Sweat Pimples: Causes, Risk Factors, and Solutions

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Do you struggle with breakouts in hot and humid weather?

Does intense exercise trigger pimples on your chest, back, or shoulders?

If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. When the weather is scorching many people notice skin irritation and breakouts — commonly called sweat pimples.

In this article, we unpack the causes and symptoms of sweat pimples. We'll also guide you through lifestyle tips to help you clear up your skin.

What are sweat pimples?

Sweat pimples are a common type of acne. Also known as heat acne or summer acne, it typically occurs due to hot weather, humidity, intense exercise, and tight clothing. These pesky pimples don't just affect your complexion — they can ruin your self-confidence.

What causes sweat pimples?

Sweat pimples form when excess perspiration — from hot, humid weather or intense exercise — builds up and irritates your skin.

Don't get us wrong! Sweating is essential — it expels toxins and regulates your body temperature. However, tight clothing and hot fabrics create friction and prevent sweat from evaporating. It stops you from cooling down naturally, encourages chafing, and keeps your skin warm and moist. Plus, dirt, bacteria, and dead skin cells stick to sweaty areas where they may clog pores and hair follicles.

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Excess sweat also increases the production of sebum — the oil secreted by your skin. In short, these factors create an ideal environment for bacteria to multiply and cause pimples.

While sweat pimples can pop up anywhere on your skin, they're more common in areas rich in sweat glands. This includes the forehead, décolletage, chest, back, and groin. Pimples also develop between skin folds where sweat and grime get trapped.

Who is at risk for sweat pimples?

As is the case with many skin issues, various factors make you more vulnerable to sweat pimples.

These include:

  • A predisposition to acne
  • Living in a hot, humid climate
  • Wearing tight clothes that chafe your skin during exercise
  • Regularly engaging in high-intensity exercise
  • Exercising outdoors during the hottest part of the day
  • Not changing your clothes after exercise
  • Not showering often enough
  • Hyperactive sweat glands

If one or more of these apply to you, you may be more likely to develop sweat pimples.

Are sweat pimples and heat rash the same thing?

The pimples on your neck, chest, back, or groin may be a heat rash and not sweat pimples. A heat rash happens when sweat glands under the skin get blocked, causing itchy, red bumps. Unfortunately, the sweat glands may become infected and painful.

Both skin issues can make you dread warm weather, but they have similar solutions.

Summer skincare products to prevent sweat pimples

Preventing sweat pimples

Your enjoyment of warm weather and exercise can quickly disappear if you struggle with sweat pimples.

Luckily, we have six tips to keep sweat pimples at bay.

1. Choose comfortable clothing

Wearing tight clothing in the heat and when doing cardio encourages excessive sweating — it's a recipe for skin chafing and sweat pimples.

Let your skin breathe by wearing lightweight, comfortable clothes made from cotton, linen, or a blend of breathable fabrics. You want moisture to escape, not hang around on your skin and cause pimples!

When working out, loose-fitting gear made with moisture-wicking material is a must-have.

Polyester, nylon, and bamboo are examples of quick-drying fabric. They pull sweat off your skin, keeping you cool and minimizing skin irritation.

Finally, don't forget to wash your sweaty workout clothes, towels, and equipment before using them again.

2. Keep your cool

Staying cool is essential to prevent excessive sweating and acne flare-ups.

Here are some strategies to help you stay comfortable on hot, humid days and prevent sweat pimples from developing:

  • Stay in an air-conditioned area or use a fan to cool down.
  • Keep your home well-ventilated.
  • If you're outdoors, seek shade during the hottest part of the day.
  • Apply a cold, damp cloth or an ice pack wrapped in a towel to your body to lower your body temperature.
  • Take a cool bath or shower.
  • Don't wear tight clothes.
  • Drink ice water throughout the day — especially during intense exercise.

Implementing these habits in the heat will give you some much-needed relief and may dramatically reduce sweat pimples.

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3. Exercise at a different time

For many people, heavy sweating from intense exercise means one thing: sweat pimples.

To avoid this, we suggest switching up your workout schedule. Check the forecast on the WeatherWell app and plan your exercise session when the air is cool, and humidity is lower.

Early morning or late afternoons are good times to exercise outdoors — especially if you enjoy jogging, cycling, or hiking.

Or you can save your skin from sweat by raising your heart rate with laps in the pool.

If you only have time to work out in the middle of the day, opt for doing low-intensity workouts — like yoga or Pilates — in an air-conditioned room or gym.

4. Hit the shower

Maintaining good personal hygiene is essential to reduce and prevent heat pimples.

Always have a cool shower or bath immediately after exercise to remove a build-up of sweat, dirt, and skin cells. To keep your pores clear and kill bacteria, use a pH-balanced skin cleanser that contains antibacterial ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and tea tree oil. We suggest asking a dermatologist about the right product for you.

Lifestyle tip: When mixed with sweat and oil, makeup may clog your pores and exacerbate heat acne. So, let your skin breathe by cleaning off your makeup before exercise.

Bottles with water condensation as a metaphor for sweat pimples

5. Stay hydrated: Inside and out

Drinking plenty of pure water cools you down, supports detoxification, and keeps your skin glowing. Aim to drink 2-3 liters of pure water throughout the day to prevent dehydration in hot weather and after exercise.

We also suggest hydrating your skin barrier from the outside. Apply a lightweight moisturizer suitable for acne-prone skin to clean, dry skin in the morning and evening to soothe irritation. Finally, always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect you against sun damage.

6. Don't touch

Touching or picking at pimples is terrible for your skin. It slows down the healing process and encourages the spread of sweat, dirt, and bacteria to your face and other areas.

So, keep your hands well away!

Wrapping up

We understand how unpleasant sweat pimples can be, but there's no need to spend your summers avoiding exercise and other sweaty situations!

Wearing breathable clothes, showering regularly, and implementing other tips from this article will keep you cool and improve your complexion.

Please note: If pimples persist or become more severe, please speak to your healthcare provider.

December 21, 2022