Most women have a love/hate relationship with makeup. When applied correctly, it can transform your face, highlighting your best features while masking any shortcomings. Unfortunately, it takes time to master tricky beauty products like liquid eyeliner, and a full makeup routine can mean extra time in the bathroom. Plus, it's expensive (Americans spend nearly $9 billion annually for creams, scrubs, concealers, and other cosmetics) [source: WebMD].
Still makeup provides an important service: improving your appearance. But what do all the goops, gels, and products really do to your skin? And with so many skin types, skin conditions, and so many skin-care products touting miraculous results, how do you know which makeup is right for you?
First, experiment. Typically, makeup won't cause a major disaster (some products can cause skin reactions, though those are rarely severe or long-lasting). If you have an adverse reaction, learn how your makeup is affecting your skin. That requires some self-education about your skin type and about the products you put on it – all things your dermatologist can help you with.
Allergic reactions to common cosmetic-product ingredients can come in two types: irritant contact dermatitis (an itching or burning reaction to a product irritating the skin), and allergic contact dermatitis (more of a "true" allergy to specific ingredients that results in swelling, itching, or blisters) [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. Substances, fragrances or preservatives in makeup and other skin-care products are typically the cause of adverse reactions.
Many people use makeup to cover acne, but they should know that some products can actually cause pimples and other blemishes. If you're diligent about removing your makeup at the end of the day, or immediately after exercise, you're unlikely to have trouble. However, certain oils in many cosmetics can cause or worsen acne. This common type of acne, appropriately called acnecosmetica, is mild and characterized by blocked pores and reddened bumps on the chin, cheeks and forehead. Acne cosmetica occurs when oils from your makeup collect in and clog your pores, so thick liquid or cream products are often the culprits.
To reduce the risk of these reactions, become an avid reader of ingredients. Look for products that are labeled hypoallergenic (they're less likely to cause allergic reactions), noncomedogenic (less likely to block pores) and nonacnegenic (less likely to cause acne), although none of these terms are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Opt for makeup products that are fragrance- and oil-free -- these ingredients are typically the most irritating to the skin.
Facial masks and scrubs are effective for exfoliating and softening your skin, but most experts agree that they do little, if anything, to improve acne. A gentle, non-abrasive cleanser that's formulated for your skin type (oily, dry, or some combination) will do more to keep your face free of blemishes [source: WebMD].
If you develop any kind of reaction soon after you begin using a new makeup product, that's a major red flag. Stop using that particular product, and check with your dermatologist. With a good skin-care routine and quality products (remember, a little makeup usually goes a long way), you can help prevent negative reactions. Now you just need to find the extra time to apply it.