Here’s the thing about working out: it’s good for you. Here’s the thing about post-workout skin: not so great if left to its own devices.
And here’s the thing about post-workout skin when it’s cold out: even more room for shenanigans.
While it’s true that a good workout gets the blood flowing, leaving you with a temporary glow and warming up those frozen limbs and muscles, it can also send your skin into a tailspin, especially when you’re walking outside into cold, windy weather right after. Yes, you’ve likely switched up your everyday skincare with the temperature drop to help ward off dry, flaky skin. But have you considered doing the same for your post-gym routine? Believe it or not, those five extra minutes over the locker room sink can be the deciding factor on whether or not your skin cooperates with you until the spring.
When you sweat, your body pushes toxins out through the skin and enlarged pores. All of this is great — detoxify! — but consider that 1) you now have a film of toxin-filled sweat sitting atop your precious skin and 2) your pores are bigger than normal and are therefore more susceptible to the elements…like whipping, cold, moisture-sucking winds.
What’s more, your skin is likely already more dehydrated than it is during, say, the swampy months of summer because the air is drier. Your skin doesn’t have the luxury of drinking up moisture in the air to supplement its thirst, and so rebels by getting simultaneously oily and dry. Fun! And as we all know, sweat is salty and salt is dehydrating so letting that salty sweat make a home on your already-sensitive-and-dehydrated skin…well, let’s just say you’ve had better ideas.
At this point, I assumed I’ve either scared you into not working out again until the thermometer goes above 60 degrees or you’re ready for some skincare advice. If you’re one of the latter, read on! If you’re one of the former, read on! I promise winter skincare isn’t as scary as that bootcamp instructor who always lies about how many reps are left.
Before anything else, wash your face.
Prior to pulling on that sports bra and lacing up those sneakers, wash your face. If you don’t, all the bacteria, dirt and makeup you’ve accrued throughout the day is absorbed into your skin as you sweat. Think of it as reverse detoxification-by-sweat if you need to get a better idea of why this is a big deal. A morning workout is the best way to make sure you’re starting with a clean face, but if that’s not a thing that excites you, opt for a gentle, non-foaming cleanser to remove all the gunk prior to sweating. Cream cleansers typically contain hydrating oils that feed your thirsty skin and something suds-free won’t strip moisture.
This may seem like an odd step in a skincare routine, but think about how communal a gym is. From machines to yoga mats to free weights, everything in there gets touched about a zillion times a day and you definitely don’t want a bunch of strangers’ germs lingering on your hands as you start touching your face. So post-workout, wash your hands thoroughly. If you find that standard bathroom soap is too harsh or drying, find a hand sanitizer packed with essential oils.
As soon as you’re done, cleanse again.
To keep your pores from getting clogged and remove sweat’s salt and bacteria, this step is uber-important as it’s the one that removes everything your body has expelled from your skin’s surface. If you have the time, I highly recommend you shower and fully wash your body and face. If you’re in a rush or don’t have the patience, a cleansing cloth is a solid, quick option. But I’d still urge you to use a cleanser post-cloth as well, especially if you’re not headed straight home to perform a full skincare routine. Cloths are great in a pinch but they often leave behind gunk and residue that, if covered up by serums, oils and moisturizers, will just penetrate into deep layers of the skin and disrupt things.
And be sure to keep things dry.
A counterintuitive step, but before applying any moisturizer, make sure your skin is totally and completely dry. If not, when you step out into the cold, the leftover water molecules on your skin may freeze and damage skin. Feel free to spritz a hydrating, restorative facial mist on your clean skin, but do be sure it’s completely absorbed or blotted away pre-moisturizer.
You’ve cleansed and cleansed again, and now it’s time to pack a mighty moisturizer punch. To protect against moisture loss at the hands of winter weather — and also strengthen skin — look for serums and creams that contain ingredients like hyaluronic acid (which binds to skin and can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water) and ceramides (which strengthen the skin’s barrier and prevent dehydration and irritation). Slather it on like your skin’s life depends on it, and then coat your lips in a deeply-nourishing balm so you’re not tempted to lick them for moisture.
Want bonus points?
This isn’t skincare per se, but if you perform a particularly taxing workout or leave without stretching adequately, your muscles are likely to tense up in the cold. When muscles tighten too quickly, it can lead to knots, cramps and soreness which, sure, may serve as a good excuse to take some time off from the gym, but are really just an uncomfortable nuisance. If you find yourself dealing with any of them, consider a muscle balm. They’ve come a long way since your dad’s menthol goop that stunk up the whole house!