The athlete's guide to medical skincare

If you don’t know where to start with medical skincare, consider options such as dermaplaning, vibradermabrasion, chemical peels, laser genesis, and stem cell therapy. “These treatments not only provide instant rejuvenation, but also kill bacteria and stimulate collagen production to improve texture, prevent acne, correct sunspots, and replenish your skin’s moisture barrier,” says Malika Sloan, a medical aesthetician at New York City’s Tribeca Medspa.

But before you book an appointment, find out which skincare treatments certain athletes should avoid, how to time them right, and more.

If you spend a lot of time in the sun…

Schedule your chemical peel wisely.

Athletes who are exposed to the great outdoors, like runners, cyclists, or tennis players, can accumulate sun damage and congestion of dead skin cells (the cause of blackheads and large pores), which makes a chemical peel a beneficial treatment. “Chemical peels force our cells to turn over and slough off the outermost layer of skin revealing healthier luminous skin,” explains Sloan.

But they can require a good amount of recovery time, ranging from three to seven days, depending on the intensity of the peel. You’ll want to avoid damaging your new skin with sweat (which can hamper the healing process and trap dirt) and harsh cleansers, says Sloan, so it’s best to schedule this during your off-season, not in the middle of marathon training.

If you have the time to spare, try combining a peel with dermaplaning, which smooths the skin's surface with a small scalpel, or vibradermabrasion, a newer, more efficient form of microdermabrasion that is less damaging to skin. Combining the two will allow for the peel to penetrate the skin more deeply, but may further increase time needed to recover.

Alternatively, opt for a collagen facial treatment. “Outdoor training of any kind can deplete the skin of vital hydration leading to loss of volume and fine lines in delicate facial skin tissues,” says Angel Poyssick, Equinox spa manager for uptown New York City. “Collagen treatments plump and infuse skin with hydration.”

If you’re a swimmer…

Be careful of microneedling or other treatments that temporarily compromise the skin’s protective layer, making it easier for bacteria to get into the skin. While the risk is low, swimming immediately following microneedling could put you at risk for a skin infection, especially if you’re not sure how clean the water is, says Sloan.

Instead, try a customized multi-masking treatment, which uses a variety of products on different areas of your face, and allows your skin to breathe, shed some dead skin cells, and replenish natural hydration levels (key if you’re regularly in the chlorine) with no downtime. “This treatment includes a mechanical form of exfoliation such as dermaplaning or vibradermabrasion, along with a light peel and mask that contains ingredients such as vitamin C, calendula, thyme, olive leaf extract, and oat milk,” says Sloan.

“Antioxidant or vitamin C treatments are great because they provide a 72-hour umbrella of protection against harmful UVA/UVB rays as well as helping to correct any past damage,” adds Kate Weinberg, Equinox regional spa manager for the east side of New York City.

If you exercise primarily indoors...

Yogis and other studio- and gym-based athletes can virtually choose whatever treatments they like, assuming they take care of their skin otherwise. “After a workout, always make sure to cleanse your skin immediately,” emphasizes Sloan. “Especially if you’re planning to hop into a sauna or steam room afterwards. The heat is going to open your pores allowing toxins and bacteria to slip right back into your skin.”

One note of caution: If you spend a lot of time in steamy rooms (i.e. hot yoga) or are generally exposed to a lot of heat, you’ll want to avoid more invasive treatments such as Fraxel lasers, which require seven to 10 days off from this type of activity. “All laser treatments raise the internal temperature of your skin for at least 24 hours,” says Weinberg. “It is inadvisable to receive any type of laser service prior to training which may increase the possibility of internal trauma and burns to the skin.”