Is Exercise Ruining Your Looks?

Is Exercise Ruining Your Looks?

Wimpole Aesthetics’ very own Medical Aesthetician, Robyn Mason, has her say in this month’s Health and Fitness magazine. Great tips, advice and suggestions to make sure you stay looking as good as you feel! Article written by Lucy Miller.

You exercise regularly, eat well and have perfected your beauty regime – so you’re going to age well and have perfect skin, right? Unfortunately, that may not be the case. While there’s nothing more youth-giving than the healthy glow you get post-workout, dermatologists warn that too much exercise – especially when combined with sun exposure – can damage your skin if you don’t take steps to protect it.

Of course, in moderation, exercise enhances your looks. ‘Exercise is great for stimulating circulation and increasing oxygen and nutrient supply to your skin,’ says Robyn Mason, an aesthetic and specialist in ageing at Wimpole Aesthetics. Indeed, researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel have found endurance exercise, such as running or cycling, can increase the stem cells in your muscles, helping rejuvenate them and ward off wrinkles. However, overdo the exercise and you could see the opposite effect.

‘Over-exercising is a fine example of too much of a good thing, especially when it comes to your skin,’ says Mason. ‘When exercising at extreme levels, more oxidative damage is done to the skin than when exercising at moderate levels. If you’re unable to adequately replenish the body’s need for higher levels of antioxidants, your skin will show the signs of ageing quicker than it would if you get only a moderate  amount of exercise,’ she warns.

When running or cycling outside, it’s also vital to protect your face from sun damage and wind or extreme temperatures, which cause broken  veins. Not using adequate protection will have a huge impact on your looks because your face is the first thing to come into contact with the environment, adds Mason. Activities such as hot yoga can also affect your looks because of the flushing they cause. ‘Regularly increasing the blood flow to your face to that extent, due to the hot conditions and exertion, will over time make you susceptible to broken capillaries on your face.’

Of course, we’re not suggesting you should avoid exercising to save your face. Just follow these simple steps to help exercise-proof your looks and ensure your face looks as youthful as your toned, fit body.

SOS sagging skin

Excessive exercise can generate the breakdown of collagen and elastin – proteins that keep the skin flexible – in the skin cells, which accelerates skin ageing, says Mason. ‘Gravity plays a part in this too. Repetitive, high-impact exercise such as running can be tough on your skin and damage facial tissue, causing the skin to sag. Exercising a lot also has a huge impact on your hormones, especially if you have low body fat. Lower body fat means lower oestrogen levels, which can affect your collagen production and result in premature wrinkles and sagging.’

The solution: Ensure you’re not overtraining and include rest days in your schedule. ‘Incorporate low-impact exercise into your regime if you can,’ says Mason. ‘And take supplements that are good for the joints, such as glucosamine and vitamin C. These target the connective tissues (such as collagen) and help increase the amino acids in your skin, especially hydroxyproline, which are important for the formation of collagen.’

You can further protect your skin by eating plenty of fish, according to dermatologist and anti-ageing expert, Dr Nicholas Perricone. ‘The flesh of fish, especially salmon, contains DMAE (dimethylethanolamine), an antioxidant that stimulates the muscles to contract and tighten under the skin,’ says Perricone.

SOS sun damage

‘If you’re exercising outside, you’re going to end up with free-radical damage, which breaks down collagen,’ says Mason. ‘Sun exposure is the biggest age-accelerator, because it damages DNA and suppresses the skin’s immune system, so adding to the fact your exercise has already slightly weakened your skin’s elasticity, you can expect to get a double whack of skin cell inflammation and damage.’

You need to be even more vigilant about sun protection if you’re sweating in the sun. A study from University Hospital Tübingen, Germany, found sweating may boost your skin’s photosensitivity, leaving you more vulnerable to sunburn and UV-related skin damage.

The solution: ‘Always slap on the sunscreen before a run,’ advises Mason. ‘Look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 in the summer, which blocks out both UVA and UVB rays. Protect your neck and chest, as well as your face – nothing ages you more than a leathery décolletage.’

‘If sunscreen runs into your eyes or makes your skin feel sticky and uncomfortable when exercising, try wearing mineral make-up,’ says Lee Etheridge, marathon runner and education director for Bare Escentuals. ‘A covering of mineral power or foundation will provide a protective layer that doesn’t rub off when you sweat, and contains titanium dioxide, a mineral also found in sunscreen that helps reflect UV rays away from your skin.’ Bare Escentuals Mineral Veil is transfer resistant, water resistant and SPF 25.

SOS lines & wrinkles

Do you fuel your workouts with sugary drinks or snacks? ‘During a long run, it’s common to tuck into Jelly Babies or high-GI foods to top up your glycogen levels, but excessive sugar will give you wrinkles,’ says Mason. ‘Sugar in your blood attaches to the collagen and elastin in your skin, making it stiff and inflexible, which is called glycation. Intense regular exercise can also increase your levels of stress hormone cortisol, which disrupts your natural turnover cycle of skin cells, making skin unable to regenerate properly.’

The solution: ‘Clean up your diet and take advantage of the natural sugars in bananas and dried fruit when you need a pick-me-up. Recover after exercise with supplements that don’t contain refined sugars, such as a whey protein concentrate,’ advises Mason. ‘Whey boosts your immune system and increases glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that’s renowned for protecting your skin cells.’

Most importantly, eat plenty of foods that are rich in vitamin E, vitamin A, magnesium, zinc, copper, selenium and antioxidants, such as Brazil nuts, cooked tomatoes (these contain more antioxidant lycopene than raw ones) and spices such as paprika, cayenne and chilli powder. ‘Antioxidants protect your body from the free radicals that damage cells and cause thinning, inelasticity and glycation in the skin,’ says Perricone.

SOS dehydrated skin due to lack of body fat

If you’re exercising (or dieting) for weight loss, beware of getting too thin – it can add years to your face. ‘The smartest thing you can do to sidestep ageing is to avoid yo-yo dieting and maintain a healthy body fat percentage,’ says Mason. ‘Imagine stretching an elastic band over and over again – eventually it becomes less pliant and loses it elasticity. It’s the same concept with your skin. A very low body fat percentage also means you won’t have enough subcutaneous fat in your face, or enough fats and oils that make up the membranes of your skin cells to cushion and support your skin, giving you that dehydrated, fragile look.

The solution: ‘If you want your skin to stay looking young and plumped up, keep your body fat over 19 per cent,’ says Dr Dapeng Zhang, specialist in acupuncture and Chinese medicine at Energybodies Clinic ( ‘Extra fat plumps up the facial skin and fills out wrinkles. Extreme body fat reduction can thin out the contours of the face, accentuating fine lines and expression lines.’

Dr Zhang recommends eating lots of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as avocados, oily fish, chia seeds and coconut butter, plus foods rich in vitamin A, E, D and K, all of which are important for healthy collagen. ‘Good fats help you absorb nutrients from your food, as well as keeping your cells supple and skin glowing and wrinkle-free.’

SOS dark circles

If you regularly sacrifice your shut-eye for exercise, it may be worth taking another look at your routine. ‘Adequate sleep is vital for avoiding eye puffiness and maintaining vibrant skin,’ says Mason. ‘Sleep reduces the negative effects of cortisol, helping prevent the breakdown of collagen and aiding release of hormone melatonin, which has a positive effect on the immune system and the skin. It also rebuilds your body’s energy reserves and regenerates cells.’

The solution: ‘Make sure you get seven to eight hours’ sleep most nights,’ says Mason. ‘If dark circles are still haunting you, it may be worth looking at your diet. Pro-inflammatory foods, such as sugary, starchy foods and dairy can cause puffiness, as can dehydration, so drink plenty of water throughout the day. Don’t forget to drink green tea and coconut water too – these are packed with antioxidants and electrolytes, which will hydrate you more effectively than water.’

SOS large pores & spots

‘Spots appear when excess sebum (oil produced by your skin), combined with accumulated dead skin cells, block your pores and the bacteria inside causes inflammation,’ says Mason. According to research at the University of San Diego, exercise and lifting weights increases testosterone levels by almost 30 per cent, which can have a major impact on spots. ‘Elevated levels of testosterone directly affect oil production in the skin, meaning your body secretes more sebum, which tends to get trapped in your pores and encourage breakouts,’ says Mason.

The solution: ‘Always shower after the gym, but use gentle products,’ says Mason. ‘Just because you feel sweaty and dirty, don’t be inclined to viciously scrub your skin. Your face will be more sensitive after exercise because you’ve stimulated blood flow to the surface, so scrubbing will irritate it. Don’t rely on the gym’s cleansing products – they can be too harsh. Take your own gentle cleansers, such as baby products, to remove dirt without stripping and over cleaning the skin.’ Try PRIORI Advanced AHA Invigorating Face and Body Scrub, £31 for 200ml, to gently exfoliate your skin;

Also, eating excessive amounts of refined carbohydrates such as white bread and sugary foods can influence testosterone levels. ‘Choose complex carbohydrates such as wholegrain rice and sweet potatoes, and eat dairy in moderation,’ says Mason.

Lucy Miller, Health & Fitness magazine