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Common Skin Problems from Exercise

Posted Jan 11 2010 11:18am

I was skiing in Colorado a few years ago when a crusty scab appeared along my nose. I thought it was a weird case of acne. But the eruptions became more severe when the temperature dropped, so I sought help. The diagnosis? A skin disorder called rosacea.

Fitness enthusiasts are especially prone to such skin conditions. Not only do we spend time braving skin-aggravating elements, but our activities cause heat and friction. Plus, close contact with other individuals increases our likelihood of picking up infections, says Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis.

When skin conditions strike, they often have significant impact on fitness programs. “They can cause enough embarrassment that people refuse to go to the gym,” Crutchfield says, adding that the stress related to visible skin conditions can also trigger unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as overeating. In other cases, fitness enthusiasts persist in their health routines but endure significant discomfort as a result. Still, it’s crucial to seek help if a skin condition is causing itching, pain, discomfort or emotional stress, or if you suspect it might be infectious. Here’s some advice from Crutchfield and Christina G. Steil, MD, a dermatologist in Hinsdale, Illinois on how to battle eight common skin conditions.

Skin Disorder Symptoms Contagious? Triggers Solution
Rosacea Mild to severe redness, flushing, visible blood vessels, papules, pustules, eye irritation, dry facial skin, facial burning or stinging, and an enlarged nose. Symptoms usually appear on the face but can show up on the neck, chest, scalp or ears. No Heavy exercise and exposure to sun, wind, heat or cold. May also include emotional stress, alcohol, spicy or hot foods, heated beverages, and certain skincare products.
Acne Mechanica Acnelike rash that can be red, pustular, and painful No Exercising while wearing occlusive (pore-blocking) protective gear like helmets and padding. It’s commonly seen around the chin, forehead and any skin that presses against padding. Wicking material may also trigger the rash in some people
Hidradenitis Suppurativa Inflamed, painful, tunneling cysts that can ooze; usually found under the arms, on the scalp, or in creases of groin, breasts or legs. No The causes of this condition, which can emerge any time after adolescence, are still unknown. Friction and heat can exacerbate the cysts—and stress, smoking, and dietary or topical irritants seem to make the condition worse in many people.
Athlete’s Foot Itching, stinging and burning between the toes or on the soles of the feet; itchy blisters; cracking and peeling skin, especially around the bottoms or sides of feet; nails that are thick, discolored, or pulling away from the nail bed. Yes This fungal infection thrives in warm, moist environments like shoes, showers, gyms and locker rooms.
Plantar Warts Skin-colored bumps, usually on the heels or balls of feet; may feel rough to the touch; may have black dots at their center. May or may not be painful. Yes Because they’re on the bottom of the foot, exercise can exacerbate pain.
Eczema Dry, red, itchy patches, which may bubble and ooze. In adults, they usually occur on the face, neck, and insides of the elbows, knees, and ankles No Sweating can worsen eczema. Sports like hockey, lacrosse and soccer, where protective gear rubs against the skin, also can be irritating. So, too, can broken-down elastic from older workout apparel, chlorine in swimming pools, and rubber mats or flooring. If washed in conventional, fragranced laundry products, fitness apparel that sits directly on skin can also make eczema worse
Bacterial Folliculitis Small, pus-filled pimples around the base of hair follicles on the arms, legs or scalp. Yes Sweating can make it worse, and it can be especially troublesome where clothing is tight or rubbing against skin.
Impetigo Honey-colored scabs or crusts around the nose, chin, face and other areas that signal a bacterial infection. Yes Often mistaken for herpes, impetigo is actually a bacterial infection half usually staph half of the skin.

An Integrated Approach
Proper nutrition and regular exercise aren’t just good for maintaining general health and fitness—they’re also crucial for your skin.  Take, for instance, eczema, acne, and rosacea, all of which can be exacerbated by inflammatory reactions to dairy, gluten, or sugar. Even if you don’t have a full-blown allergy or intolerance, consider minimizing your intake of trans fats and refined sugars and flours (all of which are known to increase inflammation in the body) and load up on antioxidant-rich, alkaline-forming foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and healthy omega-3 fatty acids, all of which help to reduce inflammation and rev up the body’s self-healing capacities.

You might also consider taking a daily probiotic supplement—especially if you’re treating your skin woes with antibiotic medications. Getting 30 to 50 billion organisms a day through probiotic supplements or foods like yogurt can maintain skin health by keeping the immune system in balance.

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