There’s plenty to love about makeup: self-expression, creativity, covering up a really pesky blemish before a first date, the feeling of accomplishment when your liquid eyeliner finally, finally matches on both eyes. And we can all agree that an hour at Sephora is basically the adult version of recess. It may be good for the soul — but is makeup good for the skin?
Let’s start with the good news: it’s better than it used to be, says Elizabeth Donat, a licensed esthetician and the owner of EMD Skin Solutions. “The quality of makeup formulations has really improved dramatically within the past five to eight years,” she says. There’s a lot more out there that’s free of potentially harmful ingredients like parabens, phthalates, synthetic fragrances, and petrochemicals, she adds.
While you don’t have the Food and Drug Administration to thank for it (regulations on cosmetics are minimal and have remained largely unchanged since 1938), beauty shelves may be mirroring trends on grocery shelves. “Consumers are voting with their dollars and the cosmetic companies are making changes to stay relevant and commercially viable.” (It’s true: a national survey found that consumers want stricter regulations in their personal care products.)
That said, you’re not totally in the clear.
That said, you’re not totally in the clear. The cosmetic that has the potential to do the most damage? Your face makeup — particularly foundations with mineral oil and synthetic fragrance, says Donat. Mineral oil, which is derived from petroleum, isn’t suitable for all skin types, she explains. “[It also] doesn’t impart any benefit to the skin (i.e. vitamins, antioxidants, hydration). It just sits there and creates a barrier, [and] can clog your pores and cause breakouts,” she says.
“Synthetic fragrance is extremely irritating to the skin and can worsen sensitive skin conditions like rosacea.” Stick to 100% mineral makeup, which is derived from ground-up and micronized minerals like zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, mica, and iron oxides, suggests Donat. Adding that it’s safe for all skin types and skin conditions, and you’ll often get the added boost of UV protection. (Just make sure the label says 100% mineral makeup, not “mineral enriched.”)
And don’t forget, your foundation is just half of the equation. If you’re not thoroughly cleaning your brushes and sponges regularly (ahem, that’s weekly if you have the time, but at the very least monthly) you’re just pushing oil, bacteria, and oxidized makeup residue back into your pores.
And don’t forget, your foundation is just half of the equation.
Even mineral makeup gently applied by a freshly sterilized brush made of angel wings doesn’t give you license to keep your makeup on 24/7, though — no, you shouldn’t sleep in it, and yes, your esthetician can tell if you do, says Donat. “I can usually tell during my skin analysis if clients regularly sleep in their makeup,” she says. “Troublesome bacteria on the skin thrives in an anaerobic environment, which can lead to acne and clogged pores.”
And make sure your cleansing routine involves actual cleanser. “Makeup remover wipes in lieu of actually washing the skin with facial cleanser and water is surprisingly bad,” Donat says. “Most wipes contain ingredients that need to be rinsed off the skin, and when they are not, they can alter your skin’s pH and compromise its barrier function,” she adds. They also only remove makeup superficially, so you’re basically just rubbing around the water-insoluble ingredients of your makeup and leaving them on your face. (Anyone else surprised their skin isn’t just a giant open sore right now?)
Speaking of makeup that tends to just get rubbed around a lot, let’s talk waterproof mascara. Sorry, avoiding Lauren Conrad mascara tears isn’t worth it — Donat recommends staying away from waterproof eye makeup entirely when it comes to daily use. Since it’s tough remove completely without a little elbow grease, you’re apt to damaging the thin skin around your eyes in the process. Besides, a quality, non-waterproof mascara shouldn’t be running and flaking all over the place anyway, she says. Just like foundation, application counts when it comes to eye makeup — clean your brushes, and be gentle in your pursuit of the cat eye. “Many clients pull the thin skin of the eye way too taut in order to get the perfect application, which can worsen wrinkles, lines, and under-eye puffiness.”
So it’s not that makeup on it’s own is necessarily bad for the skin — it’s just how we wear it, put it on, take it off (or don’t) that can make a mess of things. Aka, we’re human, and we can use a little help.
So what helps? For one, giving our skin some time off. “The skin is an amazing organ responsible for some incredible functions like protecting us from infection, regulating our body temperature, secreting oil, excreting sweat, and providing sensory signals, just to name a few,” Donat says.” So give it a chance to do all that at its best.
So what helps? For one, giving our skin some time off.
Another big one? “Never go to the gym with a full face of makeup,” she says. “Do a quick wash before working out to remove primers, foundations, powders and all the heavy stuff, because as you perspire and increase your circulation you may also be driving those cosmetics deeper into your pores.” If you want a little coverage, stick to a non-comedogenic tinted moisturizer, mascara, and tinted lip balm only.
And when it’s time to replace your makeup, switch to skincare-centric cosmetics if you’re not already using them. Go for brands like Donat-approved faves Perricone MD, Jane Iredale, Murad, and Dr. Hauschka. “It is multi-tasking at its best,” she says. “If your skin can look better every time you wash your makeup off, then you are using the right stuff!”