Let’s be honest, we’ve all faced this dilemma. After working up a sweat in a tough cardio session, a cooling shower beckons you—but should you hop in right away? On one hand, the sweat and grime on your skin are just itching to be washed off. But on the other hand, you’ve heard chatter that heading straight for the shower is a recipe for clogged pores. So, what should you actually do?
The shower conundrum is not a standalone concern. There’s simply too much conflicting information floating around online that it can be tough to discern what is truly beneficial advice to heed after a workout and what is just an old wives’ tale. Hence, Vogue Singapore is here to set the record straight. We spoke to three experts to get to the bottom of common questions and misconceptions surrounding pre- and post-workout habits: women’s health expert Dr Michelle Chia of Ezra Clinic, skin expert Dr Sylvia Ramirez of Cutis Medical Laser Clinics, and women’s health physiotherapist Preet Singh of Embrace Physiotherapy.
Should you shower immediately after exercising?
Yes. Contrary to popular belief, Dr Ramirez recommends hopping in the shower as soon as possible to “remove sweat, dirt, and bacteria that accumulate on the skin during physical activity.” She clarifies, “Clogged pores are primarily caused by the accumulation of sebum, dead skin cells, and environmental debris.” This buildup of sweat and impurities can be cleared with a lukewarm shower and gentle cleansing “without excessively drying the skin or causing clogged pores.” She also advises you to “change out of your workout clothes and wipe [the] skin that tends to break out with pads that contain salicylic acid” if you aren’t able to get in the shower straight away.
Should you wear make-up when working out?
“Definitely not,” Dr Chia states, “Wearing make-up when working out can definitely lead to acne issues or clogged pores.” Dr Ramirez backs this up by saying, “Make-up, especially heavy or oil-based products, can mix with sweat and clog pores, potentially leading to breakouts or skin irritation. If you prefer to wear make-up, opt for lightweight, non-comedogenic formulations, such as mineral-based or water-based products. These options allow the skin to breathe more easily during physical activity.”
What about sunscreen?
Sunscreen is essential. Regardless of if you’re working out indoors or outdoors (and even if it’s cloudy), sunscreen is a must-have. To ensure your skin stays protected all day from UV rays, Dr Ramirez’s advice is to “choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and apply it generously to all exposed areas of your skin. Look for sweat-resistant or water-resistant formulations to ensure protection during exercise. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or more frequently if you are sweating heavily.”
Are there benefits to tailoring your workout regimen according to your menstrual cycle?
While you may have heard propositions that the follicular phase is the optimal time to begin high-intensity exercise and other such observations, Preet Singh refers to recent research which concluded “that there is no improvement in acute exercise performance or longer-term adaptations to resistance training.” Instead, Singh suggests that “women train according to how they feel respecting mood, energy, and stress levels. Other factors to consider are nutrition, fatigue, sleep quality, stress, injury, motivation, and programme enjoyment.”
Likewise, Dr Chia agrees. “There is no hard and fast rule per se, but women may choose to avoid overly vigorous or long workouts particularly when they are on their first few days of [their] period as it can be quite uncomfortable. Working out and perspiring while wearing tight-fitting workout wear or when you are wearing a pad during your period may also predispose you to infections.”
Is wearing tight-fitting workout attire bad for your feminine area?
Unfortunately for all the fitness junkies that love leggings, the answer according to Dr Chia is yes. She explains, “While yoga leggings may look trendy, the tight fit coupled with other factors like sweat and heat can predispose you to vaginal infections. One way to avoid [this] is to shower and change out immediately after the workout. If you are someone who is prone to vaginal infections, I would recommend wearing loose breathable shorts instead of leggings.”
Is there merit in ‘no pain, no gain’?
Thankfully, this common saying is not necessarily true. Singh notes that “soreness is not an indicator of a ‘good’ or effective workout.” Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)—which normally takes place within a 24-48-hour period—can be a sign of your muscles adapting and strengthening, but it may also be attributed to various other factors. Some include poor form, injury, or insufficient time spent recovering between sessions, to name a few. If you are new to exercising or have sustained injuries, Singh recommends “that you work with an AHPC-registered physiotherapist or a certified health/fitness professional” to safeguard your health.
Will stretching after exercising prevent aches?
Singh’s answer may be disappointing to some of you, as it turns out that “the research is conclusive that stretching post-workout does not delay or offset DOMS aka delayed onset muscle soreness.” Though, Singh acknowledges that stretching “can nonetheless feel good,” so stretch away.
Additional tips to note
To take care of your body after exercising, make sure you get in a good meal. Singh considers that “there is some research to support the ingestion of protein and carbohydrates post-workout to replenish glycogen stores and to support muscle growth.” She also reminds you to bear the following key elements in mind to maximise every workout: sleep, hydration, nutrition, stress, and recovery time.
Meanwhile, when it comes to post-workout skincare, Dr Ramirez suggests a four-step routine after a sweat session. The first step is to cleanse the skin with a mild cleanser to remove sweat, dirt, and impurities. She discourages the use of harsh or abrasive cleansers that can strip the skin of its natural oils. Step two: hydrate. Hydrate the skin with a lightweight, non-comedogenic moisturiser to restore the skin’s moisture barrier. Keep an eye out for ingredients like hyaluronic acid or ceramides in particular. Next, if you have acne or blemishes, apply targeted spot treatments containing ingredients like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid to help clear and soothe the affected areas. Lastly, protect your skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to protect your skin from harmful UV rays, even if you’re not directly exposed to sunlight.
Here, see Dr Ramirez’s suggestions for cleansers, depending on your skin type.