Everybody can benefit from a skin care routine that’s tailored to their needs. What sets us apart from one another is a lot to do with our genetics, but the effects of our individual lifestyles can’t be ignored.
Athletes are just one example of the extreme conditions we put our skin under in the pursuit of experiencing life to the fullest. When it comes to the everyday stressors, with endless trainings to long outdoor events to the sweat and grime, athletes are definitely pushing their skins’ boundaries! Athletes need to take into account their unique lifestyle and build a routine that caters to skin and gives it the support it deserves.
Come with me as we develop a complete basic skin care routine designed with athletes in mind.
What athletes need out of their skin care routine
‘Athlete’ is a pretty vast term, covering millions of different people with totally varied lifestyles – from gymnasts to wrestlers to soccer players to high jumpers and everything else in between. While I can’t say for sure that you’ll all be putting your skin through the same thing every day, there are some common elements that most athletes need to take into consideration more so than the average non-sporty person:
A huge number of popular sports take place outside. Do you really need to be nagged again to wear your sunscreen every day? Spending any significant time outdoors is giving yourself a huge dose of radiation straight from the sun. Several studies have shown that as an outdoor athlete such as a surfer, marathon runner, or mountain climber, you are significantly more likely to develop skin cancer in your lifetime than a non-athlete. Yet despite knowing this, in a survey of college athletes, 85% reported not using sunscreen that week and only 6% used it 3 or more times a week. This is all not to mention the endless anti-ageing benefits of limiting sun damage. Plus, who wants to train tomorrow with a sunburn? Ouch.
Sweat- and water-proof ability
Sweat breaks down carefully applied products in seconds and also leaves salty residue on the skin, meaning it impacts several different products you’ll be choosing, from cleansing to hydration. Water similarly washes away most sunscreens unless they are carefully selected for being waterproof, so those involved in water sports beware.
Keeping things clean and healthy is priority #1 for your skin. I think most athletes are conscious that they in particular need to minimise bacterial spread and body odour, and build up from shared equipment or other residues from your sport (think: mud, chalk, dust, chlorine etc.).
Athletes are masters of discomfort. Your goal is to push through pain to go push your body to where others can’t or won’t. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t do something to provide yourself a little relief from blisters, sore muscles, friction burn and more.
Pre-exercise (morning) athlete skin care routine
- Waterproof sunscreen
- SPF lip balm
First up, any standard, low- or no- foaming affordable cleanser is a great start for anyone as a staple cleanser. Cetaphil and Cerave make two of the most popular and reliable options on the market. But really, use whatever cleanser you like – it’s one of the less important steps in your routine and there’s little point buying a special or expensive one. Many people choose to skip the cleanser in the morning if they feel their skin isn’t very oily after the night sleeping and doesn’t need it.
If your sport of choice is more extreme such as skiing, surfing or hang gliding, you’ll need to take care to choose a really rich moisturiser to protect from the drying elements. Either way, sweat deposits salts and minerals on the skin which are naturally water-absorbing, drying the skin out. You’ll need to ensure you’ve got a lot of humectants in the moisturiser you choose to balance this out. However, now is the time to avoid anything too heavy or oily. You’re likely to accidentally get it in your eyes while exercising and it might blur your vision. I use the perfect kind of lightweight moisturising serums in my personal skin care routine.
Can you name something more painful than getting sunscreen in your eyes? I’ll wait. Wearing a non-waterproof sunscreen is like asking for that to happen to you. That familiar sensation of burning, welling eyeballs also indicates a much more serious problem – a lack of sun protection. Whatever sunscreen ends up running down your face is sunscreen that isn’t where it needs to be and doing its job correctly. Waterproof is the only way to go for someone who intends to sweat or otherwise get wet. My go-to super waterproof, high-protection sunscreen is Sunplay Super Block. Put it on each morning everywhere the sun reaches, then pack it in your sports bag and remember to frequently reapply after wiping away any sweat during a session or after 4 sun-exposed hours have passed since applying. The chemical agents in most sunscreens degrade over time, rendering them pretty useless unless you top it up.
SPF lip balm
The lips catch a huge amount of sun outside and trust me, you do NOT want to experience sunburnt lips. They’re also tricky as being part of a mucous membrane means they tend to repel regular sunscreens, leaving you with a greasy mouth and not much to show for it. That’s where a dedicated high-protection lip balm product comes in. You’ll also be avoiding wind-chapped and dry looking lips while you’re at it – win win! I’m a huge fan of Burt’s Bees lip balms, the classic Aquaphor, or super strength and delicious smelling Sun Bum.
Tip: avoid sun-sensitizing ingredients
Especially in the lead up to the summer season or a busy period, step far away from products containing essential oils, which can cause blistering if worn out on a sunny day.
That advice also goes for active products like exfoliating acids and retinol. If you choose to add them to your routine anyway, be careful as they will increase your susceptibility to sunburn. This effect last for weeks beyond the last use, so plan ahead and try to cycle these products in during the less sunny months.
For those athletes who struggle with acne and are determined to do something about it, not only should this routine help get your skin under control anyway, but my suggestion would be The Ordinary’s Niacinamide & Zinc serum which is anti-inflammatory, oil-reducing, gentle and sun-safe. You can add it between your Cleansing and Moisturising steps.
What to bring with you to a training session
… aside from your sunscreen (which you’ve already packed, right?). These might seem only tangentially related to skin care but they’re still essentials.
Refer to the notes on sunscreen above. Make it easier on yourself and avoid all the delicate ear and scalp sunscreen reapplication and just throw on a wide-brim hat whenever possible to add another tool to your protection arsenal. I understand that not all sports lend themselves to hats, but you’d be surprised how much sitting and waiting around you do without noticing, and that’s the perfect opportunity to chuck one on and give your skin a little rest.
I’m looking at you, powerlifters and field athletes. Gripping and throwing heavy objects is the perfect way to get a whole handful of someone else’s leftover grime – and it’s headed straight for your skin. Unless you have steely determination, you’re probably absent mindedly touching your face all throughout your training. Clean your equipment often and where possible use hand sanitizer. It won’t do miracles against actual dirt but it’ll take the edge off and buy you some time until you can properly wash.
Separate sweat towel for your face ONLY
Don’t put anything that’s touched other sweaty parts of your body onto your face. Need I say more?
Post-exercise (evening) athlete skin care routine
- Oil cleanser
Ideally you’ll have waited until later in the day to cleanse your face. As long as you’re not going back out again, you’re good to go! We want to be sure your skin doesn’t need sunscreen and won’t be getting dirty again today.
I recommend using the Double Cleansing Technique with an oil cleanser to first completely break down any sweat, dirt, and sunscreen. You’re probably getting grubbier than the average office worker, so let’s take the extra time to cleanse properly. Really massage all over, even down your neck and jaw if you’d like, and get in there and enjoy it. Then follow that up with your regular cleanser from the morning to remove the oil and everything the oil removed. You can do this step in the shower or at the sink, whichever you prefer. Rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water and pat dry with a clean, face-only towel.
Note about cleansing after exercise:
Here’s the eternal question – should you do your skin care routine right after a workout or later in the evening before bed? Well, that depends on how much you sweat. If you can get away with it, it’s better to wait a little longer and leave your face cleansing till the end of the day than to absentmindedly cleanse in the shower, dry your skin out, and then be compelled to wash again in the evening once your face is dirty again and risk over-cleansing. If you must (for example, you’re very sweaty or have dirt, or chlorine on your skin), use micellar water on a cotton pad to remove the worst of it and remember to reapply your sunscreen afterwards. If you’re determined to do a full cleanse, you’ll need to continue on and complete your routine to avoid drying your skin out. Try to make it the last time you do your routine that day, which means follow the below steps, don’t apply sunscreen and avoid getting grimy!
If your skin is calling out for moisture, now is when you can amp it up and go for something richer than you used in the morning. There’s no risk of you sweating it off and it getting in your eyes and ruining your game. I recommend a more emollient and occlusive choice.
Bonus tips: hair and body care for athletes
Body wash + loofah
Breaking news – your body has skin too!
Every athlete should have an antiseptic/antibacterial body wash in their arsenal to use on troublesome areas of ingrown hair or persistent body acne. You can rotate it in and out with a regular body wash as needed. Be sure that the washes you choose are pH balanced (meaning it’s a little bit acidic to match your skin’s happy range). I love and always come back to the classic Dove body wash. It has a lovely neutral scent that lingers on the skin and doesn’t make me feel all dried out.
A good loofah will change your showering game, making them faster and your product 100x more fluffy and luxurious. Plus, you’ll get a little bit of exfoliation to really take off the sweat and dirt from the day.
Sore muscle solution
Discomfort from strained and tired muscles might not sound like a skin care concern, but you can treat it with a skin care product. Magnesium oil can help relieve muscle cramps and spasms and also doubles as a way of moisturising your body.
This is probably the most essential part of perceived hygiene. Though body odour doesn’t really make you less clean than anyone else, it gives off a message of lack of self-care. And for athletes, it can get quite intense. You won’t get away with deodorant-only fragrance options as they don’t prevent the odour-causing bacteria and sweat.
I have worn and sworn by Mitchum Unscented Deodorant for over a decade now. As a professional sweaty person, in my opinion it blows every other product out of the water, and it’s totally scentless so you can apply whatever body spray or perfume you’d like over the top, or just leave it be.
With all the movement involved in being a sports person, you’re bound to experience friction and rawness in close-quarter areas such as between the thighs. An anti-chafe balm is designed to add lubrication so that the skin glides rather than rubs together, eliminating the pain and discomfort after a long practice. Put it on before you start to exercise as a preventative measure.
If you participate in a sport with intense grip strength you probably are all too familiar with calluses on the hands. You can purchase a rich AHA-based hand cream that will actually slowly dissolve the extra hardened skin and make them hydrated and soft again.
The only sport I’d say that means you need to wash your hair immediately afterwards is an activity that makes it visibly dirty, or if you swim in a chlorinated pool. unnecessarily shampooing your hair will remove its shine and irritate the skin on your scalp.
For everyone else, a quick scalp refresh with this strange liquid “dry” shampoo hybrid should do the trick. It’s a scalp spray that has a cooling sensation and fresh minty scent that makes you feel like you’re getting a breath of fresh air on your scalp, will de-stick your hair from your head and cover up any lingering smells until you can get to a shower.
Hopefully these tips and suggestions help you to nail down a routine that keeps your skin glowing while you smash your personal bests!