How sport impacts your skin – and how to protect it while you play

Our skin is amazing. It protects our body’s organs and tissue from germs, chemicals, moisture, and sunlight, on top of keeping us warm and hydrated. That’s why we want to celebrate how amazing our skin is this October during Skin Awareness Month.

You could say our skin gets a workout just by doing its job each day. But millions of sport-loving Aussies really put their skin through its paces every time they step onto a court, field, or into the gym.

Physical activity like group and individual sports are one of the best things we can do for our overall health and mental wellbeing. And while exercise has been linked to maintenance of skin structure and improved hydration, our love of sports could be harming our skin in ways that aren’t immediately obvious.

In the video above, we’ve taken a look at how sport impacts our skin, along with how to protect it while you train and play.

How does sport affect skin?

There are many ways our skin can be harmed during sports. The most obvious is sunburn, which can occur when we’re running, jumping or swimming outdoors on days when the UV rating is above 2. It can also happen when we’re training indoors because most windows only filter out some of the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays.

On top of that, swimmers are susceptible to the dryness and itchiness caused by continuous exposure to chlorine, while rigorous exercise like running, weightlifting and cycling can cause blisters and chafing. These uncomfortable and painful conditions aren’t necessarily a by-product of the sport itself, but usually occur when we’re wearing unsuitable or ill-fitting clothing or shoes while exercising.

How can I protect my skin while enjoying sports?

It’s reasonably easy to ensure your skin is protected without interfering with your performance.

From sun

Most Aussies know the golden rule for preventing sunburn: slip on a shirt (with sleeves, if possible), slop on some sunscreen (preferably with a SPF of 30 or above) and slap on a hat. The iconic jingle was recently updated to advise sun-loving Australians to seek out shade and slide on a pair of sunglasses if and when it’s practical to do so.

If you end up looking something like the Australian Cricket Team in the middle of a five-day test, you’re on the right track.

From friction

Uncomfortable chafing and blisters are your body’s way of warning you about potentially harmful friction. They can be caused by any number of things, but new shoes, grips, and apparel are some of the most-common culprits.

In this case, prevention is the aim of the game. Try to determine what’s rubbing against your skin (or causing it to rub against itself) and upgrade your gear if fit or material is the problem. Toughing it out won’t help you here, because your body protects you from recurrent blisters and chafing by hardening the skin at affected sites into rough calluses.

From chlorine

The official name for moisture loss caused by repeated exposure to chlorine is “swimmer’s xerosis”, and it’s potentially threatening to the integrity of the skin’s moisture barrier.

The easiest way to treat dry, itchy skin is to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and moisturise your skin daily using a dermatologist-formulated cream or lotion, like Cetaphil’s Intensive Moisturising Cream.

From heat

Our body is covered in sweat glands, and sweating is its way of cooling our core, fast. Sweating during sports is good (even if it doesn’t smell great), but replacing fluids lost by drinking water is incredibly important for your skin’s health.

It’s also a good idea to avoid tight or synthetic clothing when you’re competing because blocked sweat glands can cause heat rashes to develop. Most brands offer apparel specially designed for specific sports, so consider investing in some for-purpose activewear if you’re suffering from an uncomfortable heat rash after every match.

From break-outs

Like tight clothing, make-up worn during sport can block sweat glands and cause break-outs. To ensure your skin is fresh and clear at post-match drinks, remove make-up using a specially formulated facial cleanser like Cetaphil’s Gentle Foaming Cleanser and apply moisturiser and sunscreen before you hit the field.

It’s also a good idea to shower and clean your face and body after exercise to ensure dirt and sweat don’t clog your pores. Your skin will thank you for it. Applying moisturiser while your skin is still slightly damp from the shower is a great way to lock in a little bit of extra hydration.