Adult and athlete acne can be embarrassing and stressful. Athletes and active people are more prone to acne due to constant sweat, equipment, clothing and close contact with others. Most doctors will try to give you a topical antibiotic or even an oral pill to manage the breakouts however daily antibiotics and hormones can cause more havoc on your body than the acne itself. So how can we manage athlete acne?

First step is finding the root cause of your acne. As a functional medicine nutritionist I am always asking – what caused this? We don’t treat symptoms we create solutions by finding the problem and preventing ongoing symptoms. Acne is inflammation which lead me to the main cause of athlete acne being inflammation. However inflammation can only be addressed if we know why we have inflammation. The other cause of action not related to systemic inflammation is acne mechanica.  This is caused by heat and friction on your skin. People find this on their face, chest and back. This is one of the most common forms of athlete acne and breakouts. It doesn’t have an underlying cause occurring inside of your body.  It’s topical and can be best avoided by changing daily habits when training or working out.


Sweat, Heat & Friction

I know you can’t help that you sweat but you can control how you manage the sweat. Some ways to do this are:

  • Wear wicking clothing, they pull sweat away from your body and help keep you cool.
  • Avoid tight fitting clothing if possible (almost impossible, I know).
  • Blotting your face and chest with a towel rather than rubbing it. Rubbing can move the bacteria from one area to another causing more breakouts.
  • Removing sweaty clothing as soon as you are done workouts. Don’t drive home in sweaty clothes.
  • Shower before you leave the gym. Even if it’s a fast shower or a towel with some anti-bacteria or salicylic acid cleanser, (both available at CVS) wash the areas prone to acne before you head home.
  • For those who carry a back pack around often in hot weather, don’t forget that friction and sweat can also be a cause of acne.



  • Make sure all of your equipment is clean. Helmets, protective gear, rash guards, padding, etc
  • Barbells, shot puts and other metal objects that touch your skin can also carry bacteria. Wipe them down with anti bacterial wipes or alcohol prior to use. Then wipe those chemicals off so they don’t have direct contact with your skin. You can also wear clothing that covers the area of your body that the equipment touches often. I wear a high neck sports bra on days that I know the barbell will make contact with my chest.
  • Avoid touching your face. I know it’s hard especially if you sweat a lot. Have a designated towel near by to wipe off sweat. (and wash that towel after every workout)
  • Wash your clothes in a detergent made special for sweaty clothes. Two of my favorites are Win detergent and Granger’s Active Wash


This is a loaded topic especially for athletes.

PCOS – Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. A common cause of acne for athletic women is PCOS. Due to the high androgens and higher levels of testosterone women who have PCOS tend to me more athletic which means a decent amount of athletes have PCOS. I once read that up to 20% of female Olympic athletes have PCOS. PCOS is a complex disease due to inflammation which can be managed through your diet. It’s way more complex than this post but be aware if you have acne on your cheeks, hair growth on your face, more muscle definition and strength than your counterparts, irregular cycles and in some cases (not all) have trouble losing weight you may have PCOS. If you think you may have PCOS you should first look into being tested for it, today’s testing is through hormones. Then address in inflammation from PCOS and your diet along with that.

Estrogen Changes- Peri Menopause, menopause, hypothyroidism, coming off of hormonal birth control can all be reasons that women see changes in their estrogen levels. 1st step is figuring out why your estrogen is changing from high to low or vise versa. Then treating those changes through herbs, minerals and natural supplements. Some supplements I use in practice are DIM ( diindolylmethane), Chaseberry (vitex), Maca, Probiotics (often times our gut is causing imbalances), NAC for supporting detox pathways, zinc , B6 and magnesium. There isn’t a one size fits all solution. Hypothyroidism can be another cause of high estrogen. Delayed digestion causing constipation can lead to estrogen build up. Estrogen is detoxed through your stools. Treating hypothyroidism and constipation can help treat your acne. But it’s important to know what the root cause is first.

Testosterone in Men- Testosterone is also a cause of acne in men. It produces higher levels of sebum which is an oil that carries dead skin cells to the surface of the skin.  Testosterone can also change the skin cells that line hair follicles, making them sticky and more likely to clog pores. Obviously we don’t want less testosterone especially as an athlete so what can we do? Keep the area clean with a wash that has salicylic acid. Using tee tree oil can also help manage redness and cystic acne.

If you are struggling with hormonal changes from PCOS, Estrogen, Peri or Menopause I suggest scheduling a complementary call to see how we can best support your nutrition and lifestyle to help fix these issues. Click here to schedule a complementary call. 


Food intolerances, allergies, fried foods, sugary foods, and dairy can be a cause if acne. Most health issues start in the gut . Don’t forget everything you eat gets broken down in your gut and travels through your body to be used for fuel or dsecreted through your stools.

Leaky gut from food intolerances, inflammation, IBD, IBD, and celiac can allow for food to leak through the tight junctions in your intestines and allow toxins into your system. Our liver and kidneys are used to remove these toxins but food must make it through the gut first. Acne is often a good sign of food intolerances. Celiac is a huge factor in skin problems. Not only does gluten affect your stomach, celiac will manifest itself in your skin as a well in the form of rashes or acne.

Pro-inflammatory foods such as processed, fried, processed carbs and high sugar products can lead to a 30% higher risk of acne. Sugar can spike insulin and IGF-1 which can be a cause of more acne. Over production of insulin can also be a cause of PCOS and is also technically inflammation in your body. Inflammation is big underlying issue of acne.

Dairy (Cow’s Milk)- you often hear people say that dairy can cause acne. This is not the case for everybody but it can be the cause for people who already have autoimmunity or food intolerances. Dairy can be hard for people with autoimmunity to digest causing inflammation and eventually lead to the manifestation of acne as a side effect. I mention cow’s milk b/c the protein found in cow’s milk (A1 casein) is what can raise IGF-1 as well as insulin and play a role in molecular mimicry in people who have autoimmunity.

Ways to treat the athlete acne:

  1. Find the root cause.
  2. Tee tree oil (make sure it is diluted not pure) can help with redness and length of out breaks.
  3. Remove fried and inflammatory foods.
  4. If you have food intolerances remove those foods from your diet.
  5. Remove dairy from your diet.
  6. Lower stress levels with meditation.
  7. Balance hormones with natural supplements.
  8. Clean your clothes and equipment with special detergents.
  9. Use new wash clothes and towels for every workout and shower.
  10. Hire a functional medicine nutritionist.

If you would like to learn more about how we can help your acne through nutrition Click here to schedule a complementary call.  or email us