Whether or not you identify as someone who wears a lot of makeup — I mean, what qualifies as a lot anyway? — you’re probably someone who cares quite a bit about your skin. After all, it’s the largest organ on your body and has the unique ability to give away your age — of course you want to take care of it. And because concealer, foundation, and color cosmetics are simply a part of most women’s beauty routines, it’s worth begging the question: Does wearing heavy makeup do any harm to the skin? While we know that it can cause breakouts, can it lead to other skin concerns, like wrinkles and sagging?
Actress Jessica Chastain recently broached the topic during an interview with the Los Angeles Times while talking about the heavy makeup and prosthetics she wore for her latest role in the upcoming film The Eyes of Tammy Faye. “I think for sure I’ve done some permanent damage to my skin on this. Listen, I eat very pure and I take very good care of my skin and I stay out of the sun and all that stuff,” she said. “But it’s heavy. And when you’re wearing it all day every day — the weight of it on your body, it stretches your skin out. I finally took it off and I was like, ‘I look 50 years old!’ No, I’m kidding. But it’s fine. It’s for my art.”
Sure, most people aren’t walking around in prosthetics on a daily basis, but it left us wondering if the makeup we are wearing could be causing the damage. Much to our relief, the skin will not stretch out just from wearing makeup — even heavy makeup, says Dendy Engelman, MD, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and Mohs surgeon at Shafer Clinic in New York City. “The weight of makeup alone, even if you’re wearing a lot of it, isn’t enough to have a permanent visible impact on the elasticity of your skin,” she explains.
Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale New Haven Hospital, agrees that the amount of makeup you wear isn’t going to have a significant effect on the quality of your skin. However, prosthetics can, so Chastain was certainly onto something with her suspicions. “The weight of the prosthetics can stretch skin, specifically in delicate areas such as around the eyes and mouth,” Dr. Robinson says. “Plus, the wigs that accompany prosthetic makeup overhauls, like in Jessica’s case, typically require hair to be pulled back very tightly underneath, adding more potential skin stretching.”
As for the rest of us, well, we’re not off the hook completely. “Stretching and pulling at your skin to apply and remove makeup, especially around the delicate eye area can eventually cause wrinkles to form, skin to droop, and pores to widen,” Dr. Engelman warns. “Wearing heavy and/or occlusive makeup for long periods of time can also eventually cause you to look older by allowing grime, pollutants, and free radicals to enter through your pores and break down collagen and elastin, creating wrinkles and sagging.”
So, to make sure we’re doing the least amount of damage to our skin while wearing a full face of makeup, we asked dermatologists for their top tips. Scroll on to read more.
Apply (and remove) makeup with care
When applying your makeup, it’s important to be super delicate, especially around sensitive areas like the eyes. “Tugging or pulling at the thin skin around your eyes can break down the elastin and collagen fibers,” warns Michael T. Somenek, MD, a facial plastic surgeon in Washington, DC. “When applying under eye cream or concealer, pat it on instead of rubbing it in, and use a makeup remover that takes off the makeup with little effort so that you are not rubbing your eyes to scrub off the cosmetics.”
It should come as no surprise that sleeping in your makeup is bad. Wearing makeup to bed makeup can cause environmentally-induced oxidative damage and lead to chronic inflammation that breaks down the skin barrier, which in turn leads to premature signs of aging like wrinkles. It can also cause your complexion to look dull. To ensure a thorough cleanse, try the double cleansing technique: First, use an oil-based cleanser to remove stubborn makeup, then follow up with your face wash of choice.
Avoid harsh exfoliating scrubs
On that note, never reach for scrubs when removing makeup. “Physical exfoliators with large, harsh particles like apricots and walnuts can cause stretching, micro tears, and even long-term scarring on the delicate facial skin,” warns Dr. Robinson. If you’re looking to slough off dead, dulling skin, she recommends chemical exfoliators, like retinol or AHAs, or fine particle-based physical scrubs, like sugar.
Use SPF in addition to makeup
While SPF in makeup is a bonus, it should never be used as your first line of defense against the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays, Dr. Robinson advises. “When you apply makeup, you’re not applying an even amount to all areas of the face, which leaves some areas better protected than others,” she says. “Sun damage breaks down collagen and elastin, the scaffolding that holds up our skin, so the sooner that is gone, the sooner we’ll start to see stretched out skin and wrinkles.”
Stop picking or squeezing pimples
Sure, it’s tempting to try to get rid of a blistering blemish, especially when you have somewhere to be and concealer won’t cover it, but doing so can actually make it much worse. “Poking and prodding at a pimple will make it prominent and push bacteria deeper into the skin, causing a more serious problem that takes longer to go away,” warns Dr. Engelman. Picking your skin can also stretch pores and cause a rough skin texture. Instead, she recommends using a spot treatment or a pimple patch to clear it up.
Don’t forget the skin beyond your face
Just as you take your foundation below your jawline, Dr. Somenek recommends doing the same with your skincare. “When applying skincare, many people forget that they have a neck, ears, and chest that are also prone to aging,” he says. Apply your moisturizers, serums, and facial sunscreens down your neck and on your ears, too, he suggests.
You might also like: 5 High-Tech Facial Tools That Rival In-Office Treatments