How Your Workout Is Affecting Your Skin

So, you've vowed to become the gym rat you always knew you could be in 2016 — or just to get your blood pumping with a morning run or spin class more often than you did last year. Week one is done, and things are going well. But we’re not actually here to talk about the holiday excess you may be burning off; it's your skin that concerns us. All the effort you're putting into getting in shape could end up wreaking havoc on your face — if you're working out with your makeup on, that is.

We're all guilty of it when we cash in our ClassPass post-work. Sure, you shower after Barre Burn, but washing your face before you get moving is as easy to forget as your password for Zara.com. Some people even put on makeup solely to go to the gym, as The New York Times reported this week. And now, there's a handful of beauty companies that offer workout-friendly cosmetics. We've got Eyeko Sport Waterproof Mascara, and this month, Birchbox is launching Arrow, a line that offers "barely there" makeup specifically made (or marketed, anyway) to be worn while breaking a sweat.

To Makeup Or Not To Makeup?
But guys, no matter how many skin-care pros we talk to, it's next to impossible to find one who doesn't cringe at the thought of his or her patients wearing makeup to the gym — workout-friendly formulations or not. We see the desire (both from a brand and a gym-goer perspective) for makeup that stands up to sweat and looks natural while doing so — but in the end, you're still wearing makeup to the gym.

Rachel Nazarian, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group, says this can cause several problems. “Sweat and bacteria get trapped under layers of makeup and prevent the skin from dissipating heat properly," she says. This can lead to pore occlusion and cause the now dilated pores to enlarge over time, which results in blackheads. "The trapping of heat can also flare temperature-sensitive conditions such as rosacea, ultimately causing redness and uneven skin tone," Dr. Nazarian continues.

Ramin Sarshad, MD, founder of Cosmetique Aesthetics, adds that makeup can trap toxins in your skin. “Your skin needs to be able to breathe while you're heavily perspiring,” he says. “You're eliminating toxins from the body when you sweat, but wearing makeup creates a skin barrier that can potentially lock all that debris you're releasing back into the skin.”

What about these new products that are meant to be worn while sweating it out? “Although [they are] likely less occlusive and more lightweight…the skin is still a sensitive organ that needs to interact with the surrounding environment to do its job," says Dr. Nazarian. "Any product that interferes with its ability to sense changes in the environment and react appropriately can cause problems.” Dr. Sarshad puts it a little more bluntly: “While there are new trends and products that claim you can work out in them, to me, it's a marketing ploy and nothing more."

The Wash Cycle
If you wash your face before you work out, it doesn’t mean you’re exempt from washing it after — each rinse serves its own purpose. It’s important to cleanse your skin first to remove all makeup and any bacteria that could enter your pores while you're sweating. It's equally important to wash your face as soon as possible after to remove any germs and dirt that may have accumulated during the workout, explains Cecilia Wong, aesthetician and founder of Cecilia Wong Skincare.

If time is really of the essence and you can only wash once, whether you do it before or after depends on your makeup routine. “If you’re using heavy, oil-based makeup, it’s very important to wash it off before working out," says Dr. Nazarian. "This type of makeup is more likely to cause damage when your skin temperature rises and you start to sweat. Otherwise, if you wear light powder or BB cream, the likelihood of harm to your skin is much less, and rinsing off the sweat and bacteria following a workout becomes more important."

So if you insist on wearing makeup while you work out, stick to light powders and BB creams rather than heavy liquid foundation. Look for labels that say "non-comedogenic," meaning the product won’t clog your pores. "Choose foundations with more natural, organic, and clean ingredients, as they are often lighter in weight," adds Wong.

Beyond Your Base
It's not just your face makeup you need to worry about; don't overlook the stuff you put on your lips and eyes. “Although the potential for these beauty products to do harm is minimal, they’re likely to smear and smudge during a vigorous workout, and can clog delicate pores around the eyes and mouth, leading to styes of the eyelids and blackheads around the lips,” warns Dr. Nazarian.

Some skin-care professionals advise opting for waterproof eyeliner and mascara in the gym if you really want to wear them, but Dr. Nazarian thinks those formulas should be off-limits, too. “The non-budge mascara and eyeliner may be worse, because they tend to be less breathable and adhere tighter to the skin,” she says.

Finally, take a look at the skin-care products in your gym bag. Wong suggests washing your face with a gentle cleanser (alcohol-free wipes are acceptable, although not quite as effective), spraying it with a toner, and applying a light moisturizer before and after working out. She says, “Skip the heavy moisturizers with thickening agents like dimethicone, as they can lead to clogged pores."

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