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Why you should save your skincare routine for after sex

Sex is great for your mental and physical health. The benefits of sex even extend to your skin! But the afterglow of a healthy session with your SO can have one major downside — acne breakouts. Here’s what’s going on at a cellular level when you get all hot and sweaty, and why you should save your skincare routine for after doing the deed.

Sex is great exercise (and makes you sleepy)

couples feet in bed

Sex burns about 5 calories per minute, roughly the same as low-impact aerobics. It also raises your heart rate and increases blood flow to the skin. Long term, an active sex life can regulate your hormones and reduce stress levels. All this is fantastic news for our mental and physical health. But one thing we might not think to do after sex, that we do after every other kind of exercise, is hop into the shower.

Part of that is situational — chances are it’s late, you’re already in bed, and you’re tired — and part is hormonal. Sex triggers a flood of feel-good, relaxing hormones, including oxytocin, prolactin, and melatonin. It also suppresses cortisol, your fight-or-flight hormone. The combination is enough to send most people drifting off to slumberland, so the last thing you’ll want to do is get up and start your skincare routine. But here’s why you should.

Sweaty skin leads to acne breakouts

woman with pimples on face

We produce sweat as a way of cooling down. Most of our sweat comes from two types of glands, eccrine and apocrine. Eccrine glands cover almost all our bodies, and are responsible for most of the sweat we produce. Apocrine glands are larger, and located in the armpit, groin, and breast area.

Eccrine sweat is 99% water, but contains 1% of other substances, including salt, protein, urea, and ammonia. It’s the 1% extra that can cause skin problems, specifically the tiny amount of fat contained within sweat, which can solidify inside pores.

As we sweat, our pores open. This is great for flushing out our skin and clearing debris, but it does make it more likely that any bacteria, dead skin cells, and other detritus can clump inside pores and cause pimples. If you’re wearing makeup, it can also mix with your sweat and lead to blockages.

Sweat causes other skin conditions as well

woman scratching itchy arm

It isn’t only acne breakouts that sweat causes. The urea and ammonia in sweat can be irritating for people with sensitive skin, causing redness and rashes. And heat rash (“miliaria”) is another common side effect.

Heat rash occurs when sweat ducts get blocked, trapping perspiration under the skin. The mildest form is known as miliaria crystallina and causes blisters and bumps that pop easily. These are the result of blockages near the surface of the skin. Deeper heat rash is called miliaria rubra. This is the itchy rash also called prickly heat. The severest form of heat rash is miliaria pustulosa, which results in inflamed sacs of fluid collecting under the skin. The rarest kind is miliaria profunda. This heat rash forms deep under the skin’s surface and only appears as bumps on the skin, like goose bumps.

Leaving sweat to dry on your skin leaves you at risk of all these conditions. So if you don’t fancy dealing with pimples in the morning, you’re better off washing your face immediately.

Do I have to redo my entire skincare routine after sex?

woman applying skincare cream

Ideally, you’ll save your nighttime routine for just before you go to sleep. This ensures that your skin is clean, your pores are clear, and your cells can get on with the important business of repairing themselves overnight. However that isn’t always possible, or preferable.

The next-best solution is to wash your face with clean water and dry off. This will at least clear sweat away from your pores. The downside is you’ve lost the benefit of any nighttime serums or creams you’ve applied — but then if you got all hot and sweaty, that probably flushed them out anyway.

The most convenient solution is to keep disposable face wipes next to your bed. Wash your face before bed, but leave off any overnight treatments. After working up a sweat you can quickly wipe it away. If you put your overnight serum on your nightstand, you can even apply it without getting up! 

Face wipes aren’t ideal for frequent use, because they can strip skin oils and affect your skin’s pH. However if it comes down to a choice between falling asleep sweaty and using the occasional wipe, it’s better to keep your skin clean. Look for products designed for sensitive skin that are alcohol-free.

In conclusion

Sex has a number of great benefits for our health, but working up a sweat at bedtime can be bad for our skin. Saving your skincare routine for after you’ve indulged can produce better effects, while reducing the likelihood of an unwanted acne breakout.

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