The truth about wearing makeup while you work out

Could your makeup be to blame for post-workout acne? We asked the experts. 

For some, the thought of wearing make-up during a workout is a shudder-worthy, sticky disaster. But the reality is that sweating in foundation or concealer is a daily occurrence for many people. Not only is makeup is a confidence-boosting tool, but stopping to take it off is impractical when you’re hot-footing it from the office to your 6PM gym class. 

You’ve probably heard that sweating in thick products can cause breakouts, but how concerned should you really be about wearing it during your post-work workout? We asked the experts to explain the real impact of wearing makeup during exercise. 

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Is it ok to wear make-up when exercising?

First of all, let’s break down what happens to our skin when we work out. Our internal temperature rises and our pores open to allow sweat out to cool the skin. The sweat itself doesn’t cause spots or acne; in fact, a 2008 study found that there was no notable difference in breakouts between those who didn’t exercise and those who showered an hour after training. 

The problem is that the products on your face can seep into the open pores. There’s two side effects of this, according to consultant dermatologist Dr Hiba Injibar. “Some people suffer from a rash-like condition called miliaria – a bit like heat rash. And if make-up gets inside pores it might clog them, which can also lead to acneic issues or uneven skin.”

Can sweating in makeup cause breakouts?

While sweat-proof products might sound like the answer, the reality is that most of these are designed to keep the make-up in place rather than protect your skin. “I would steer clear of oil-based foundations as they can run around the sweaty areas and potentially cause issues like blocked pores. There are lighter brands that allow the skin to breathe, or you could go for high-quality mineral makeup,” says Dr Injibar.

Nowadays, there are some brands that even tailor their products to active women that are made from lightweight or breathable materials to stop excessive clog. Sweat Cosmetics, Pretty Athletic and Sport FX are all great options – their makeup and skincare include deep cleaning ingredients such as antioxidant vitamin E and Phytoserene to improve the skin’s barrier. 

Remember that a good SPF doesn’t clog your pores in the same way that makeup does, and is essential for any form of outdoor activity. Try to get a waterproof one if you can, especially if you’re prone to sweating. 

How to protect your skin when exercising

If your only option is to squeeze in a class during your lunch break, don’t panic. “The more you exercise [in makeup] the greater the problem,” says Dr Injibar, so a rogue spin session in concealer won’t cause acne. But “it really does depend on the individual as some people sweat more than others,” she adds. 

There’s redemption to be had on those occasions: “it’s not so much about what you do when working out, but more about what you do after,” says Sweat Cosmetics founder Courtney Louks. “No matter what, you should be washing your face every night and if you are regularly sweating under base products, I recommend mixing in a cleanser with AHA chemical exfoliants. This will help deep clean your pores, so anything that was trapped earlier will wash away with ease.”

Whether you’re in makeup or not, try not to touch your face during training to limit germs coming into contact with open pores. “If you go to a yoga class, bear in mind that the mat might contain bacteria that you then wipe onto your face afterwards; similarly with the handlebars on the bike at your spinning class or if you’re lifting weights. And if you wear a headband or cap, sweat can gather under it and cause skin issues.”

So, don’t sweat the occasional workout in makeup. But if you’re noticing breakouts after a few tough sessions, your skincare could be to blame. 

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