Will Running Make Your Skin Sag?

Untangling a common running myth.


Sarah McMahon

3 years ago | 3 min read

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, the TSC Him & Her show, when one of the hosts said she prefers walking to running because she *feels like* running makes her skin sag.

"That's funny," I thought. I've been running since I was 12 and my skin isn't saggy. Then again, I'm only 28 so my skin probably will eventually sag, like everyone's skin, even the people who get fillers and Botox and sit still and never go outside. That's what skin does, despite our best efforts to stop it.

Learning whether her statement was true was as simple as turning to Google. "Does running make your skin sag?" I typed, receiving a mere 45 million results in less than a second. After reading approximately 3 articles, I came to the objective conclusion that running plays a very minor role in saggy skin, but don't take my word for it.

Shape Magazine wrote that running can have a negative impact on skin elasticity. Dr. Annet King, director of training and education at Dermalogica said that, "cardio and running can cause more oxygen or free-radical damage, which can break or damage the skin's supportive fibers (collagen and elastin)." But according to a 2008 study published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine, only very strenuous exercise leads to signs of cell damage, while moderate exercise—defined as exercising at 40 to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate three to five days per week—has a rejuvenating effect on skin. The detrimental effects of exercise don't kick in until after 90 minutes of running at 70 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate, which means that even long efforts won't damage your skin unless you're running in the red zone. What is more likely to damage your skin is the sun, so be sure to apply (and re-apply) sunscreen.

Self wrote about the legend of the "Runner's Face" in which the cheeks look hollow, skin sags, and wrinkles appear. Their verdict: anyone who is excessively exercising can become so lean that they develop a gaunt face, but top dermatologists say that for anyone running a moderate amount, the Runner's Face is simply an urban legend. "In every way, being fit is the best anti-aging investment you can make in your brain, heart, lungs, circulation, mood, productivity, even your skin," says dermatologist Ellen Marmur of Marmur Medical in New York City, "Your complexion is better, your acne improves, even your puffy under eye circles improve with exercise."

HuffPost wrote that the idea of the "Runner's Face" is outdated at best. Dr. Rachel Nazarian of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York said that older studies published in medical journals claimed extremely intense exercise can cause detrimental effects on the skin because of increased free radical production or oxidative stress. Both of these can breakdown collagen and elastin, which lead to sagging. Instead of avoiding exercise, Nazarian said a better option is to eat a balanced diet high in antioxidants and avoid long-term sun exposure.

And finally, Women's Running addressed the issue, because if there's anything women fear, it's aging.

Fortunately, running hasn't been proven to make skin (or breasts) sag. “If you lose a lot of weight, you will notice some of the weight will come from the face. The loss of weight in your face can make wrinkles and hollows (cheeks, jowls, temples) become more noticeable,” says Cynthia Bartus, physician at the Lehigh Valley Health Network in Pennsylvania. She also iterated that running will help tone and tighten muscles, giving your breasts more support, not less. She also emphasized that the sun will age you faster than anything, causing wrinkles, fine lines, and brown spots to appear.

Moral of this somewhat pointless story: wear sunscreen, exercise, eat healthy, and don't worry so much about your face.

P.S. Read a Runner's World take on saggy skin here, find a good sunscreen for prolonged outdoor activity here, or find an affordable drugstore wrinkle cream here.


Sarah Rose


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Sarah McMahon

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