You wear your helmet religiously for both warm weather and cold weather sports, and your padded shorts and body armor get a workout whenever you’re doing more aggressive skating, biking, skiing, or snowboarding. You may not mind if your skateboard helmet, mountain bike body armor, or snowboard knee pads look like they've taken a beating, but your skin is another matter. Sweat, grime, and salt can clog your pores and cause your skin to break out, even if you aren't a teenager anymore.
Why Does My Skin Break out under My Helmet and Body Armor?
Your body naturally produces a protective layer of oil called “sebum,” which helps keep your skin and hair from drying out. Sebum makes its way to your skin through your pores. Excess oil, dead skin cells, dirt, or other substances can block the pore, causing bacteria to multiply in the clogged sebum creating what the British so delicately call “spots” and what the locals call “zits.” People with oily skin are generally more prone to acne than those with drier skin. Excess sebum can also be caused by fluctuations in hormonal levels (hello, puberty), women several days prior to a period, during pregnancy, or when taking certain medications such as cortisone. Hot, humid weather and/or sweating can also trap oil, dirt, or sweat in the skin and cause pimples or acne. If you find that you’re consistently breaking out on your forehead or other areas covered by a helmet or protective gear, you may be prone to something called "acne mechanica," which is a form of acne caused/aggravated by heat, constant pressure, and/or repetitive friction against the skin, or covered skin. Essentially, acne mechanica are pimples caused by friction from rubbing bacteria-laden materials (like sweaty knee pads, body armor, or helmet liners) against your skin.
How Can I Prevent Skin Breakouts under My Helmet or Protective Gear?Your skin type is your skin type—you can’t change that. But if you’re prone to skin breakouts in spots where your helmet or other gear is in constant contact with your skin, there are some things you can do to minimize or prevent further breakouts.
- Keep your gear clean. Check out this article, How to Clean Your Protective Gear, in our Gear Guides Home Page. Regular cleaning minimizes the build-up of dirt and bacteria in the helmet pads and straps that are in contact with your skin.
- Keep yourself clean. Take a shower (being sure to wash your face gently—don’t scrub) immediately after a sweaty ride/session to remove dirt and bacteria from your skin.
- Make sure your gear fits properly. Acne mechanica (a.k.a. post-workout pimples) are caused by friction. Your helmet and pads should fit snugly—not so tight that you’re constricting you skin but not so loose that the helmet or pad is constantly rubbing against your skin.
- Drink more water. Adult males need to drink about 3 liters of fluids a day and adult females about 2.2 liters of fluids a day. Make a larger percentage of that water to help keep your pores clear and prevent pimples from forming.
- Watch what you eat. Certain foods, such as dairy, fats, and sugars, can trigger skin breakouts in different people.
Our goal at SportsProtective is to keep action sports athletes safe and comfortable. We hope you found this article helpful, and most importantly, that you will continue to gear up to stay on the trails and in the parks all season long.