Is your sports equipment causing your acne?

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Shot-putter: When equipment frequently rubs against your skin, acne can flare.

Some sports equipment and clothing provide an ideal environment for acne to thrive. This is so common that there’s a medical term for this type of acne. It’s called acne mechanica.

You get this type of acne when sports equipment or clothing traps heat and sweat on your skin. As the equipment or clothing rubs against your heated skin, your skin becomes irritated. If you have acne or acne-prone skin, this irritation can cause new acne breakouts.

Many types of athletes get acne mechanica. Football and hockey players may have it on their chin, shoulders, or forehead. Shot-putters tend to develop acne where they cradle the shot against their necks. Anywhere that equipment rubs, acne can appear.

The first sign that you may have acne mechanica is small, rough-feeling bumps that you can feel more easily than see. These may appear where a chin strap, helmet, or other piece of equipment rubs. If you continue to use your equipment without taking precautions, these small, rough bumps can turn into pimples and sometimes deep acne cysts.

Examples of sporting equipment that can lead to acne mechanica

Sport Equipment
Auto racing Back of the driver's seat
Backpacking Backpack, especially the straps on the backpack
Cycling Helmet
Dance Synthetic dance clothes
Football Helmet, chin strap, shoulder pads, or other protective gear
Golf Strap on the golf bag
Gymnastics Synthetic clothes
Horseback riding Hunt helmet
Hockey Helmet, chest protector, or other protective gear
Lacrosse Helmet, shoulder pads, or other protective gear
Shot put The shot (from cradling it against your neck)
Weightlifting Plastic on weightlifting benches, weightlifting belt
Wrestling Face guard

If you feel that your sports equipment or clothing is causing acne breakouts, it’s possible to continue your sport(s) and see clearer skin.

To clear your skin and prevent more acne, dermatologists recommend the following:

  • Place clean, soft padding between the equipment and your skin. This can eliminate rubbing, which can prevent your skin from becoming irritated.

  • Wear moisture-wicking clothes next to your skin. This fabric pulls sweat away from your body, reducing the friction on your skin so that you have less skin irritation.

  • Trade tight-fitting workout clothes for loose-fitting ones. This helps prevent heat and sweat from getting trapped on your skin.

  • Treat the acne mechanica with acne medication. Using an acne medication with salicylic acid often works well to clear this type of acne. Salicylic acid helps unclog pores. You’ll find acne treatment that contains salicylic acid in stores and online. No prescription needed.

Acne mechanica tends to clear more quickly than regular acne. If you still have acne mechanica after treating it for 6 to 8 weeks, a dermatologist can help. A prescription acne medicine may be necessary. For some patients, microdermabrasion or laser therapy can help.

You may also want to make sure that certain habits aren’t causing you to breakout when you exercise. You’ll find simple things you can do to prevent acne caused by working out at: Is your workout causing your acne?

Image: ​Getty Images

Botros PA Tsai G, et al. “Evaluation and Management of Acne.” Prim Care. 2015; 42(4):465-71.

Fulton JE, Acne Rx: What acne really is and how to eliminate its devastating effects! Self-published; 2001.

Harper JC. “Acne: The Basics.” Paper written by dermatologist Julie C. Harper, MD to help her patients get the best results from their acne treatment. May 2003.

Knable AL Jr, Hanke CW, et al. “Prevalence of acne keloidalis nuchae in football players.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 1997 Oct;37(4):570-4.

Smith ML. “Environmental and sports-related skin disease.” In: Bolognia JL, et al. Dermatology. (second edition). Mosby Elsevier, Spain, 2008:1469-76.

Zaenglein AL, Graber EM, et al. “Acne vulgaris and acneiform eruptions.” In: Wolff K, Goldsmith LA, et al. Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine (seventh edition). McGraw Hill Medical, New York, 2008:701.

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