Maybe you went straight to the gym after work and forgot to wipe off your foundation, maybe you intentionally slick on some eyeliner before your sweat session (hey, your trainer's hot!), or maybe you just don't have it in you to fully expose your most recent breakout during your treadmill run. Whatever your intention, is it really safe for your skin to wear makeup while you're working out?
"Makeup, especially heavy foundation and powder, can clog both pores and sweat glands during exercise, which can lead to breakouts and aggravate existing acne," says Arielle Kauvar, M.D., a dermatologist and laser surgeon, and the founding director of New York Laser and Skin Care. That's especially true if you have eczema or sensitive skin to begin with, she says. (Psst... We tried beauty products to come up with a list of the makeup that won't trigger post-gym breakouts.)
Eye makeup poses another problem. "Mascara or eyeliner can run into your eyes and irritate them," says Joshua Fox, M.D., the founder and medical director at Advanced Dermatology PC. What's more, adds Kauvar, "Mascara is often contaminated by bacteria, and runoff into the eye can lead to an infection. It can also clog the oil glands along the lash line and cause a stye."
Even if you never get an infection or a breakout immediately after a workout, the damaging effects could accumulate over time, says Kauvar. "Wearing makeup to the gym on a regular basis can eventually lead to severe acne, blackheads, whiteheads, and milia, small keratin-filled cysts that appear as tiny white bumps," she cautions. Plus, rubbing your face or eyes due to minor irritation caused by dripping foundation or running mascara could make you age faster, says Fox. And if you do suffer from makeup-related pimples, you're running the risk of hyperpigmentation and even scarring.
Fair point—but what about waterproof makeup? (This collection by Bobbi Brown is even sweat-tested!) "Waterproof makeup tends to stay on a little better, but only a little. That's because it assumes you're going to be sweating, but it doesn't take into account friction. And chances are, at some point you're going to towel off your face or rub your eyes," says Fox. When you do, you run the risk of pulling that waterproof makeup into your eyes.
Both derms say your best bet is to wash off your makeup before you hit the weights or machines, either with your favorite moisturizer or with a cleansing wipe. "If you can't imagine going to the gym without your makeup, minimize the damage by applying an exfoliating serum or toner under your makeup, which will help keep your pores from clogging and use a light, oil-free moisturizer," suggests Kauvar.
But if you realize mid-sweat that you just forgot to clean your face, you can still salvage your skin. "Wash your face immediately after working out," says Fox. If you tend to have an oily complexion, he suggests using a cleanser containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, both of which can help unclog pores to prevent acne. Then head to the drugstore for a pre-moistened cleansing wipe you can stash in your gym bag for next time. (They're one of the life-saving items trainers keep in their gym bags.)