SKIN ISSUES, SOLVED

Why Your Skin May Be Reacting Poorly to Makeup Right Now

According to experts, isolation, hot weather, face masks, and makeup just don't get along.
Close Up Portrait Of Young Black Woman Wearing Face Medical Mask To Prevent Coronavirus Infection  stock photo
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There simply isn't a whole lot of room for makeup in a pandemic. If you've been responsibly self-isolating, you probably haven't been putting on makeup as much as you used to simply because you haven't been leaving the house or seeing people as much as you used to. Not to mention that wearing makeup underneath a face covering or in the scorching summer heat just isn't feasible. You might still be doing your daily makeup routine to stay motivated, in which case, that's awesome — but a lot of us may have barely touched the stuff in months.

Now that some states are reopening, however, some people are returning to work and a few social settings like outdoor dining have become available. And that means, naturally, makeup is starting to make a comeback, too... much to our skin's dismay.

If you recently put on a full face of makeup for the first time in a while, there's a chance your skin might've broken out in blemishes, become irritated, or just felt super oily afterward. According to dermatologists, that's not totally abnormal due to several potential causes. 

Below, the experts break down the reasons for a makeup-fueled skin reaction, plus what you can do to avoid having another flare-up.

Most likely: Your skin's just not used to makeup anymore.

The phrase "it's just like riding a bike" doesn't exactly apply to makeup. As San Deigo board-certified dermatologist Melanie Palm explains, lots of people have opted not to wear makeup or only wear small amounts from day to day. Returning to makeup, especially heavier products like full-coverage foundations or anything oil-based, isn't easy for the skin to re-adjust to. 

"If you have been out of touch for a while from your old routine, too many topicals at once — whether skin care or makeup — could throw your skin for a loop," she says. "For example, if you haven't been applying makeup and suddenly throw on topicals with emollients, hydrators, and oil-based ingredients, your skin may temporarily break out due to the occlusion of pores from a stepped-up routine."

In other words: Your skin can struggle to endure makeup the same way you might struggle to get work done after a long vacation. Connecticut-based board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara sums it up in even simpler terms: "Our skin is trying to wake up to makeup after months of hibernation."

Sweat + masks + makeup = breakout city.

Although most of us have been indoors for much of 2020, our environments have changed drastically. It's gotten hot and humid outside, and we constantly have to shield our mouths and noses with face coverings. Those lifestyle changes play into how skin reacts to makeup.

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"Our skin is the protective armor from the outside environment; changes in humidity, levels of light, and environmental pollutants all affect the equilibrium of our skin," Palm elaborates. "Using skin care or makeup that was meant for a busy lifestyle may not bode well for skin that has adapted to life indoors."

You're probably already aware of your skin's usual seasonal changes and how those affect your makeup routine. Those seasonal reactions, according to Palm, can only get more intense because of self-isolation. "If you have been mainly staying inside, where there is stable temperature and humidity, suddenly going out more to hotter temperatures and greater humidity may also play a role in breakouts," she says. "The makeup routine return may not be the sole culprit."

Add a cloth face covering into that equation, and your skin's reaction to makeup can become even more unpredictable. People really shouldn't wear makeup underneath masks in the first place, by the way, because it can make them less effective. "For surgical masks and N95 masks, and possibly for cloth masks, makeup does cause soiling of the masks and can lead to decreased air filtration," Cassandra M. Pierre, an infectious disease physician at Boston Medical Center, previously told Allure. “You need to protect yourself from the potentially harmful pathogens in the air, and the debris from soiling will cause less efficiency in the mask or respirator’s ability to filtrate.”

Nevertheless, Love notes that people are going out in public more – and therefore are still wearing both face coverings and makeup more often. Even by themselves, masks can cause breakouts and other skin conditions because they can change the oil and sweat production around the mouth and nose. "Facial masks are causing a flare of acne and a related condition termed perioral dermatitis [a rash that usually occurs around the mouth]," says New York City board-certified dermatologist Elyse Love. Gohara says makeup only worsens that effect because masks act as "a canopy of protective fabric that traps oils, dirt, spit, and sweat."

Expired products can also wreak havoc.

Just like skin-care products, makeup can expire. "All products have an expiration date of three years [when] unopened, but if the makeup uses sunscreen or salicylic acid, it's considered a 'drug,' so an expiration date must be listed to ensure efficacy," explains cosmetic chemist Ginger King. You might associate those ingredients more with skin care, but they can be found in plenty of makeup products, too. When they expire, she says, they can lose their efficacy and cause products to separate.

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If you haven't been so much as thinking about your makeup during isolation, some of your go-to products might have expired without you realizing it — and that can have a negative impact on your skin. "Product expiration is overlooked by many people," Love explains. "Expired products allow bacteria to build up within products, and this can lead to a worsening of acne." King adds that liquid foundations are the primary suspect when it comes to makeup-fueled skin issues. "Anything liquid is more prone to have issues due to water content in the product and can cause separation and less effective products," she says.

If it's been a few months since you used your go-to makeup, think back to when you purchased them and check the little jar icon on their packaging to tell if they're past their primes. If you've used them for longer than recommended, Love and Palm both say to discard and replace them immediately.

Chemical exfoliants can help balance your skin back out.

If your skin is breaking out due to makeup, face coverings, or the weather, Gohara and Palm both recommend working more acids into your skin-care routine. "I truly think that the new level of makeup intolerance is coming from a lack of a good skin routine during quarantine, making pores more likely to get clogged," Gohara says. 

She recommends using a gentle cleanser if you aren't already and adding in salicylic acid pads (SLMD's Resurfacing Acne Swipes are a good example) to control breakouts. "I use them during the day between patients to liberate the stuff living under the mask," she says. You can also use a salicylic acid-based toner like the Best of Beauty-winning Balance Force Toner by Ole Henriksen.

If you like to keep things as simple as possible, you can just switch to a cleanser that contains alpha and beta hydroxy acids, like Palm suggests. "[It can] help with acne and skin exfoliation without being over harsh on re-adjusting skin," she explains. Allure editors recommend Renée Rouleau AHA/BHA Blemish Control Cleanser, another Best of Beauty winner.

Stick to lightweight products and focus on the eyes.

If you're acne-prone around the chin and mouth, your first instinct might be to cover it up with full-coverage products right off the bat — but avoiding putting makeup in that area can prevent any further breakouts or irritation. Besides, as Gohara points out, you should be covering that part of your face in public with a mask, anyway.

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"We are wearing masks now, so make your eyes [stand out]; they are the only thing showing," she recommends. You can apply a bold lipstick when it's safe to remove your face covering, too. "Lipstick won't make your skin react. Leave the rest of your face alone."

If you're going to apply foundations, she adds that it's best to stick to powder formulas over creams and liquids. From there, Palm recommends slowly adding more products into your routine. "Consider adding one or two makeup items back to your routine per week, then add more if that is going well," she says. "A gradual return is much more likely to be successful if you have oily, acne-prone, or combination skin."

If you continue to experience skin issues and aren't sure what to do, consult a dermatologist in your area.

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