Potential Side Effects of Wearing Makeup

Makeup is a confidence booster for most women — and even for men. Wearing makeup is an effective and fun way to cover blemishes, improve skin tone and highlight facial features.

Cosmetics may protect the skin but can also lead to allergy or irritation. (Image: Cavan Images/Cavan/GettyImages)

While today's makeup is designed to moisturize and protect the skin, cosmetics could potentially lead to irritation, allergy, dryness or acne. These reactions usually resolve in time and with avoidance of the product, so see your doctor or dermatologist if symptoms persist.

1. Irritation

Some makeup ingredients, particularly preservatives and fragrances, can trigger contact dermatitis, which is an inflammation of the skin caused by contact with either an allergen or irritant. Makeup is more likely to lead to irritation, and not allergies, since over 80 percent of the cases of contact dermatitis are caused by irritants.

Irritant contact dermatitis can be painful, affecting the neck, skin, lips or eyes, and cause symptoms of redness, crusting, peeling, swelling and fluid or pus-filled blisters. Treatment involves avoiding the offending product, although it may take up to 3 weeks for the symptoms to resolve and for the skin to heal.

2. Allergies

Another type of dermatitis caused by makeup is allergic contact dermatitis. This occurs when the body's immune system reacts to a substance that comes in contact with the skin. This reaction occurs after the skin has been sensitized, which means the allergic response can happen after two or after many exposures to the allergen.

Common symptoms of this allergic response include red, itchy bumps which may progress to dry, thickened and scaly skin. Treatment involves avoiding the specific makeup that caused the reaction, if known. Topical creams are also helpful to manage the itching, and corticosteroids and antihistamines may also be of value.

3. Dryness

Sometimes a foundation or powder may dry out the skin and make it look flaky, dull and dry. Wearing makeup for long periods of time, sleeping with makeup on the face, or not properly cleansing your face before bed can prevent the normal shedding of skin and lead to rough skin or dryness.

Severely dry skin may also cause cracks and fine wrinkles in your skin, which could cause an infection to develop. To combat these effects, apply a moisturizer about five minutes before the foundation or powder, and consider taking a break from makeup to allow your skin to heal. When you resume using makeup, consider using a product designed to prevent dry skin.

4. Acne

Acne is caused by an interaction between hormones, bacteria and skin oils, which leads to inflammation of hair follicles. This skin disorder, common in adolescence, is characterized by pimples that vary in size, severity and appearance.

The most common trigger is puberty, but products applied to the skin — such as makeup — can affect the occurrence of acne by clogging the pores. Even women who don't usually have acne can get acne cosmetica, which is a mild form of acne caused by makeup. This type of acne characterized by tiny bumps on the cheeks, chin or forehead.

If makeup appears to make acne worse, avoid oil-based makeup and use non-acnegenic cosmetics, which won't aggravate acne, or noncomedogenic makeup, which won't block your pores. In addition, wash your skin twice daily with a mild cleanser, don't share makeup and clean your brushes weekly.

One Positive Aspect: Skin Protection

Aside from the low risk of ill effects, makeup can also have positive effects on the skin. Cosmetics can be formulated to moisturize the skin and to protect the skin from the sun's damaging effects.

A thin layer of makeup can actually protect the skin from airborne pollutants — which otherwise could seep into pores and cause damage that is linked to dryness, wrinkles or other effects of aging. Cosmetics and other personal care products are now being designed to counter these damaging effects of pollution.

Warnings and Precautions

Take care to keep your makeup covered and clean, since old makeup and unclean brushes can lead to infections that mostly affect they eye. Replace makeup at least once every several months, and do not share cosmetics with others.

Immediately stop using a product if you develop itchiness, redness, rash or others signs of irritation or allergy. If you have persistent skin reactions related to makeup, seek guidance from your dermatologist on ways to manage and prevent these problems.

Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD

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