New Study: This Unlikely Exercise Can Give You Gorgeous Skin

Updated: Oct. 11, 2023

With countless products promising to turn back the clock on aging skin, a new study out of Japan offers a refreshing, natural intervention: Exercise.

Lifting weights is known for building muscle, increasing bone density and enhancing metabolism—but what if those dumbbells and barbells could also be your ticket to radiant, youthful skin? Research published in July 2023 in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports suggests regular weight training sessions should be the newest addition to your skincare routine.

Aerobic training vs. Resistance training

Exploring the relationship between exercise and skin health, researchers, led by Satoshi Fujita, PhD, professor in the Department of Sport and Health Science at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, turned their attention to a group of 61 previously sedentary middle-aged Japanese women over 16 weeks, with 56 participants data analyzed. Their aim was twofold: Assessing the potential skin benefits of aerobic exercises like running or cycling versus resistance training, such as weight lifting.

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A look at the results

The study’s findings brought a few revelations to the surface. Both aerobic and resistance workouts had a positive impact on skin health. Participants from both groups experienced enhanced skin elasticity, meaning their skin began to exhibit more resilience. Alongside this, there was a marked improvement in the structure of the skin’s upper layer, the dermis, which is important for the skin’s overall health and appearance.

Yet, it was resistance training that emerged with an additional perk. Those engaged in activities like weight lifting saw an increase in the thickness of their dermis. A thicker dermis is often associated with more vibrant, youthful skin, theorizing that resistance training might offer a slight edge in reversing age-related skin changes.

The skin’s surface wasn’t the only focus. At a molecular level, exercise seemed to kick specific genes into gear. These genes, essential for maintaining skin structure and support, showed increased activity after the exercise interventions. While both exercise types influenced a variety of molecules in the bloodstream—from cell-signaling proteins called cytokines to various hormones—resistance training uniquely boosted levels of a skin-structuring molecule known as dermal biglycan.

Despite the study’s scope being limited to a small group over a brief period, it paves the way for more extensive research.

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Additional benefits for skin health

Apart from the findings in Dr. Fujita’s study, exercise has broader benefits that impact skin health and appearance. Ever wonder why so many fitness enthusiasts rave about the post-exercise glow? It turns out there’s some solid science behind this phenomenon. Edidiong Kaminska, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Chicago, explains this radiant appearance in an interview with the American Academy of Dermatology. When engaging in physical activity, blood flow increases to muscles and all organs, including skin. This increased circulation brings oxygen and vital nutrients to skin cells and sweeps away impurities, thus creating that sought-after post-workout glow.

The perks don’t stop there. Regular fitness can help regulate stress and improve sleep patterns. As Dr. Kaminska points out, burning off those daily stresses can potentially reduce the severity of skin conditions like acne, eczema, or psoriasis, as stress plays a known role in these issues. Additionally, adhering to a consistent exercise routine often correlates with better sleep—and with sound sleep, those unwelcome dark circles under the eyes might just bid adieu.

Dr. Kaminska warns against potential skin pitfalls linked to excessive sweating. For instance, a good sweat session is a natural way for the body to release impurities, but too much can lead to clogged pores, especially if makeup is involved. She recommends washing off makeup before a workout to avoid this problem—and, of course, never skimp on sun protection during outdoor sessions!

Make sure to shower afterward to purge the skin of sweat, oils and bacteria, ensuring those pores remain unclogged. If a shower isn’t immediately feasible, Dr. Kaminska recommends, “At least wash your face with a gentle, non-comedogenic cleanser or wipe skin that tends to break out with pads containing salicylic acid.”

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