Our skin is the largest organ of our bodies, yet it is often neglected when we exercise. Throw in the combination of heat, humidity and pollution in Hong Kong, and taking care of your skin in between work and working out becomes quite a challenge.
Is it truly bad for your skin to exercise with make-up on? Can you forgo sunscreen when hitting the gym? Hong Kong dermatologists, personal trainers, and fitness business owners share their essential tips for maintaining skin health while keeping fit.
“The single most important product that everyone should use is sunscreen,” says Dr Nicola Chan, a specialist in dermatology. Personal trainer Stephanie Cuvelier, who often trains outside, always works out with sunscreen on, unless shading her face with the help of a cap or visor. Vanessa Valenzuela, co-founder of fitness studio H-Kore, “never leaves the house without sunblock”.
Sunscreen is not only recommended when exercising outdoors, though. Dr Joyce Tang, a specialist in dermatology, cautions that “SPF 30 or above is needed when you exercise indoors or outdoors”. The sun’s ultraviolet rays, particularly the UVA rays, can penetrate through windows, and certain indoor light sources can cause hyperpigmentation or skin damage through long-term exposure.
Make sure to always have some sunscreen nearby when exercising. Dr Chan advises reapplying sunscreen regularly, as it will come off your skin when you sweat.
Post-workout, personal trainer Timothy Skinner swears by “a cold shower to stimulate muscle recovery and to close up [his] pores after exercising”, while Flex Studio’s Andrea Ramirez rehydrates her skin by using overnight hydrating masks after cleansing.
In an ideal world, no one would wear make-up when they work out. Dr Chan explains: “When we are hot, we sweat and our pores enlarge [to cool down]. This is when our skin needs to breathe. If you wear make-up, there is a chance that the products you use will block your pores. Cosmetics combined with sweat can also lead to skin irritation and breakouts.”
Six of the seven female experts we spoke to say they do not regularly wear make-up when exercising – the exceptions were if they were being photographed or if they lacked confidence that day.
Matina Cheung, who teaches yoga classes for Adidas, says “it feels amazing to sweat out all the dirt and toxins from my skin”. Entrepreneur Lindsay Jang, who co-founded Topfit, says her goal for her skin “is to never wear make-up. I do everything I can to have healthy, hydrated skin so I don’t have to cover it up.”
Women who show up to fitness classes wearing make-up are generally on their way into or out off work, or are squeezing in a workout in the middle of the day.
“Hong Kong is a super busy city and most of our clients come to classes during lunch or after work, so some do come to the studio wearing the make-up they have on through the day,” observes H-Kore’s Valenzuela.
In anticipation of this, studios like Barre 2 Barre provide micellar water at the studio. Co-founder Mylene Mackay says it’s a gentle make-up remover for clients who want to freshen up before or after working out.
When she does not have time to remove her make-up before hitting the gym, Flex’s Ramirez turns to facial wipes. In the absence of these, she advises you to “wear lighter make-up and don’t touch your face with sweaty hands – use a clean towel instead”. Post-exercise, Dr Chan recommends “cleansing your skin and removing the make-up immediately after working out”.
Truly good skin comes from within, so what you do for it on the surface should be matched by what you eat and drink.
Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is good for overall health, and Dr Tang says that vitamins C and E in particular are great for skin health, as they “antagonise the free radicals that age your skin”.
Personal trainer Cuvelier also tries to include foods rich in vitamin B7, such as organic eggs, into her diet, to help her skin and hair. Goji Studio’s Dan Kan suggests adding bone broth into your diet, as it is “rich in protein, glycine and gelatin – all of which contribute to great skin”.
Drinking plenty of water is essential, especially if you are working up a sweat. Flex’s Ramirez swears by drinking a cup of fresh lemon juice in warm water every morning. “This helps boost metabolism and is great for skin,” Ramirez says.
Both Skinner and Kan also recommend eliminating, or at least reducing, alcohol consumption to boost skin and overall health.
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Barre 2 Barre’s Karen Lim agrees that health starts from within – “not just physically but mentally and emotionally. Take good care of yourself by being kind to yourself and others. Get enough sleep and nourishment, and it will reflect in your body.”