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Foundation Woes: New Study Warns Against Gym Makeup

Hannah Frye
Author:
March 29, 2024
Hannah Frye
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor
By Hannah Frye
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more.
Woman doing crunches on a yoga mat in a well lit studio
Image by Jonathan Borba / Unsplash
March 29, 2024
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It's a warning I heard countless times growing up: If I wear makeup to the gym, I'm going to break out. As a teenager with plenty of breakouts already, I dutifully listened to my dermatologist and entered the gym foundation-free, even on days I craved a hint of coverage. 

But as I've gotten older and the breakouts have subsided, I'm a tad more lax with the pre-workout cleanse. Truth be told, I occasionally wear a light foundation when I exercise without worrying too much about it. However, according to a new study, there's actually a huge reason why everyone should remove makeup ahead of a workout, even if acne isn't necessarily in the picture.

What a new study says about wearing makeup to the gym 

New research published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology found that wearing foundation during exercise can reduce skin oil, causing dryness while simultaneously clogging pores via increased sebum production. 

To reach these conclusions, researchers recruited 43 healthy college-aged students, including both men and women. They applied foundation to half of each participant's face, leaving the other half bare. Once applied, the participants completed a 20-minute treadmill exercise to spark some sweat production. 

Before and after the workout, researchers used a device to measure the skin's pores, elasticity, sebum, and oil production. While excess sebum (read: pore-clogging oil) increased in areas with foundation, other oils in the skin decreased, leading to dryness. 

They also found a moisture increase post-exercise in both makeup and non-makeup zones, but the increase was greater in the makeup zone, possibly due to the occlusive makeup preventing moisture evaporation. 

Don't underestimate the significance of that final point, as moisture evaporation plays a crucial role in the body's regulation of sweat. According to board-certified dermatologist Michele Farber, M.D., FAAD, "Sweat helps to cool the body… As it evaporates, sweat uses energy in the form of heat to help cool the body." If this process doesn't happen, it can cause overheating, which isn't great for the skin either. 

Why more research is needed

The study used a water-based, oil-free foundation but suggested exploring different types of foundations in future studies. After all, plenty of elevated foundations these days contain skin-improving ingredients (niacinamide, copper peptides, etc.), so it would be interesting to see if these skin-care-makeup hybrids have a slightly different effect.

Why this matters for aging skin

These findings reiterate the importance of a great pre-exercise skin care routine (makeup removal included), especially for those prone to dry and aging skin. 

As you age, natural oils and moisture factors, like ceramides and hyaluronic acid, in the skin begin to decrease. So, holding on to these hydrating agents becomes even more important. All that to say: Skipping foundation at the gym doesn't only apply to acne-prone skin.

How to prep your skin for a workout

Even if you're not wearing foundation to the gym, you should be cautious of what skin care products you use ahead of sweating too. You'd be wise to have a lightweight moisturizer on hand for these occasions (our go-to's here) and skip heavy creams and face oils, as they occlude the skin, possibly preventing sweat evaporation similar to a foundation. 

If you decide to exercise in the sunlight, apply SPF before you begin your workout and reapply if you're outside for more than two hours. 

After you exercise, be sure to use a gentle face cleanser before following up with the rest of your routine. If your skin is prone to flushing post-workout (which is completely normal), be sure to rinse with cool water. 

Remember: Everyone is different

This new research is intriguing; however, it doesn't change the fact that everyone's skin is different, and some people can exercise with makeup on and have no problems at all. Plus, some foundations these days are more like moisturizers than makeup, from an ingredient standpoint. So if you're partial to exercising in your foundation and have never noticed dryness, breakouts, or flushing, then it may not be a problem.
We should also emphasize that beauty choices are personal, and you should ultimately do whatever makes you feel most comfortable. If working out wearing concealer, foundation, or even a full eye look makes you feel more confident, please, carry on! You are the expert in your own skin, at the end of the day.

The takeaway

A new research study suggests that wearing foundation during a workout can blunt natural oil production, leading to skin dryness, among other concerns. To avoid this happening, your best bet is to remove your makeup ahead of your workout and follow up with a light moisturizer. Now, don't get it twisted—exercise itself is actually great for the skin. Here, more on the complexion benefits of regular movement, from circulation to mitochondrial health and more.

 

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