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Acne Care for Athletes

Summertime involves a lot of exercise, especially if you’re a student athlete getting ready for an upcoming sports season. If you’re in the middle of a training camp for football, lacrosse, hockey, skateboarding, or any other sports that require you to wear headgear, there are certain precautions you can take to prevent acne. Even swimmers have skin concerns to keep in mind when they get out of the pool. If you play a contact sport, wear protective pads during games, or swim laps every day, we have

Bacteria grows in protective gear

When you sweat into your protective headgear, an environment rich in moisture, oils, and electrolytes is created in the cushions; this is the perfect environment for acne causing bacteria to develop.(1)

If you keep wearing the same headgear repeatedly without a frequent disinfectant wash, the bacteria in the pads will go back onto your face. Washing your headgear regularly is a great way to prevent acne.

In much the same way, protective body pads for sports like football also harbor bacteria which can result in acne on the back or chest.

If you are not able to wash your protective gear between practices, be sure to use an antimicrobial product like Replenix Gly-Sale 10-2 Clarifying Pads. 

In other words, even if you are not able to regularly clean your equipment, you can still keep your face clean.

Helmets rubbing the face pushes bacteria deeper into skin

Equipment like protective gear in sports can often repeatedly rub against the skin; if your pads haven’t been cleaned in a while, this can drastically increase your skin’s exposure to bacteria. If you find that after practices your cheeks have any kind of redness or irritation following sports practice, be sure to use not only an acne cleanser, but an anti-inflammatory product that will decrease your skin’s discomfort. One great product to use after practices that has both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties is

While you might be tempted to apply your anti-inflammatory acne products as soon as practice ends, the best course of action is to first take a shower and remove as much excess sweat and sebum from your skin as you can before applying products. You don’t want to wash overnight products off in the shower.

Acne care for swimmers

If your sport of choice is swimming, in luck as far as acne care is concerned; for the most part, the chlorine found in most swimming pools is pretty effective in eliminating acne causing bacteria. That being said, it is still possible to have acne breakouts during swim season, so what should you do in those cases? Well, an important thing to understand about swimmers’ skin is it is regularly being dried out by chlorine; for that reason, your antimicrobial products you use after a long time in the pool should be moisturizing as well as antimicrobial.

There are many causes for acne besides just bacteria presence, for instance your pores might simply be clogged by dead skin or dirt. In cases where your acne is not caused by bacteria, but rather by a buildup of other things, an exfoliator that does not damage dry skin is beneficial. The best exfoliators for dry skin, like many swimmers have, contain water soluble hydroxy acids like Glycolic acid.

The best skin care routine for a swimmer with acne might include an antimicrobial exfoliant like Replenix Glycolic Acid Resurfacing Cleanser.

  Followed by a non-comedogenic moisturizer like PCA Skin Clearskin

If you’re a water polo player, you might be wondering if your headgear poses the same risk to your skin as a football helmet, and the short answer is not really.

Headgear worn in the pool is never really inundated with sweat, because besides being surrounded by antimicrobial chlorine, most water polo headgear is designed to be waterproof, limiting permeation of air and other things bacteria needs to grow. That being said, if you’re the kind of player whose head never goes underwater, you should still consider washing your headgear regularly in the laundry.

Acne care for wrestlers

Wrestling is perhaps the king of contact sports, insofar as there is more contact in wrestling than any other sport. Because wrestling involves so much skin touching skin, it is crucial to get ahead of skin concerns found on the mat. While the most common skin concern for wrestlers is ringworm (a fungus), many other microbes and dirt can be transmitted by skin as well. Fortunately, acne is not considered contagious, but because of other concerns like herpes gladiatorum, it is crucial to keep your skin clean during the season.

Just like football players, wrestlers need to keep their headgear and singlets washed between competitions. However, wrestlers should take certain steps to protect their skin before the match even begins.

Before stepping into the ring, apply a cleansing foam to your face (about 10 minutes before your match starts) to kill any of the germs and remove the dirt you might be carrying. Getting dirt stuck in your pores is a major cause of acne. Many antimicrobial products, especially those with low pH, create an inhospitable environment for bacteria on the skin, making it harder for acne causing bacteria to grow. If you use a low pH cleanser like Murad Clarifying Cleanser:

or Glytone Acne Self Foaming Cleanser, you greatly lower the risk of getting acne.

A few general rules

When you exercise, you produce more testosterone which results in more oil production on the skin. So too do your cortisol levels (stress hormone) spike which can cause acne. Many sports have different considerations to make in terms of skin care that vary based on the kinds of equipment used, the level of contact, and the season the sport is played in.

If you are an athlete spending the summer in protective equipment, in the swimming pool, or on the wrestling mat, it is crucial to keep in mind what your skin is exposed to daily when designing a skin care routine. In general, not every athlete in a sport shares the same skin concerns, and no sport is free of skin concerns. To keep your skin clear of acne during summer sports seasons, keep a cleanser (one that’s right for you) on hand, and wash your equipment regularly.




  1. Usher, B. (1928). Human sweat as a culture medium for bacteria: A preliminary report. Archives of Dermatology and Syphilology, 18(2), 276-280.