A Dermatologist Tells All On The Ugly Topic We All Hate

By Isadora Baum

If you're chilling in your workout clothes for too long after your workout, you might want to stop. Leaving sweat and dirt on your body, without a rinse or fresh change of clothes, can cause acne on other areas of the body you might not normally get.

Workout woes
credit: Twenty20

Of course, acne on the face is pretty common, especially when that time of the month rolls around, but if you're finding skin problems on other areas, it's likely due to sweat build up and bad habits.

"Acne can occur anywhere there is a high concentration of oil (sebaceous) glands including the face, neck, chest, back, and groin. There are three main causes of acne: overproduction of oil, a tendency for the pores or outflow tracts of the oil glands to become clogged, which is more likely after working out due to sweat and dirt, and bacteria that lives in the pores, called P. Acnes," says Dr. Sonia Batra, dermatologist and co-host of "The Doctors."

"Breakouts are usually due to a combination of these causes, which is why preventing and treating acne often involves multiple steps. The types of acne that occur after workouts are often clogged pores, called comedones, and more inflammatory bumps and pustules," she says.

In the groin, what we consider to be acne can often be inflammation of the hair follicle, called folliculitis. "This is more likely after shaving and is caused by either bacteria or yeast tracking around the hair follicle. This looks like inflamed pustules and bumps that come up in sites of friction and occlusion," she says.

How To Treat Them

In all types of acne, washing or showering to remove excess oil, dirt, and products that can clog pores is important. Once or twice a week, a physical exfoliator like a loofah or a scrub can also help deep-clean the pores. "I usually also recommend an over the counter chemical exfoliant that contains salicylic acid or glycolic acid. These are both fruit acids that slough the dead outer layer of the skin and prevent pores from remaining clogged. Benzoyl peroxide is also a helpful at home treatment that can kill the bacteria that contributes to acne," she says.

Specifically for the neck and upper back, it helps to shampoo your hair regularly and keep it up if you have long hair, to avoid dirty strands from transferring oil. Avoid clothes, headgear, or equipment that might rub on your neck, as well.

"For folliculitis in the groin, avoid shaving over the bumps. This can be due to bacteria or yeast, so antibiotic or antifungal cream can be applied after showering," she says. For more severe cases, a dermatologist can prescribe oral antibiotics, too. And, for coarse hair that tends to curl back and irritate the skin, laser hair removal may be a more effective preventive option, in the long term, she adds.

Plus, be mindful of your workout gear. Avoid clothing that is too occlusive/sticky on the skin. If clothing is trapping sweat and dirt on the pores, it will make acne worse.

Also, make sure that you are showering as soon as possible after working up a sweat. If it isn't possible to shower right away after a workout, use medicated wipes to clean off quickly so that sweat and dirt do not dry on the skin and clog pores.

"I usually recommend starting with a benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid wash in the shower, and following with either an antibiotic or exfoliating lotion. Adding a cleansing brush or washcloth once or twice a week will also help prevent breakouts," she says.

And, when at the gym, wipe down benches before use, she says. If acne is very inflammatory or leaving scars, see a dermatologist, as prescription-strength medication is necessary, she adds.

Don't Pop It

Resist the urge to pop it! "Squeezing a pimple can cause more inflammation and longer-term scarring by pushing the contents deeper, not to mention it is a good way to introduce more bacteria to the area. I usually tell my patients to apply a cold pack to reduce inflammation, a spot treatment, such as salicylic acid 1% or 2% to reduce redness, and Visine or over-the-counter hydrocortisone," she says.