is to rotate your towel each time, but if you're a five-a-day gym bunny, you'll quickly end up with a mountain of washing. 

To keep your towel good for several uses, we advise investing in a quick-dry microfibre towel such as this selection from Fit Flip, with large sizes starting at £11.99, or the Trespass Wickerman Bamboo Sports Towel. They are highly absorbent, quick to dry and both pack small in a breathable mesh case that can slot inside your gym-bag with ease. Just remember to hang it between uses.

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Matt Evans

Matt Evans now works for sister brand TechRadar, covering all things relating to fitness and wellness. He came to as staff writer before moving on, and was previously on Men's Health, and slightly counterintuitively, a website devoted to the consumption of Scotch whiskey. In his free time, he could often be found with his nose in a book until he discovered the Kindle.