Mara M. Winters, ACSM and I have known each other for over ten years. When we first met, Mara had recently completed her Bachelor of Arts in Biology (Pre Health) from Christopher Newport College in Newport News, VA and was working in the corporate and private sector of personal fitness. I was still in the world of corporate finance, working in project management and data analytics. We were, and still are, members of the same organization and began our friendship due to our shared passion for philanthropy and fitness.
Within the first year of knowing Mara, she declared to an audience of approx. 50 women, “I’ll become a recognizable name in the world of fitness…workout videos, talks and shows. You’ll see me!” I had no doubt in my mind that she would achieve her goals. Since then, Mara has earned her ACSM – Health Fitness Specialist; started competing as a professional body builder (placing 5th at World Championship and 3rd at Minnesota Mayhem); hosts a radio show “This One Time @ The Gym”; judged the 2016 Miss Virginia United States pageant; and, currently works as General Manager for iLovekickboxing.com.
What makes Mara even more interesting is that she’s accomplished all of this while, like millions of us, suffering from aggressive eczema. Per her progress of creating her own path, finding opportunities and winning despite her obstacles, I’m even more convinced that she will be a force to recon with in the health and fitness space. Her story is inspirational and it’s why I feel like she’s the perfect resource to answer your questions about fitness and sensitive skin for this month’s Tell Me About It blog series post.
How often can/should I work out with my sensitive skin?
Everyone is different. Some people may be able to exercise longer and harder than others. So, it’s important that you workout to your tolerance and operate based on your body’s recovery process. If you’re not sure of your tolerance, start with a mild workout and adjust intensity and duration as you go. To minimize injury/issues make sure you do the following:
- cover open wounds
- protect your body (wear padding and gear that covers skin)
- wearing clothing that minimizes friction or direct contact with irritated or broken skin
Is there a way to sweat less while working out?
Everyone has a different sweat pattern and releases moisture based upon personal hydration levels. Sweat is a way for the body to release toxins and cool itself down when it gets overheated. So, I don’t ever recommend not sweating or sweating less. Instead you should try to manage the impact of the sweat and protect easily irritated areas [on the body] first:
- wear sweat bands [around your head, wrist, arms, etc.] to capture sweat as it’s released
- towel off regularly during exercise to prevent sweat from lingering on your skin
- use fans during the workout to help evaporate sweat and keep the body cool
For people like me with reactive or sensitive skin, then you may need to put forth a little more effort to protect your skin from [further] irritation during workouts:
- change into fresh, clean clothes in the middle of the workout
- use more than one fresh, clean towel to wipe off with
- rinse off after exercising
What type of exercise is best for not triggering sensitive skin?
There is no one exercise or series of exercises that is best for sensitive skin. I do recommend that you stay away from exercises that can exacerbate your irritated skin or (injury). For example, I would suggest you stay away from floor exercises if your skin (knees, back, arms, etc.) is triggered.
I will say that its not necessarily the exercise that is triggering. It’s the friction and exposure to sweat and heat that may cause a negative skin reaction. Again, try to stay dry and protect yourself by wearing gloves and clothes that cover your skin.
Will my skin improve if I workout (more)?
YES! As you’re working out, your skin becomes tougher and develops “dermal thickness”. Exercise increases skin’s durability. You’ll look better, feel better and your skin will be stronger. The rate of improvement increases if you’re fueling your body with proper nutrients and hydration. A poor diet may trigger skin (via salt and toxins in sweat) and impair your ability to successfully workout. If you don’t eat well, your body will not perform well.
Is there hypo allergenic workout gear?
I’m sure there are brands/products that are hypo allergenic. It’s important to not just look for “hypo allergenic” on product packaging but you must read material labels to avoid fabrics that may trigger your skin. If you’re not familiar with a fabric it’s best that you do your own research to understand what the questionable fabric is and find (different) fabrics that work best for your skin.
For how long can I workout before my sensitive skin is triggered?
It’s all about personal endurance. So, workout time varies for each person. To better increase duration of your workouts, prepare for your workout per your personal issues. Here are some ways to better manage triggers (that limit focus) and possibly increase the overall time of your workout:
- eat a healthy diet; what you put in your body comes out in sweat and may trigger your skin
- avoid triggering fabrics
- try to stay as dry as possible during workouts
What are some other things can we do to protect our skin while working out?
Having solid hygiene habits is a great way to minimize further triggering your skin. Here some habits to avoid:
- Don’t use your shirt or hands to wipe your face or other parts of your body while working out
- Wear clean clothes every single work out
- Wear fabrics that allow the skin to breathe
- Don’t share your towels with anyone
Your skin is the biggest organ and any issue/defect is constantly in your face. Since you can’t really avoid seeing skin issues, it’s best to love yourself as you are. Acknowledge what’s happening and move on. Don’t get so worked up about a skin flare up. If you do, you’re increasing the stress reactors in the body and making your skin issues worse.
I know because I have eczema. There are times when my skin cracks and hurts. If I quit during these times, I wouldn’t be where I am now. For me, it’s all about my mindset. My goal is to complete my workout and improve my body. So, I don’t let anything get in the way of that. I try my best to avoid triggers and areas in the gym that can make the situation worse. And, I protect my triggered skin while working out. It’s not ideal and it can be painful. But, I dictate what I do, not my illness.
To all of the millions of people of are affected by illness and skin issues, you can push through it. I know you can.
Learn more about the “Tell ME About It” blog series and why TL Robinson, MASS EDEN BLOG EIC, believes it is important to engage medical and wellness experts.
Interview. Mara M. Winters; August 16, 2018