As somebody relatively unaffected by acne as a teenager, I was surprised to find that after starting martial arts training I ended up having acne issues. I decided to investigate whether or not there was a causal link between starting martial arts and getting acne.
Bacteria and fungi present on martial arts mats and equipment combined with a moist sweaty environment and multiple training partners can cause an increase in acne. Adjusting your post-training hygiene and skincare routine can both treat and prevent future cases of acne.
Now that we know that acne can be linked to martial arts training, let’s take a look into some of the adjustments that we can make to mitigate these risks.
Can Martial Arts Cause Acne?
Most martial arts create a sweaty environment with a significant amount of bacteria and fungi on the mats and the equipment. This increased microbial load can cause acne if the skin is not cleaned and properly cared for after training.
When I walk into a martial arts training environment I walk in accepting that I am basically placing myself on a shower timer, since there are mat diseases and potential for other minor irritations like having acne that is easily avoided with a proper shower after practice.
Essentially I think of everything that I bring into the school as very dirty and make sure it goes straight to the washer after practice.
If you are practicing a martial art like Tai Chi where you do not make contact with anything, your skin will likely not be affected by your practices.
As a general rule, grappling martial arts and martial arts that include clinching and high proximity frequently in training will be more likely to increase the risk of getting acne.
Can Judo Cause Acne?
Judo training has a moderate risk of causing acne. This is due to the sweaty training environment combined with high exposure of your body to multiple training partners and the mats. The mats end up being a potent breeding ground for fungi and bacteria which makes acne more likely.
Another potential aggravating factor is that Judo gi fabric is pulled back and forth across the skin and can cut or inflame the skin, which makes it more vulnerable to microbes which can further lead to cases of acne.
Can Wrestling Cause Acne?
Wrestling training has a high risk of causing acne. Cleaning is sometimes spotty and combined with the level of close contact you have with the mats and your training partners, these wrestling mats end up being a breeding ground for fungi and bacteria that could cause increased acne.
With such spotty cleaning, conscientious post-training hygiene is of great importance to both prevent acne and mat diseases like staph and ringworm.
Can MMA Cause Acne?
MMA training has a high risk of causing acne. The MMA training environment is sweaty and shares similarities to grappling martial arts since it has the same exposure to the mats and training partners, creating a bacteria and fungi-rich environment that can lead to acne upon contact with the skin.
Can Kung Fu Cause Acne?
Kung Fu training has a moderate risk of causing acne. Since Kung Fu shares equipment among the students and includes close proximity drills and sparring, bacteria and fungi have a chance to grow and spread on both the mats and equipment, skin contact with either of these makes acne more likely.
Can Karate Cause Acne?
Karate training has a moderate risk of causing acne. Karate uses mats shared amongst many students and close proximity combat drills. This gives bacteria and fungi a chance to grow and spread on both the mats and equipment, skin contact with either makes acne more likely.
Can Taekwondo Cause Acne?
Taekwondo training has a moderate risk of causing acne. Taekwondo in a typical indoor school setting involves close contact with training partners as well as with the mats and shared equipment. The mats and shared equipment have a high load of bacteria and fungi that can cause acne upon skin contact.
Can Muay Thai Cause Acne?
Muay Thai training has a high risk of causing acne. The typical Muay Thai environment is sweat and involves a lot of clinching and close contact with training partners. This environment will have a high load of bacteria and fungi which can lead to acne upon skin contact.
Can Kickboxing Cause Acne?
Kickboxing training has a moderate risk of causing acne. The likelihood of getting acne from kickboxing changes based on what type of kickboxing it is. A normal kickboxing class with partnered sparring and drills will increase your risk of getting acne through bacteria and fungi in the training environment.
By contrast, a cardio kickboxing class with no contact with your fellow students has little increased risk of getting acne. This is because your skin will not be exposed to additional bacteria or fungi that might cause an acne outbreak.
Can Boxing Cause Acne?
Boxing has a moderate risk of causing acne. A traditional boxing gym is going to have a lot of shared sweat and equipment that can lead to additional exposure to bacteria and fungi for your skin, which could give you acne. Cardio boxing classes are not the same.
A cardio boxing class or combat fit type class with no contact with your fellow students has little increased risk of getting acne. This is because your skin will not be exposed to additional bacteria or fungi that might cause an acne outbreak.
How Does Someone Get Acne From Martial Arts?
Between physical contact with training partners and the mats and equipment, martial arts studio environments can end up with a lot of bacteria and fungi that can develop into acne when they come into contact with your skin and are given time to multiply.
Good martial arts schools will regularly sanitize their mats and equipment, but this is done at intervals and usually not often enough to keep up. Since this cleaning is different by location, you taking personal responsibility to keep your skin clean is a good idea to avoid acne or more serious issues like staph.
Acne is caused by clogged skin cells, sebum (natural oil from your skin), and Propionibacterium acnes or Cutibacterium acnes, a kind of bacteria that can cause acne. Cutibacterium acnes is always on our skin, but it is not contagious and is generally harmless. However, when your pores are clogged by dead skin cells and oil, Cutibacterium acne can thrive, leading to skin irritation and inflammation.
People with pre-existing skin conditions may be more prone to acne. Certain skin problems such as Rosacea or Keratosis Pilaris can create environments that make acne and acne-like rashes more likely. Those conditions as well as stereotypical acne are not transferrable, but other skin conditions, like staph and ringworm, can be.
Another not so uncommon way that people end up with acne from training martial arts is the overconsumption of junk food and sweets that can lead to increased acne and inflammation.
It is probably worth a moment of self-reflection to determine if changes in your diet might be a factor.
How To Treat Acne From Martial Arts
Treating acne is a matter of improving your skincare routine. Standard acne treatments will work in most cases, but if you are struggling to get acne under control it might be worth it to see a dermatologist since martial arts training environments can be beyond the scope of normal acne.
A health specialist or dermatologist will be able to spot and help you treat other conditions that look like acne, but are not responding to normal treatments or your regular skincare routine.
The simplest impactful way to treat and reduce the frequency of acne is an optimized post-training hygiene routine. Getting showered and treating problems areas as soon as you can after class will reduce bacteria and fungi and will give great preventative results.
Consult a Doctor
If you are getting acne that you cannot manage through basic skincare changes, seek medical help. Acne, while not wholly curable, can be greatly mitigated with proper treatment. If you are having frequent issues with acne and OTC treatments are not working, your primary care doctor or a dermatologist can prescribe medications that can help.
Use Skin Cleansing Products
If your acne is mild or only occurs occasionally, you might consider using typical commercial products first instead of going to the doctor, where the cost can be high.
I like to integrate simple products like the Viking Revolution Facial Scrub that is available on Amazon to keep skincare easy.
If you are having issues with acne on your scalp, pick out something more anti-microbial or anti-fungal even if it is simply a dandruff shampoo like Head and Shoulders that can be found on Amazon and at many other retailers.
Use Natural Remedies
Many people use salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to treat acne effectively, but these options are costly and can cause dryness and skin irritation. Therefore, many people turn to natural remedies to treat acne.
Home Remedies To Remove Acne
You can use household items to treat fungal acne. Although these home remedies lack scientific backing, many people use them. 77% of acne patients had used alternative acne treatments, and they wouldn’t do so if they were not seeing results.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar can treat acne because it can fight all kinds of bacteria and fungi. The vinegar’s organic acids can kill Cutibacterium acnes. The lactic acid in apple cider vinegar can improve the appearance of the scars caused by acne.
To do the apple cider vinegar treatment take these steps:
- Mix apple cider vinegar with water to make the solution you will use to clean the skin. Use a ratio of 1/4 cup of water to a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar.
- Use a cotton pad to clean the affected skin with the mixture.
- Wait 20 seconds, then rinse and dry the cleaned area.
- Repeat the process as needed.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is another excellent option for treating acne at home. It is anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory which can help with the treatment and reduction of acne. I use this method sometimes because I personally like the smell so it is a bonus to me.
Here are the steps I used for basic tea tree oil acne treatment that I have personally used:
- Use a mixture of 1 part tea tree oil to 1 part carrier oil. I am partial to using olive oil as my carrier oil.
- Wash my face normally
- Apply the mixture to the affected area
- Let it dry
Preventing Fungal Acne from Martial Arts
Preventing fungal acne from martial arts is all about optimizing your post-training hygiene. The simplest way to prevent fungal acne is by simply showering as soon as you can after practice. Other helpful options are using dandruff shampoos which tend to be anti-fungal.
Washing away fungi and bacteria present on public equipment, mats, and your training partners is the best defense you have against fungal acne and other fungal infections.
You can further reduce potential fungal issues by changing your clothes immediately after practice after ensuring that you have dried off. I keep a towel in my gym bag for just this purpose.
Choosing to wear moisture-wicking base layers made of nylon or spandex like a rash guard can also help your cause since it is both a barrier between your skin and potential contaminants and those materials have anti-bacterial properties.
Also, while it may seem like common sense not worth mentioning, make sure that you wash all your gear after every single practice so that your gear stays clean and does not have an opportunity to lock in odors or serve as a breeding ground for acne inducing microbes and fungi.
Martial arts and combat sports are very close proximity activities. Between the shared equipment and the exposure to many training partners, bacteria and fungi get an ideal breeding environment. The increased microbial load can end up causing acne or fungal acne or even mat diseases that should be avoided whenever possible.
Taking some steps to improve your post-workout hygiene is the most effective thing you can do to prevent acne from training in martial arts.
For more check out Can BJJ Cause Acne? | Resolving Acne From BJJ.