If there is one major lesson almost everyone will be taking home this year, it is that health and fitness should take priority in life. This rings all the more true as we approach the end of this year and are looking to prepare a fresh set of resolutions for the new year.
But while working out and staying fit is one thing, very often, and particularly in regions where the weather is harsh, this might lead to certain nuisances which need to be managed as well. We are talking about aggravated skin and hair concerns. And, unless we promptly address this often-ignored subject of post-workout hair and skin issues, we are very likely to give up on the fitness routine midway.
Indoor and outdoor exercises come with their own set of challenges, but without doubt an outdoor workout session brings more hair and skin issues to the fore (blame it on your lack of control over the outdoor environment, weather or terrain).
People who exercise outdoors are all too aware of this and many often struggle to manage their hair and skin health. But fret not, we have got two top experts – Dr Hinah Altaf, specialist dermatologist at Canadian Specialist Hospital, and Dr Nameer Abdul Majeed, specialist dermatologist at Aster Clinic, Al Qusais – to throw light on all aspects of outdoor workout-related hair and skin problems. They also offer a host of tips that will go a long way in helping you take care of your worries.
Our hair and scalp undergo changes when we start a rigorous exercise routine, says Dr Hinah. A sweaty scalp can cause more than just irritation and itching, she says. "Sweat traps the dirt on the skin leading to clogged pores on the scalp." In pursuit of a clean scalp, people may resort to frequent shampooing, which in turn can cause dry and frizzy hair and in extreme cases, hair breakage and even hair fall. Here are a few key pointers to keep in mind:
1. The exercise vs. diet equation for hair
The imbalance created by a deficient diet while following a rigorous exercise routine can be counterproductive and can trigger hair fall too. Says Dr Hinah Altaf: "A poor diet is one of the main causes behind hair problems you experience when you embark on any fitness workout routine. The relation between balanced nutrition and the health of hair cannot be overemphasised. You must not ignore the aspect of adequate nutrition for the body while you are on an exercise schedule."
First, make sure you are having a balanced diet with all vital nutrients such as proteins, iron, vitamins B and D, zinc, antioxidants, biotin (in some cases) and essential fatty acids. All these are crucial to help promote healthy hair growth. Add meat, eggs, shrimps, fish, seeds, nuts, avocadoes, berries, spinach and beans to your diet for healthy, problem-free hair.
Depletion of iron in the body even when the haemoglobin levels are seemingly normal is another reason for poor hair and skin health, she says.
2. Regular shampoos vs. sulphate-free shampoos
According to Dr Hinah, Sulfates are responsible for the lather in our shampoo. They help remove dirt and grime from the scalp but can also cause the hair to become dry and brittle in the process. That said, if you are not facing dryness or skin irritation with your regular shampoo, you should continue using the same brand.
Sulfate-free shampoos are for gentle cleansing as they don’t lather as much. These are more suitable for dry, frizzy, damaged, coloured or chemically treated hair.
For reducing any product build-up on hair, we should cleanse the hair and scalp with a clarifying shampoo, she says.
3. Taming the frizz is vital too
People who work out find that owing to excessive sweat on the head and scalp, their hair tends to become frizzy and rough.
Dr Hinah offers her take on this:
Hair serums: Serums are silicon-based products that coat the strands of hair, taming frizz and flyaway hair. They also help keep the hair detangled and make it look sleek. The right serum could protect against sun damage and exposure to harmful chemicals. Choosing the right serum for your hair type is vital as there are different types catering to dry hair, frizzy hair or coloured hair.
Top tip: Serums should be applied to the hair, and not the scalp. Use a very little amount on hair that has been washed well.
Hair oils: Traditional hair oils can act as a good conditioner, but keep in mind some dos and don’ts when oiling you tresses. The best way is to apply a small amount, prior to washing the hair. Applying too much at one time can prove counterproductive as we tend to wash out the oil aggressively by using more shampoo which can lead to dry hair.
Oiling hair after your bath or leaving oil in the hair for a few days may not be a good idea as it could lead to dirt accumulation on the scalp and on the hair strands.
Deep conditioning hair masks: Hair masks are used as conditioners and help to protect the hair from the damaging effects of the sun and other environmental hazards. Apply masks as per the pack instructions, usually after shampooing, leave it on for a few minutes and then rinse off with water. Avoid applying a hair mask prior to an exercise workout and leaving it on for an extended period of time.
4. Hairstyles, hair ties, sweat bands matter too
Hairstyles: A plait, ponytail or a bun, whatever way you tie your hair, the most important thing is to avoid creating a constant pull or traction on the hair as that leads to a condition called "traction alopecia" (hair loss caused by a tight pull). Also, avoid tight hairstyles that trap heat close to your scalp. Wearing hair loosely allows the sweat to evaporate easily and prevents dirt and grime build-up on the scalp, says Dr Hinah.
Fitness head bands: These can be a helpful addition to a workout gear as they don’t just keep the flyaways in place, but also effectively absorb the sweat reducing the sweat that hair comes in contact with.
Hair ties: Hair ties for workout should be chosen after careful consideration. They should be made of soft material and should always be tied loosely. If not, they too can result in traction alopecia.
Dr Hinah’s haircare dos and don’ts
• After a workout, it is a good idea to use a dryer on a cool setting to dry the hair. This can help remove the sweat. Using gentle hair mists to ward off the odour of sweat is fine; they can help avoid frequent shampooing.
• Use gadgets involving heat such as blow dryers, curlers, straightening irons and hot rollers on the hair sparingly.
• While washing your hair, keep in mind the water’s temperature just as much as you would the hair care products you use. Very hot and very cold water can cause dryness of the scalp as well as damage hair. Tepid water is ideal.
• Use gentle cleansing agents and condition liberally. Water pressure and quality of water can also impact your hair.
"When you exercise outdoors, factors like increased sweating and sun exposure can lead to post-workout skin problems," says Dr Nameer. "Such individuals need to focus on their specific skincare concerns." He addresses a few here:
1. Minimise sun exposure
The sun’s UV rays can rapidly damage and age our skin causing pigmentation, wrinkles and even raising our risk of skin cancer, says the doctor. Avoid outdoor exercises during summer from 10am to 4pm (During UAE winters, you may work out until 11am).
Sensitive skin is particularly prone to sun damage and heat. People with such skin type need to take extra care, appropriate hydration and sun protection.
If you choose to exercise during the day, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with minimum SPF 30 on all sun-exposed areas. Ensure you do this at least 15 minutes before stepping outside. Ideally, use a water-proof sunscreen to manage the increased sweating during exercise. It would also help if you choose to go swimming.
In case of oily skin or if you face problems with acne, choose a gel-based or oil-free sun protection product.
For added sun protection at this time, wear fitness clothes covering as much skin as possible. Also, use a cap to shield your face, he advises.
2. Facial sensitivity concerns
Another skin issue many face while working out is rashes on the face either due to sun exposure, sensitivity, or high-intensity cardio exercises. "Sensitive skin tends to get easily irritated and is more likely to react with a rash or redness due to internal and external allergens than normal skin," he says.
Skipping and high-intensity cardio training can lead to a rash-like redness on cheeks. Called facial flushing, this redness happens due to vasodilation or increased blood flow to the face. It should not be a major cause for concern as it is temporary and resolves naturally after a few minutes, as you rest and the body cools down. But, if needed, one can use a cooling face pack or apply ice to help bring down the redness in some severe cases.
3. The cleansing dilemma
For those who exercise regularly, a common dilemma is whether to cleanse the face with a face wash or a cleanser before starting a session or after the session. "Cleanse your skin with a mild face wash before you begin your workout to prevent clogged pores that can trigger acne. Avoid wearing any make-up or applying a moisturiser prior to exercise, as it forms a barrier on skin that prevents evaporation of sweat during the cool down. Besides, it could also cause clogged pores.
"Oily skin is especially prone to pore clogging due to the excess sebum build-up. Those with oily skin should opt for a salicylic acid face wash, which will fight the bacteria that causes breakouts. Opt for a gentle or mild cleanser. To prevent acne, observe strict skincare habits that reduce skin irritation and improve hydration."
4. Different outdoor activities call for a change in approach
Wearing fitted workout clothes is a necessity for a hassle-free exercise session, but that can also cause the skin to also become a breeding ground for bacteria/fungus.
Says Dr Nameer: "Activities like running or cycling lead to excessive friction of the skin folds. This may result in redness and maceration of skin folds as it becomes a favourable environment for fungal growth. To prevent this, wear breathable clothing, use talcum powder on the skin folds as it helps to keep skin dry and cool. Also, have a shower as soon as your session is over.
For people with acne-prone skin, the irritation and increased sweating caused by tight-fitting workout clothes may also lead to a form of acne on the body called ‘acne mechanica’. Opt for loose-fitting workout clothes.
Dr Nameer’s dos and don’ts for problem-free post-workout skin
• Avoid rigorous outdoor activity on the same day of a harsh facial treatment such as a laser session or chemical peeling. It could lead to hyperpigmentation and irritation. Our skin’s sensitivity goes up on such days and its barrier function gets temporarily altered. Wait for two to three days after any such procedure before restarting workouts.
• Avoid washing and wiping your face dry frequently during a workout session. Excessive washing of the face strips the skin of its natural oils making it more prone to dryness, and other skin problems.
• Using the same towel to wipe sweat off the face and body during a workout session is a strict no-no. Bacteria, fungus, dead skin cells, and other debris can be transferred from the body to the more sensitive skin of the face resulting in facial skin issues. There is also the risk of transferring infections and rashes to the facial skin. Use separate towels for the face and body.