Does Sweat Cause Acne?

The difference between looking glowy versus greasy is a little bit of sweat. With warmer months ahead, sweat is becoming a consistent reality. One question reigns king in summer months: does sweat cause acne? It’s crossed all of our minds at some point, and frankly, we're ready for some answers!

We can’t control when we sweat, where we sweat, or how much we sweat. What we can do is focus on clean skin care and all-natural ingredients that support healthy, clear skin. Here’s a closer read on body sweat, the link with body acne, and what exactly is happening to our makeup when we’re breaking a sweat.

The Missing Link Between Sweat and Acne

Does sweat cause acne? We’ve been asking ourselves that question since grade school. The short answer is no: sweat itself does not cause acne. But it certainly doesn’t help the cause for clear skin, either. In certain circumstances, sweat can actually make acne-prone skin and existing breakouts a little worse.

There’s a missing link between sweat and breakouts: bacteria. It’s the true culprit behind many of our blemishes. There’s nothing inherently dirty about sweat; sure, it is one of the ways our body releases toxins, but sweat itself is mostly water and salt. So why the aching red zits and unwanted texture after a particularly heavy workout? The answer is bacteria.

Many of us have existing acne-causing bacteria on the parts of our bodies that naturally sweat. Take the hairline, for example. It’s a place that many of us touch unconsciously throughout the day. Not only does it collect makeup residue and hold onto it quite easily, but oils and products from our hair and scalp can easily migrate to this area.

Now we’ll think twice when pulling hair back into an aggressive pony, stuffing our strands into a less-than-fresh dad hat, or locking our fringe out of place with a bandana or headband. Those actions create the perfect breeding ground for a pimple – one that’s seemingly caused by sweating, but was really triggered by transfer of bacteria.

The Science of Sweat

Many of us assume that sweat is caused by physical activity, and in some ways that’s true. Sweat can actually be caused by physical stress, emotional stress, or temperature increases.


Stop to think about all the times you sweat each day – look beyond those living room yoga sessions. You could sweat while lounging in the warm summer sun, or thinking about our celebrity crush. Maybe it was that fraud alert from the bank that tipped our sweat-o-meters over the edge. But how can something happening externally trigger acne?


The problem isn’t that we sweat, but where we sweat can cause some problems. Areas that experience a lot of friction or trap heat and bacteria are far more likely to experience a bump or blemish. This is true for both our body and our face.

So, is there a difference between body sweat and facial sweat? Temperature increases are one of the main causes of sweating, and the materials we wear can either exacerbate the problem or lead to calming and cooling. Choosing light, breathable fabric isn’t just important for keeping our body temperature down; it’s also a great way to avoid body acne.

Body Acne Blues

Does sweat cause acne on the body? Again, the direct answer here is no. Body acne is relatively common and perfectly normal for all genders. Common areas for body acne include the back, shoulders, and chest – though other areas can experience breakouts too. 

Body blemishes are extremely common. Over half of those dealing with regular acne also experience acne on the body. So what causes body acne?

 If you hadn’t guessed, it’s many of the same things that cause facial acne. Oftentimes an excess in sebum, dry skin, clogged pores and tight fabrics and/or friction will contribute to a breakout.

Sweat and Makeup

As beautiful as we are with or without makeup, we don’t feel that way when our faces are covered in layers of foundation and sticky sweat. Excess sweat looks anything but sweet, and a subtle glow is easily transformed into a disco ball that feels just as uncomfortable as it looks. 

As we start to sweat, sweat escapes our pores and fills around any trapped debris, dry skin, and makeup on the surface. Makeup layers cover the pores and keep all that yucky stuff trapped inside. With a quick mixture of heat and friction, we have the perfect storm for a pimple. 

When we add water (sweat) to layers of powder, we’re creating a cakey mess that leaves pores clogged. Sweat can settle into lines and cause creases, or cause creases to worsen.

How do we beat this unhappy heat? With makeup and sweat, the best defense is a good offense. We start with natural skin care to clarify excess sebum while calming and balancing the skin. Keeping pores clear using exfoliants keeps dead skin out of the way and off our faces where it definitely doesn’t belong. In my makeup prep step, add a protective layer that keeps excess gunk out of pores and prolongs the life of our makeup. 

A long wearing, silicone-free primer works wonders at protecting the skin – not just from breakouts but from poor makeup applications. You should also choose a foundation that’s compatible with our skin types and activity levels. As a last layer of acne defense, use an herbal face mist and Anti Bacterial Blotting Paper. 

This paper helps to absorb oil and light sweat, while the motion of pressing the paper (rather than swiping or dragging) helps keep our original makeup in place. If you’re thoroughly cleansing skin before and after sweating, wearing the proper fabrics, and using the most suitable products for your skin, sweat shouldn’t be as big of a threat for breakouts. 

But if you’re hit with a breakout, bust out your acne treatment team!


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