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How exercise and weight loss affect your skin

June 10th 2015 / Anna Hunter

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Getting fit and losing unwanted pounds more often than not makes us feel and look fantastic, but how does it impact on our skin? We've got the skinny...

You’re starting to reap the rewards of working out more regularly and dodging the junk, but just how are your efforts affecting the largest organ of your body, your skin? You may report radiant, toned skin, or on the flipside you may be plagued by ‘bacne’ or have distinctly detected a few extra lines. If you’ve lost a dramatic amount of weight or had a baby, you’re also likely to notice at least a scattering of spidery stretch marks - oh joy. Here’s how to combat skin issues associated with ramping up a fitness regime or losing weight…

Skin ageing

First things first, as Peta Bee highlights, exercise and weight loss alone do not cause wrinkles:

“Last year, a study at McMaster University in Ontario Regular reported that, among regular runners and cyclists aged 65 plus, their outer and inner skin layers both resembled what scientists would typically expect to see in healthy 20- to 40-year-olds. In other words, they looked younger.”

Getting the blood pumping during a killer HIIT session or spin class will have the happy side effect of delivering more oxygen and nutrients to your skin, and building lean muscle will support the skin and help it to appear more supple and youthful as you age. Elemis co-founder and head of treatment development Noella Gabriel thinks that getting active can be a key component to ageing not only beautifully, but healthily, and prioritises physical activity almost as part of her skincare regime:

“I love to look elegant and graceful, with glowing skin. I swim five times a week, in the morning as I’m an early bird, and in addition I do two hours of exercise or stretching each week. It is important to me to feel fit; it’s something you really must work at as you age.”

When a skin expert puts this kind of emphasis on working out for optimum skin health, you know you can’t use preserving your complexion as an excuse to dodge the gym. As with all situations in life, however, practice moderation, as there are indeed times when you should be going home instead of going hard, especially where extreme weight loss and fad dieting are concerned (of course we here at GTG wouldn’t condone either). In Future Proof your Skin!, dermatologist Dr Stefanie Williams highlights the effects of punishing regimes on your skin:

“There is no doubt that malnutrition and being underweight makes our skin age quicker. Low body weight has been linked to low oestrogen and DHEA levels (two of our ‘youth’ hormones) and high cortisol levels (one of the terribly ageing stress hormones). Low oestrogen and high cortisol levels are established factors involved in the acceleration of skin ageing, so for the sake of long term skin health and vitality, it is important not to let our body weight fall below the ‘normal’ range, usually measured using body mass index (BMI).”

It’s not just damaging diets that can advance ageing; combining restrictive eating with grueling training puts skin, and the body’s cells overall, under strain, as Dr Stefanie stresses:

“Undereating AND overexercising with extended cardio or other endurance sports is even worse! This lethal combination increases our levels of cortisol and adrenaline (the catabolic, ‘using up’ stress hormones) and causes our body to ‘eat itself’ from within.”

“Also, when levels of these hormones are too high, our body will not receive the important hormonal command to regenerate itself, because our hormonal balance is completely out of sync and skewed towards breaking down rather than building up tissue.”

Dr Stefanie’s take away message?

“It is important to free yourself from society’s pressure to try and lose weight if your BMI is already considered ‘normal’!”

Noella is in agreement that balance and a common sense approach to weight loss is key:

“Short term weight loss can reduce bloatedness in face and body, restore youthfulness and create the appearance of fresh, clean, re-energised skin. When it’s taken to an extreme or bordering on anorexia then it results in depletion of vital nutrients, which are key to stimulating enzymes responsible for good skin function and optimum age management. Premature ageing can then result and become very obvious from the early-mid twenties.”

If you’ve just had a baby or have lost a lot of weight due to medical advice, firstly, congratulations, and secondly, don’t panic about skyrocketing skin ageing. Noella assured me that there are things you can do at home to help skin to retain smoothness and elasticity:

“Because the skin has been stretched due to excess weight or fluid retention, the body takes time to adjust to your new shape and size and can take on the appearance of slackness, lacking tone and firmness. This can improve over time with a good homecare routine, plus regular resistance exercise of course. I recommend all over body brushing which aids the appearance and toning of the skin by stimulating circulation in the area, which improves the overall tone and firmness.”

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“It’s also important to use a good body moisturiser when you are losing weight, to improve the appearance of the skin and help reduce any crepiness which is also associated with ageing and slackening of the skin. I believe that we can never over moisturise, if we continue to use a body moisturiser all year round we will have no major shocks when sporting a bikini!”

If you’ve got a special occasion coming up or simply want to consult the pros, Noella recommends a results driven Elemis treatment that will improve the texture and tone of the skin:

“A weekly Cellutox Wrap for six weeks before a special occasion will help to relieve the discomfort of fluid retention and refine the appearance of cellulite, thanks to a blend of detoxifying juniper and lemon.”

If facial wrinkles and sagging are your main concern, Noella advocates taking matters into your own hands:

“Good facial massage is to the value of one hour in the gym- like a workout, it keep muscles tones and cell renewal at its peak.”

Boost the effects of a lifting massage by using an antioxidant rich facial oil.

Stretch Marks

In Noella’s words, ‘the bane of every woman’s life!’:

“Stretch marks appear due to weight gain, pregnancy or a dramatic weight loss. They indicate that skin is damaged and has been stretched beyond its capacity, often when the body has been very dry too.”

Reality klaxon- Noella doesn’t have a failsafe solution. Neither does anyone else for the time being.

“We’d make a fortune if we had a cure! However, what I do know is that if we treat a stretch mark at its very early stages, and I personally have found lavender essential oil placed along stretch marks works amazingly, if there is any life in the stretch mark, the oil will pick it up and speed up repair. Lavender is one of the most successful oils for achieving this. Then use Japanese Camellia Oil Body Blend, £34, which is renowned for reducing the appearance of stretch marks.”

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“Otherwise, exfoliate to prevent the buildup of dry skin on the stretch mark to improve its appearance dramatically. Applying a light layer of self-tanning cream over the mark can do an amazing job to camouflage. If the stretch mark is neglected and has been for many years then I have to have the integrity and honesty to say that we cannot work miracles.”

Sun damage

Workout al fresco like our editor-in-chief Susannah Taylor? Time to step up the SPF- your fitness prowess could well be catapulting you into the premature ageing bracket. Modern skincare now allows you to combine a belt and braces approach to sun protection with a more sophisticated anti-ageing edge, as Noella explains:

“There are two types of sunscreens; those that just contain an SPF, which normally end up being cheap and cheerful and those that are a treatment plus sun care product which also help to ensure the skin is kept highly moisturised and nourished with good protection. An anti-ageing sunscreen is a synergy of good anti-oxidants.”

If you don’t want to forgo your favourite moisturiser, slather it on with abandon and top it with Elemis Liquid Layer SPF 30, £28. It’s lightweight enough to allow seamless layering and will guard skin against UVA and UVB rays, while antioxidants help to protect skin from pollution and age accelerating free radicals.

Acne

Clammy gym environments or not cleansing post-workout can make your skin behave very badly indeed, as Noella confirms:

“Exercise obviously causes sweating and can, on many occasions, lead to problem skin, oily skin, breakouts or dehydration. Like everything, extremes are never good for skin.”

“To treat blemishes, apply a warm compress with tea tree oil on it over the affected area. This will help to soften the skin and in some cases eases out blackheads without any finger pressure, which is a long term solution and very effective.”

“Apply Herbal Lavender Repair Mask, £30, and leave on overnight – this helps to dry up the area and speed up the repair. I always like an application of neat lavender which will repair any broken skin, reduce redness and improve the overall appearance of the skin.”

“Another top tip would be to have a facial and to go to the experts to get a proper skin and lifestyle analysis. One of the main reasons for the launch of the SkinLab into retail was to ensure this level of knowledge can be experienced in the department store and is accessible to everyone.”

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Dry skin

As above, it’s easy for skin to become dehydrated when you’re constantly darting in and out of hot post-workout showers and air-conned fitness studios. Noella advises against blasting away sweat with harsh products. Your skin needs nourishment, not punishment:

“Frequent exercisers tend to take multiple showers, which can lead to dry skin if you are not using the correct body wash. Using the wrong body wash can strip the skin of its natural oils, so it’s very important to use a wash with minimal foam and with healing extracts, for example Elemis Wild Lavender Hand & Body Wash, £16. It allows for a deep cleanse but the rich, creamy lather is super gentle, leaving skin feeling fresh, clean, soft and moisturised.”

To further combat dryness, not to mention give you energy to fuel fitness sessions, stock up on sustaining skin foods and consider drinking electrolyte packed coconut water pre, during or post-workout. It will rehydrate you almost immediately and boost cell osmosis, ensuring that the skin isn’t starved of nutrients and moisture.

Soreness

If you’re feeling tight and sore due to pumping iron or pushing your limits on a run, chances are your skin could be feeling swollen or even bruised. Avoid putting pressure on bruises, but for swelling and muscle pain, a warm bath and/or thorough massage can work wonders to rev up circulation, melt knots and restore you to fighting fit form. Noella has quite the restorative masterplan:

“Taking regular baths, once or twice a week helps to alleviate tension and cleanse the skin, which is the largest eliminative organ. Massages also help soften and release the body, encourage relaxation and promote a good night sleep.”

Try adding muscle relaxing magnesium salts to your bath to aid recovery, bring down inflammation and boost skin hydration, not to mention make your journey to the land of nod a LOT smoother. Adequate R&R has a whole host of benefits, including more energy to keep up your fitness plan and healthier skin thanks to healing, cell repairing beauty sleep. More sleep, challenging but not torturous workouts, massages and permission from dermatologists and nutrition experts to gobble down the likes of coconuts and dark chocolate (within reason)? This whole losing weight, anti-ageing business ain’t so bad after all.

This feature was written in partnership with Elemis

How has weight loss, exercise or having a baby affected your skin? Comment below or tweet us @GetTheGloss

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