What Really Happens When You Exercise With Makeup On?

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In the never-ending hustle and bustle of everyday life, self-care practices can fall to the wayside in pursuit of our daily responsibilities. Whether it be skipping our skin-care routine to prioritize extra sleep or neglecting rest to keep up on chores, we make compromises that sacrifice our wellness every day.

Finding time to exercise can be difficult enough as is, but making sure our skin and body are prepared for our workouts is a whole different issue. For many of us—myself included—the only time we have to hit the gym or go for a run is after work, and in order to squeeze in a workout between office hours and dinner time, we may not always have the luxury of washing the day off first.

While we’ve been told for years that sweating with makeup on is a recipe for acne, do we really know what happens under the surface when we exercise with makeup on? Ahead, skin-care experts breakdown the misunderstood topic.

Does Exercising With Makeup on Cause Breakouts?

“Exercising with makeup may potentially cause breakouts as perspiration can mix with makeup, clogging pores and increasing the risk of activating acne,” says holistic skin expert Tammy Fender. “At the same time, makeup might hinder the skin’s natural detoxification process, potentially affecting overall skin health, so I would suggest cleansing the skin before workouts to promote breathability and minimize the possibility of breakouts.”

In addition to the possibility of clogged pores that comes with the combination of sweat and makeup, skin-care expert and founder of Veronica Skincare, Veronica Barton Schwartz explains that exposure to bacteria is another contributor to breakouts when exercising in makeup. “In gyms, your skin is in constant contact with yoga mats, weights, bicycle handles and different machines,” she explains. “This is the perfect breeding ground for the bacteria that causes acne. If you are wearing makeup, it gives this bacteria something to cling on to, especially because we tend to touch our face more when we’re sweating.”

If You Can’t Remove Makeup Pre-Workout, How Can You Help Your Skin Recover Afterwards?

“The body’s natural, physiological reaction to exercise is to generate sweat and heat,” Barton Schwartz begins. “After you exercise, hit the shower to wipe away all the sweat. This is especially important if you’re acne prone. If you can’t shower, be sure to wash your face before you leave. A facial wipe can be used in a pinch if you’re running out the door. If you’re acne-prone, a wipe with salicylic acid can help prevent plugged pores that lead to pimples.”

Fender expands upon Barton Schwartz’s point, adding that detoxifying masks and clarifying mists can be a helpful treat for the skin if it’s been exposed to sweat with makeup on. “For those who can’t wash away makeup before exercising, try instituting a post workout protocol. On gently cleansed skin, apply a detoxifying mask rich in purifying ingredients, like my brand’s Purifying Luculent Masque ($185), which has an Illite clay base and incorporates herbal detoxifiers like great burdock and fo-ti to help draw out impurities. Follow with a spritz of an herbal toner like my Essential C Tonic ($60) to freshen the complexion and finish with a lightweight, hydrating moisturizer to support skin’s recovery.”

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While I’m not expert and this is a personal recommendation, my roommate happens to be a personal trainer at Equinox and is no stranger to what sweat can do to the skin, and she swears by the Tower 28 SOS Rescue Spray ($28) for refreshing and hydrating the skin post-workout. She also has very sensitive skin, and this National Eczema Association-backed product is one that has never caused her irritation.

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