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Get Your Skin Fit for Improved Running Performance

By Randall Cooper, B.Physio, M.Physio, FACP


Good condition of your skin is fundamental for optimal running performance. Your skin helps regulate body temperature, protects the body from injury and infection, and detects external stimuli such as touch and pain. The creams, lotions and oils that you apply to your skin before, during, or after a run can make a significant difference to your performance and the condition of your skin.



Here are some tips on keeping your skin in optimal condition to enhance your running performance and experience;

1. Wash & Moisturise After a Run


Infections in athletes are particularly common because of chronic immunosuppression in response to intensive physical training (Sheppard et al, 1991). For athletes that sweat, the skin is often macerated, a condition that provides an optimal environment for the breeding of microorganisms.


Even minor skin trauma such as abrasions, chafing and blisters damage the cutaneous barrier allowing microorganisms to infiltrate the deeper layers (Adams, 2008). Skin infections in athletes negatively influences physical condition and performance.


Researchers from Japan (Eda et al, 2013) investigated how the epidermal barrier function of skin changed with intense aerobic exercise. Athletes performed a 60-minute exercise bike session at 75%HRmax, and skin surface samples were taken pre and post session.


Our natural immune defences, secretory immunoglobulin A (front line immune barrier) and human β-defensin 2 (antimicrobial peptide – biochemical barrier) were measured as well as the moisture content of the stratum corneum (the outer most layer of skin), and skin bacteria (Staphylococci).


Results showed an increase in the number of staphylococci after exercise. Immunoglobulin A had a higher concentration pre-exercise, however there was an increase in human β-defensin 2 post exercise. The researchers believed that the increase in human β-defensin 2 may be enhanced by the stimulation of staphylococci on the skin surface and supplement the compromised function of other skin barriers.


Stratum corneum moisture content was higher immediately post exercise, however 120 minutes post exercise it was significantly lower than pre-exercise, meaning the skin was drier than normal 2 hours after the session. Dry skin can also make the skin vulnerable to infection and other clinical conditions such as dermatitis. 

In summary, Eda and colleagues reported that high intensity endurance exercise depresses the immune and physical barrier and increases the risk of skin infection. Their recommendations are for athletes to shower immediately after exercise, and use moisturizers to maintain good skin condition and decrease the chance of infections.

2. Use the Right Sunscreen and Body Lotions for Effective Thermoregulation


Maintaining core temperature whilst running is fundamental to superior performance and the prevention of exertional heat stroke. Runners require protection from UV radiation and other elements such as the wind without compromising sweat production and evaporation. Whilst clothing certainly can provide protection from the elements, two studies (Zhang et al, 2012; David & Bishop, 2013) have shown that clothing does limit convection and evaporation.


Many runners use sunscreen and other body lotions/creams to protect their skin in lieu of clothing, or use lotions, oils or creams to enhance their performance such as heat rubs, magnesium oil, or sodium bicarbonate creams. However, some skincare products also negatively impact sweating and thermoregulation, and in turn performance.


A study published in the Journal of Athletic Training (Aburto-Corona & Aragon-Vargas, 2016) investigated the effect of 2 different water-resistant sunscreens on sweat production in athletes exercising in the heat. The authors also compared the sunscreens against a control (no lotions) and an antiperspirant.


Sweat patches were applied to the scapular region of 20 healthy men and women whilst they undertook 2 exercise sessions over 2 consecutive days. The researchers assigned skin treatments (antiperspirant, Sunscreen A, Sunscreen B, or no lotion) whilst athletes pedalled an exercise bike at 80%HRmax for 20 minutes in a controlled room of 30°C and a relative humidity of 60%.


Both sunscreens were water based, and SPF50. Sunscreen A was a chemical sun filter, Sunscreen B was physical sun block (titanium dioxide), and the active ingredient in the antiperspirant was aluminium chloride.


The main result from the study was that Sunscreen B hindered sweat production to the same extent as the antiperspirant.


Treatment with Sunscreen A was not different to the Control Group for sweat production. 


The researchers couldn’t be sure exactly which ingredients caused Sunscreen B to inhibit sweat production – whether it was the layer of lotion on the skin, or an ingredient that biochemically inhibited sweat production such as in an antiperspirant.


The take home message is runners should carefully choose which sunscreen and body lotions they use to ensure optimal sweat production and evaporation, and subsequent thermoregulation.

3. Combat Pressure & Friction to Maintain Training Consistency


Blisters and chafing are not only uncomfortable, but can result in time off training or at worst, withdrawal from an event. As always, prevention is better than cure so here’s some advice on how to combat problems associated with pressure and friction and keep your running consistency high;



Blisters are a major issue with endurance runners. A significant number of people report to the medical tent as a result of blisters at major running races (% = percentage of affected people who attended the medical tent);

  • Boston Marathon 19% (Adner et al, 1988),
  • Sydney City to Surf 26% (Richards et al, 1979),
  • Melbourne Marathon 13% (Kretsch et al, 1984)
  • Auckland Marathon 14.5% (Satterthwaite et al, 1999)


Risk factors for the development of blisters include heat, moisture, overtraining and poor fitting footwear. Mailler-Savage & Adams (2006) in a review study recommend 3 evidence-based approaches for the prevention of blisters in runners; 

  • Decrease friction by wearing two pairs of socks, buy appropriate fitting shoes, and apply an anti-friction balm/jelly to vulnerable areas
  • Decrease foot moisture by wearing moisture wicking socks and apply antiperspirants to the feet
  • Promote the hardening of skin with products such as 10% tannic acid soaks


Chafing is a superficial inflammatory dermatitis caused by skin to skin, or skin to fabric rubbing. Holmich and colleagues reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (1989) that nearly 1/3 of runners in a marathon used some form anti-friction balm/jelly to prevent areas of chafing including the feet, groin, nipples and under the arms.


Prevention of chafing is best accomplished by wearing dry, technical, well-fitting, and moisture-wicking clothes. Talcum and alum powders are mildly helpful for drying, and anti-friction balm/jelly is effective for reducing friction (Eiland et al, 1996).





The right sports skincare can make a substantial difference to sporting experience and performance. It’s the reason our products are the choice of elite teams, athletes, and sports medical health professionals all over the world.



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