Your skin is quite the undercover loan shark. Remember when you forgot to bring a makeup wipe to spin class last night? Or the time you were too lazy to wash off your foundation before the gym? Well, your skin sure didn't forget, which is why you may have found a brand new zit on your forehead.
Despite your favorite concealer's acne-free promises, your skin probably won't respond well to a combo of sweat and makeup. Read on to learn what really happens to your body when you exercise with makeup.
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Your Pores Get Clogged
If you're going for an easy walk or stretch session, you may be able to get away with wearing makeup during your workout. But any sweat-inducing workout probably warrants a makeup wipe.
When you exercise, your internal temperature rises, which causes your body to sweat in an effort to stay cool, explains Lucy Chen, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery. Heat opens up the tiny openings, aka your pores, all over your skin, which are responsible for releasing oil and sweat.
Once the pores are opened up, they can become clogged with bacteria or pollutants that may already be on your skin, according to Dr. Chen. Clogged pores can cause redness and irritation, depending on how sensitive your skin is.
"Adding makeup to this equation heightens the odds of having those adverse effects because makeup can suffocate the skin and lock the sweat glands, trapping dirt and other irritants inside the pores," Dr. Chen says. But pores across your neck, arms, chest and upper back can become clogged and irritated, too, which is why some people may see acne on other parts of their body after working out.
Due to the nature of exercise, this isn't too shocking. After all, how often do you find yourself sitting on machines or lying on mats at the gym? Shared equipment can be full of acne-causing oils and bacteria, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA). It's crucial that you disinfect and wipe equipment before and after use.
Using the right products can help prevent exercise-related breakouts on your face and body. While you can use a sensitive facial wipe if your gym has no clean towels or paper towels available, washing your face after your workout is the best way to cleanse the skin.
"Make sure to wash your face right after working out to minimize your chances of breaking out," says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic & clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. "A double cleanse is often useful here, too, starting with a oil-based cleanser to remove the makeup followed by a water-based cleanser to finish the job."
To prevent body acne, look for workout clothing that's lightweight and breathable, recommends the AADA. Other types of clothing that's not suited for working out can cause acne to thrive, as it tends to trap heat and sweat on your skin. So, look for lighter layers that can help wick sweat off the body.
Your Skin Becomes More Acne-Prone
Unfortunately, makeup-clogged pores and acne tend to go hand-in-hand. When your pores are clogged with makeup, trapped bacteria grows pretty quickly in the glands, according to the Center for Young Women's Health.
Eventually, the trapped bacteria will cause the clogged pore to burst, infecting other areas of the face, which can lead to different types of acne, like whiteheads, blackheads and cyst-like pimples, per the Center for Young Women's Health.
Different parts of your face are also more and less prone to blemishes. "The forehead and cheeks may be more prone to acne as there are a greater density of oil glands here," Dr. Chen says. "So, acne and skin inflammations are the biggest worries here."
Generally, moisturizers and sunscreen won't cause you to break out if you're wearing the type that's best for your skin. For instance, if your skin is generally sensitive and prone to irritation or breakouts, make sure that your moisturizer is hypoallergenic or fragrance-free, the Mayo Clinic recommends.
If your skin is oily, the last thing you want is an oily or greasy moisturizer and sunscreen. Instead, look for a water-based option, as these are less likely to irritate acne-prone skin or breakouts. Keep an eye out for an oil-free sunscreen, too.
Always wear sunscreen, whether you're exercising outside or not. The AADA recommends you choose a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. But if you have generally oily skin, you can use an oil-free sunscreen solution, the Center for Young Women's Health recommends.
Your Eyes Will Get Irritated
Your eyes and eyelids are a pretty sensitive part of your face and can become easily red or irritated when you work out with makeup. Like the rest of your face, your eyelids have pores, which are responsible for releasing healthy lubricating oils, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
If you exercise with makeup on your eyelids, these glands can become clogged, causing your skin to become red and dry. Without enough lubrication from natural oils, your tears can also evaporate too quickly, which leads to eye irritation, per Harvard Health Publishing.
Wearing eye makeup while working out may also make you prone to styes, which is an infection that develops in the eyelash follicle or tear gland, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Styes can form on the eyelid or under the eyelid by the lash line.
If makeup or bacteria blocks a follicle or gland in the eye area, it can turn into a stye. While it might be tempting to pop a stye like a pimple, you should avoid touching it at all costs and allow it heal on its own.
That said, Dr. Chen recommends you refrain from wearing eye makeup, including eyeliner, mascara and eye shadows, during exercise completely, and make sure to thoroughly remove eye makeup with a cleansing wipe before your workout.
"Sweat and heat can cause eyeliner and mascaras to filter into the eye, causing a great deal of irritation," Dr. Chen says. "Acne can also occur. The eyelids are thin but sensitive, and any irritation in the area can be unnecessarily uncomfortable."
The Verdict on Makeup and Exercise
To keep your skin looking and feeling its best, you'll want to wash your face before and after you exercise, Dr. Chen recommends. Even just wiping your face with an oil-free makeup wipe will do the trick — you don't need to launch into your 10-step skincare routine in the locker room, per the Center for Young Women's Health.
If you prefer wearing a little something to cover up a scar or blemish, choose your products wisely. Dr. Chen suggests you stick to lightweight, mineral-based foundations, concealers or tinted moisturizers. Look for makeup that's non-comedogenic, meaning it doesn't clog the pores.
Set on using a liquid foundation? Consider one that contains a low level of salicylic acid, Dr. Zeichner recommends. Salicylic acid can help remove dead cells and excess oil from the surface of the skin, helping keep the pores clear.
For your eyes, Dr. Chen suggests you stick to water-proof formulas. Although these products are a little pricier and harder to remove, a water-proof mascara or eyeliner will minimize sweat-induced irritation.
You also want to avoid touching your face as much as possible while working out. Wash your hands as soon as you're done with your workout and wash your face once you get home with a cleanser that matches your skin type (oily, dry or combination).
If you're breaking out, avoid using cleansers that are too harsh or acidic because they can irritate the skin even more, per the Center for Young Women's Health. Keeping your hair clean and out of your face may also help reduce the likelihood of clogged pores.
- American Academy of Dermatology Association: "Is Your Workout Causing Your Acne?"
- Center for Young Women's Health: "Acne"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "On Call: Eyelid Inflammation"
- Mayo Clinic: "Moisturizers: Options for Softer Skin"
- American Academy of Dermatology Association: "Is Sports Equipment Causing Your Acne?"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Styes: How You Can Avoid Them and Best Treatment Options"