Can sweat cause pimples and acne? Yes, you can get blemishes and zits when you work out or are in humid weather. The most common type of acne from sweating is called Pityrosporum folliculitis. I see a lot of this type of sweat-induced acne in my dermatology practice, especially in athletes and during the summer when my patients are hot and sweaty.
Sweating can cause acne.
This kind of acne also happens during the school year when athletes are training and competing in various sports. It's also what I call 'summer's acne'.
Pityrosporum folliculitis is a tough and stubborn form of acne to treat because some people’s skin is just prone to it.
The reason is that this yeast is a normal skin yeast that grows on almost everybody's skin. Also called Malassezia, it starts to overgrow in the pores when the conditions are right. Some people's pores don’t fight the yeast very well so it easily takes off. A little heat and sweat, and poof, the yeast "parties on" causing pimples.
What is the best treatment for Pityrosporum folliculitis type of acne?
The treatment of this type of acne depends on how severe the acne is and what part of the skin is involved. I always recommend an anti-yeast cleanser for my patients.
My favorite skin cleanser to fight sweat acne is one with pyrithione zinc. - Dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Bailey
A pyrithione zinc cleanser needs to be used every day to help suppress yeast "happiness" and overgrowth.
Yeast from sweat acne also thrive in clogged pores so I like to combine pyrithione zinc with keratolytic product that busts blackheads and clogged-pore debris.
The best choices depend on a person’s skin type and skin sensitivities because keratolytic ingredients can be irritating.
My "go to" keratolytic ingredients are benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid and glycolic acid. Benzoyl peroxide will also treat the acne bacteria called P. acnes that can help the Pityrosporum yeast create pimples. They are a great team of collaborators for sweat acne.
I also use physical exfoliation with a slightly rough shower sponge or scrub. If money is no object, I also recommend a sonic skin cleansing system such as the Clarisonic Brush or Foreo to keep pores really free from pore clogging oil and debris.
What does Pityrosporum folliculitis look like?
This type of acne manifests with itchy and tender, red pimples and little, clogged white bumps. The lesions:
Are situated along the hairline and jawline of the face, often covering the entire forehead, too;
- Run down the sides and back of the neck; and
- May also involve the upper chest and back, and sometimes, they go all the way down the back to the waistline.
What are the best home treatment remedies I use in my dermatology practice for sweat acne from Pityrosporum folliculitis?
The best results come when you create a Complete Skin Care Routine built from the four key steps in skin care:
In the case of Pityrosporum Folliculitis there are a number of tactics you need to use for this stubborn sweat-induced acne. You need to control yeast, reduce acne causing bacteria, unclog your pores and prevent scarring from hyperpigmentation. That's because all of this contributes to the skin problems of Pityrosporum folliculitis and are complexion spoilers. For years I listed options in a complex manner.
I created a kit to make it easy for you. My Pityrosporum Folliculitis Kit works for face sweat acne and you can add products for body acne. It includes all the essential products you need for you skin problem. Some are even multi-taskers too and cover more than one of the 4 essential steps.
Click here to see my Dermatologist's Pityrosporum Skin Care Treatment Kit to treat acne caused by sweating.
Doctor's additional tips for getting rid of Pityrosporum folliculitis sweat acne.
- It is important to wash off sweat and oil from your skin as soon as possible after sweating. If you can’t wash right away, then degrease the skin with skin wipes or Naturally Hydrating Pore Minimizing Toner and a cotton pad. Keep one of these products in your gym bag or backpack.
- Sun protection is important to prevent hyperpigmentation of healed acne lesions. This is best provided by wearing UPF 50 sun protective clothing until the acne has healed.
Does diet help Pityrosporum folliculitis type of sweat acne?
Maybe. There is no scientific evidence for this – yet. But, in my dermatology practice, I see that when my Pityrosporum folliculitis patients eat a mostly healthy diet with more fruit and veggies, and less junk food and sugar, their skin rewards them with fewer yeasty pimples. We know that yeast always love sugar and grease so taking away the feast seems to quiet the "yeasty party in the pores." This may also be helpful for another sweat related problem called intertrigo; intertrigo is a red rash of the skin folds that is also related to sweating. Intertrigo is more likely to occur in diabetics and people with sweaty skin. Simple skin care tips can help reduce the risk of this skin problem.
Are there treatments that can help when the acne is severe and doesn't respond to home treatment?
Yes, they require a doctor's supervision and prescription. Pulsed therapy with oral anti-fungals can be helpful, but there are side effects and so the decision is not to be considered lightly. I always start with the skin care that I outlined above, and it becomes a long-term skin care regimen for yeast suppression in Pityrosporum-folliculitis-prone individuals.
Author: Dr. Cynthia Bailey M.D. is a Board Certified dermatologist practicing dermatology since 1987. She has done well over 200,000 skin exams during her career and authors the longest running physician written skin health blog in the world.
Katherine Ayers, BA; Susan M. Sweeney, MD; Karen Wiss, MD, Pityrosporum Folliculitis Diagnosis and Management in 6 Female Adolescents With Acne Vulgaris, Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2005;159:64-67.