How does makeup affect your skin during exercise? New study sheds light on impacts of foundation at the gym

Woman wiping face with a towel at the gym
For skin health, it might be best to remove your makeup before working out, according to a small study by Korean researchers. Photo credit: Getty Images

For many of us, wearing minimal makeup at the gym or an exercise class can help with our confidence and self-esteem; but according to new research, even a light layer of foundation while working out could be detrimental to your skin.  

The peer-reviewed study, published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology on Wednesday, shed some light on the effects of wearing foundation during aerobic exercise. 

To conduct their research, a team from the Korea National University of Education had 43 healthy college students (20 males and 23 females) exercise while wearing cream foundation on half of the face, on both the forehead and upper cheek. The rest of the face was left makeup-free to serve as control, the researchers noted.

After exercising, moisture increased in both the makeup and non-makeup zones, the team found; however, there was a greater increase in moisture in the makeup zones.   

"This may be a result of makeup preventing moisture from evaporating from the skin," the authors noted.   

The skin's elasticity also increased in both zones post-exercise, but to a greater extent in the areas covered with makeup.  

However, the size of participants' pores did not significantly increase in the areas with makeup; conversely, the pores in the makeup-free areas did enlarge, the researchers found.   

"This may indicate that wearing makeup may block pores," the authors said.   

"Oil level increased in the non-makeup zones and decreased in the makeup zones, suggesting that it may be difficult to maintain proper oil levels on the skin when wearing makeup."  

Corresponding author Dongsun Park, PhD, of the Korea National University of Education, concluded that for optimum skin health, it's best to remove your makeup before working out.  

Speaking to Women's Health last year, Dr Justine Hextall - a consultant dermatologist for the skincare brand La Roche-Posay - noted that if you like wearing makeup to the gym, it's important to ensure the formulas you're using are not too occlusive, as sweat and oil in makeup can block pores.  

"Bacteria associated with acne will proliferate in a blocked pore," she told the outlet.  

"Warm, damp skin is the perfect environment for bacteria and yeast, both of which will cause breakouts. Blocked pores can look white and bumpy where the so-called closed comedones contain oil that isn't exposed to air. This blocked pore can eventually become inflamed, and this is where you'd start to see papules (red bumps), pustules, and sometimes deeper cysts."  

Makeup artist and brand founder Ruby Hammer added: "Honestly, I am not a fan of makeup during workouts. It's not bad but ideally, it's better to let your skin breathe and to help avoid blocked pores."