Health & Fitness | September 9, 2021 6:14 am

Are Midday Workouts Contributing to Your Adult Acne?

The relationship between WFH sessions and frustrating "bacne," explained

A sweaty man in a sleeveless shirt runs on a treadmill.
Best get out of that tank top before you sit down to answer emails.
Rawpixel/Getty Images

Well before the pandemic arrived, the world was conspiring to help you fit your workout into your workday.

A study from the Journal of Physiology pinpointed early afternoon as the best time of day to work out. Brokers and traders anointed midday ClassPass sessions as the new power lunch. (The trend even had a stupid-catchy name: “sweatworking.”) And some companies started bringing in corporate wellness strategists, who were tasked with helping employees get in shape during the hours of 9am and 5pm.

The novelty of the workday workout has since worn off. If you’re on Strava, you know that remote workers have been blatantly running, cycling and swimming in the middle of the day for well over year. Plus, with an assist from the “connected fitness” revolution — which fueled a 130% increase in the sale of at-home fitness equipment — alongside an explosion in YouTube yoga channels, most employee/trainees don’t even have to leave the house to get a sweat in. This very publication, in fact, drafted a 400-rep workday workout, meant to be performed a few feet from one’s desk.

Broadly speaking, this is a really good thing. According to the CDC, Americans average almost eight hours of sitting a day. A huge chunk of that is spent staring at screens. Making use of that portion of the day to sweat, instead of wedging uninspired workouts into those precarious before or after periods (when a commute beckons, or the kids need dinner), is plain smart. It’s a new, unwritten perk that we all deserve.

But it may have an unintended consequence. It’s hard to shake the mentality that midday workouts are sneaky. I have a friend who takes pains to keep his Peloton profile private, lest his bosses know he’s ripping Tabata with Ally Love at 1:30 each day. In this way, workouts can still feel somewhat squeezed in, as a brief-ish burst of sunlight and sweat, followed by a rushed return to the laptop. And without a need to look (or smell) presentable, it’s easier to just get back to work than give a post-HIIT body the full cleanse it needs.

It’s one factor that could be contributing to your “quaranskin” outbreaks, or, the adult acne that has sprung up for so many over the last 20-some-odd months. While pandemic-era skin issues have largely been associated with abrasion around the chin area from wearing facemarks, or an increase of cortisol as a result of fluctuating stress levels (which, in turn, increases sebum production), your newfound workout habits might also be leading to pustules throughout the body, specifically around your back.

Yeah. Bacne. It isn’t a high school relic, no matter how much we want it to be. While those between the ages of 11 and 30 are way more likely to experience a breakout (and about 80% of them do), other variables like genetics, steroid medications, or a high-glycemic diet can make sure that blackheads, whiteheads, pimples and cysts congregate on your upper back and shoulders. And that list includes one other crucial culprit: occlusive, unwashed clothing.

Simply put, finishing a workday in the same clothing you just worked out in is a surefire way to get bacne. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, “dead skin cells, bacteria, and oils on unwashed clothes can clog your pores.” Dirty clothes trap the oils and sweat that naturally rise to your skin during a training session, disturbing hair follicles and oil glands. Add a backpack to the mix — more common as some exercisers make the switch to rucking, or start running with one, like me — and you have an extra level of pressure on a sensitive area.

There are forums online where newfound trainees express their surprise at acne outbreaks: I’m healthier now; shouldn’t my skin follow suit? Vets recommend monitoring how often you touch your face during and after sessions (gym equipment is notoriously bacteria-ridden), and how your skin reacts to a steady supply of whey protein, which releases a skin-wrecking hormone called IGF-1. They also stump for an immediate wash once your workout is over.

In theory, this should be easier now. Most offices don’t have locker rooms, while every home has a shower. But when tacking on an extra 15 minutes to a workday break feels greedy, it’s customary to instead just plop down in a soiled tee and answer emails for two hours. Unfortunately, that’s more than enough time to keep excess moisture trapped against the skin, and catalyze sebum production.

What should you do instead? Prioritize a wash. Budget time within the framework of your workday workout to fit in a quick, cold shower. The chilly aspect isn’t just because cold-water immersion is a tenet of recovery fitness; hot water actually causes acne to flare up. It’s a great way, also, to make sure you don’t lose track in time of there. You probably don’t want your post-workout shower to be a “shower.” It should be more of a rinse. Roll your eyes all you want at these celebs intent on cutting back shower time, but they actually have a point. Long, hot showers are worse for the environment and your wallet.

If you can’t bring yourself to shower, getting into clean clothing is your next best bet. Most men’s grooming companies now have cooling body wipes, which you can apply to your face, back and under-areas before hopping into a fresh shirt and shorts to round out the day’s duties. Other tricks? Dry shampoo for your hair, time in front of a fan (or under a hairdryer on its coolest setting) to dry off, and avoiding outfits repeats when choosing your workout gear. That should be a little easier now that you aren’t regularly using a gym bag.

Sometimes, of course, bacne just happens. When skin issues persist, consider recruiting a BHA liquid exfoliant, or benzoyl peroxide foaming wash. Give these formulas time. They work best when you use them consistently, and should be used in conjunction with a reliable, oil-free, non-comedogenic moisturizer, as their primary aim, after all, is to dry out your skin.

Ultimately, working out in the middle of the workday shouldn’t be more stressful than it’s worth. That umbrellas everything from the way it impacts your stress levels on Slack to the blackheads that keep popping up on your upper back. But if you can find a peaceable, functional balance — and one that sees you back to your desk not smelling like a middle linebacker — it can be a dynamite perk WFH days in your future.