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Regular running improves heart health and muscular endurance, promotes overall health and fitness, and is an excellent form of exercise. Blood flow increases to the skin during running, giving the appearance of a healthy “glow” and may even slow signs of aging.
It is well known that outdoor running can be harmful on the skin due to sun damage, especially without proper sun protection. However, can running affect the skin in other ways as well?
There is a common thought that running can make your skin lose elasticity and become saggy due to the constant and repetitive bounding impact. However, there is actually no scientific evidence that running by itself causes the skin to sag. Here are 8 ways that regular running may affect the skin:
1) Sunburns and Chronic Sun Damage
It is extremely important to take extra precaution to protect your skin from the sun while running outside. One scientific study showed marathon runners are at a significantly higher risk for malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.[2,3] While it would be best to avoid the sun by running on an indoor track or treadmill, if you enjoy running outside, aim to avoid running between 10am-4pm when the sun is shining brightest. Additionally, wear a hat and sunglasses, and cover as much skin as possible with sun protective clothing. Sweating even causes “water resistant” sunscreens to slide off, so it is best to re-apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen every 30 minutes while running outdoors.
2) Fungal Infections of the Feet and Body
Moisture and friction are the perfect pair to foster the growth of fungus on the feet (most common) and the body. Examples of these infections are “Athlete’s foot” and “Jock itch,” which are part of a group of fungal infections called “Tinea”. These rashes are common in runners and other athletes and can be very itchy, painful, and uncomfortable. To prevent and alleviate fungal infections, wear open toed shoes as much as possible when not running and avoid staying in sweaty clothing longer than necessary. Many fungal infections require medical treatment from a physician.
Calluses form on the feet in areas of chronic pressure and friction. They can become very painful and debilitating. To prevent calluses, it is most important to wear proper fitting running shoes. However, calluses are often unavoidable and can be managed by (1) sanding them down and (2) wearing calluses cushions (found at any drug store) to reduce the friction at pressure points while walking and running.
4) Free Radical Damage
There is some scientific evidence that while moderate regular exercise improves overall health and physiological functions throughout the body; overtraining and excessive exercise can lead to severe oxidative stress. Increased levels of reactive oxygen species after intense or prolonged running can wreak havoc on DNA, lipids, and proteins. However, while high intensity and prolonged exercise may cause oxidative damage, it has been shown that moderate intensity exercise actually acts as an antioxidant to reduce free radical damage.
5) Sagging Skin from Weight Loss
Although many believe that running by itself causes the skin to lose elasticity and become saggy; it is actually most often natural aging and/or weight loss that causes redundant sagging skin. Droopy or saggy skin is part of the natural aging process as collagen and elastin protein in the dermis begin breaking down. Some people who have drastic weight loss can develop excess redundant skin, but this is not a result of running. Weight loss to achieve a healthy weight is important for overall health, and saggy skin should not be a deterrent to exercise and weight loss. If you notice this happening, treatment options can be discussed with your dermatologist or physician.
6) Fat Loss and Wrinkles
If you are on a diet and exercise program designed to lose body fat, you may notice that your face is developing more or deeper wrinkles. When you lose body fat from your body, you will also lose some of the fat that is normally in the face. Fat acts as a “volume replacement” to plump out the lines and wrinkles in the face, so as this is lost you may notice these lines become more prominent. Losing excess body fat is vital to overall health, and treatment options to restore volume to the face such as dermal fillers can be discussed with your dermatologist.
7) Dehydrated Skin
If you are a regular runner, it is extremely important to stay hydrated and to keep the skin moisturized. Wrinkles may be accentuated in dehydrated or dry skin, so drink plenty of water and use a favorite facial moisturizer to keep skin supple.
8) Sweat Induced Acne
Heat and moisture can predispose the skin to develop pimples. Normally residing bacteria on the skin can become trapped in pores that are clogged with dead skin cells and oil, predisposing you to a breakout. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) suggests washing your face immediately after sweating to help prevent acne breakouts. Common treatments for acne include both topical and systemic therapies.