Your skin is your body’s largest organ. The average adult has about 2m2 of skin, weighing 3.2kg and receiving about a third of all the blood pumped from the heart. It’s easy to take your skin for granted – until something goes wrong with it.

Exercise is generally thought to be good for the skin. It results in increased circulation, more nutrients delivered to skin cells and increased production of collagen fibre, which gives skin its strength, plumping up facial skin and giving active women that vibrant, healthy glow. Set against this is the theory that too much intense exercise can lead to skin damage. This is because during an energetic workout or a long run, you use somewhere between ten and 20 times the oxygen used by an inactive person. About five percent of this oxygen may form “free radicals”, the molecules that can cause cell damage. Collagen fibre may be particularly susceptible to cell damage. This is why antioxidants – for example, vitamins A, C and E – are said to be especially important for active people, including runners.

Hitting the spot

Some women do find that running leads to skin problems, in the form of dry, chapped skin or spots and blemishes. There’s very little evidence that running in itself causes spots. Indeed, some experts claim exercise can actually limit the number of acne breakouts, by helping you relax.

Stress results in your adrenal glands producing more testosterone-related hormones, which are implicated in skin eruptions, so the more relaxed you are, the clearer your skin will be. However, increased sweating during running, plus pollution from the environment, can lead to clogged pores, which means spots and blackheads. You can help combat this by removing your make-up before a run, to reduce the risk of blemishes and irritation. A moisturiser specially formulated for your skin type, containing a sunscreen with SPF15, should help. Look for an oil-free version if you’re prone to spots.

You can also try to combat blocked pores by gently steaming them open over a bowl of just-boiled water for 30 seconds. Do this once a week – any more often and you risk broken veins. E45’s skincare specialist, Dr Steve Hewitt, reminds runners they need to take as much care of their bodies as they do their face. “Sweat irritates the skin due to its salt content, and if sweaty clothing rubs the skin there will be a combination of damaging factors,” he says. “You need to fix this after a run, but also prepare your skin so it’s more resistant.” Opt for cotton or cotton-and-Lycra sports clothes, or pick a fabric that “wicks” moisture away from your skin. Don’t sit around in sweaty clothes after your run, shower without using harsh detergent products and use a clean towel to “blot” yourself dry rather than scrubbing.

Out to dry

If you find that regular running leads to dry, chapped skin rather than spots, moisturising regularly and applying lip salve is the best way to combat it. The abrupt change from a dry, heated indoor environment to the outdoors can also lead to chapped, irritated skin.

Soap and facial scrubs should be avoided. Instead, wash your face with warm water only and apply your moisturiser to still-damp skin. Avoid cleansing products that contain alcohol, which can be drying, and going easy on the exfoliation. You might need a cream product rather than a lotion on flexures – areas such as knees and elbows, where the skin stretches and moves constantly during running. Wind combined with perspiration can cause skin dehydration, and running in towns and cities means encountering pollution. After an outdoor run, always use a cleanser that doesn’t contain harsh detergents. Protect your skin from the elements with products that have a high vitamin E content. Face masks based on good-quality clay can rejuvenate the skin, remove dead skin cells, improve circulation and remove debris from the pores, leaving you with a healthy glow.

Facing the elements

Running outdoors in winter causes its own problems. Strong winds and cold temperatures can strip away the skin’s natural moisture levels and prevent it from working effectively. Leaving a warm environment and going outside can cause the blood vessels in the skin to rapidly change size, which can leave you looking flushed and weather-beaten. So, try to avoid sudden temperature changes, protect your skin with layers of clothing while running and, if you get caught in a downpour, make sure you change into dry clothes as soon as possible. Anyone susceptible to skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis, may find their condition gets worse during the winter, with the drying conditions exacerbating their symptoms. Make sure you’re moisturising regularly and using an emollient that’s right for you.

Eat yourself beautiful if you want glowing skin, what’s on the inside counts, too.

– Your diet should be balanced – make sure you include lean protein, healthy fats (especially omega 3, found in fish and plant oils), wholegrains, fruit and vegetables.

– Vitamin A is one of the antioxidants vital for preventing free-radical cell damage. It’s found in dairy foods and (as beta-carotene) in dark-green and yellow fruit and vegetables. It helps to maintain and repair skin.

– Vitamin C, another antioxidant found in fruit and vegetables, reduces the risk of free-radical damage and strengthens capillaries. It also stimulates collagen fibre production, which gives skin its strength.

– Vitamin E can help keep the skin firm. It’s found in nuts, seeds, wholegrains and wheat germ.

– Selenium, a mineral found in Brazil nuts, wholegrains, seafood and eggs, has a skin-protective effect.

– Hydration is also vital, so make sure you drink plenty of water.

Words by Jill Eckersley