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Does foundation makeup really make it hard for my skin to ‘breathe’?

Yes, makeup can clog pores but is it all that bad? CNA Lifestyle asked a dermatologist for the lowdown.

Hands up if you’ve ever been told by your mother or a concerned aunt that wearing makeup, whether too often or too much of it, will ruin your skin.

It’s well-meaning advice, of course, but how factually correct is it? It seems like makeup – foundation, in particular – has somehow earned a reputation for being detrimental to one’s skin, for reasons that many of us are not exactly sure of, if we were asked to explain them.

Most people will tell you that the skin needs to breathe – a statement that truly begs for scientific verification, we think.

Are our pores actively drawing in air as we speak and does putting on foundation effectively block them out and stop them from doing so? CNA Lifestyle separates the facts from the myths on this subject with the help of Dr Eileen Tan of Eileen Tan Skin Clinic & Associates, Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.


(Photo: Unsplash/Carolina Heza)

No – not in the literal sense, that is. You breathe in the air via your mouth and nose, but your skin actually doesn’t draw oxygen from it. “Our skin’s epidermis (or outermost layer) consists of non-living cellular layers, therefore saying that it ‘breathes’ is a myth,” said Dr Tan. However, the lower layers of the skin do require nourishment – they get it via oxygen and nutrients delivered from the blood supply.

You breathe in the air via your mouth and nose, but your skin actually doesn’t draw oxygen from it.

What most people are referring to when talking about how skin “breathes” is really if the pores are clogged or not. There are many reasons for which pores can become clogged – excessive oil production due to hormonal changes is one; using the wrong skincare for your skin type is another common cause.

So why is makeup – or more specifically, foundation – often singled out as the culprit that clogs pores and consequently causing the skin to break out in spots?


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Perhaps it’s due to the fact that makeup isn’t deemed as much of a necessity, as compared to other things we put on our skin daily, like skincare products and sunscreen, which, by the way, can also clog pores.

Most people do also tend to think of foundation as an occlusive substance since it contains pigments that visibly coat your skin.

In short, it is true that foundation may clog your pores, but, at the same time, skincare products and sunscreen are just as likely to do so. It boils down to a couple of factors – whether your foundation is non-comedogenic, whether the formula is suitable for your skin, and also how detailed a job you are doing when taking it off at the end of the day.  


(Photo: Unsplash/Coline Hasle)

If you have acne-prone skin, you probably are very familiar with this term since you’d have likely been advised to look out it when shopping for skincare or makeup.

Non-comedogenic, when referring to a product, simply means that its formula will not clog pores and promote acne.

But while you may see the term on a product’s label, one needs to be aware that there’s no actual industry standard that manufacturers are bound to in order to qualify their product as non-comedogenic.

According to Dr Tan, there are certain ingredients that commonly cause clogging of pores – these are used in both skincare products and cosmetics, including foundation.

What most brands do when creating a “non-comedogenic” product is to exclude such ingredients from the formula. In foundations, some of these include lanolin, silicones (typically used in “pore-filling” or “skin-blurring” foundations) and petrochemicals (petrolatum, mineral oil, paraffin wax).


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That’s not to say that foundations that do contain such ingredients are sure to cause a breakout – some skin types can actually take them safely (coupled with a good cleansing routine). If, however, you have acne-prone skin, it’s advisable that you opt for non-comedogenic formulas instead.

“Foundation can aggravate acne. Consumers should examine the ingredient labels carefully to look for ingredients less likely to cause comedones and clogging of pores. (Those who have oily skin should) go for an oil-free or water-based foundation if you need to use one. There are also innovative foundation formulas that contain active ingredient such as salicylic acid, which treats comedones while you’re wearing the product,” said Dr Tan.  


(Photo: Unsplash/Karly Jones)

You should apply care in selecting your foundation, even if you do not have acne-prone skin.

For example, if you have oily skin, you shouldn’t pick a rich and thick moisturiser to use – it’s the same when it comes to choosing a foundation formula that’s suitable for you. Besides ensuring that you won’t risk clogging your pores with a heavy, oil-based formula, doing so means that the foundation will wear better and last longer on your skin.


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Water-based foundations are best for oily skin because they are oil-free and provide lightweight wear on the skin. 

But that doesn’t mean that oil-based formulas are bad – they can actually be good for dry or mature skin, which, unlike oily skin, doesn’t secrete as much oil throughout the day. A hydrating or emollient cream foundation will wear well on such skin, because they will help keep moisture intact while not emphasising unsightly skin texture, flakiness or fine lines.

“Foundation is generally alright for individuals with normal and/or mature skin. However, individuals with oily skin or acne-prone skin should minimise foundation wear for long hours,” advised Dr Tan.


(Photo: Unsplash/Jernej Graj)

The single most important thing that foundation wearers need to practise is a thorough cleansing routine. Most skin issues that may arise from wearing foundation – apart from sensitivities to certain ingredients in the formulation – occur because of improper cleansing. Always use a makeup remover, and not simply a facial cleanser (even if it claims to remove light makeup) when taking off your makeup at the end of the day.


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Double-cleansing will ensure that your pores are thoroughly free of makeup debris. If you have dry or sensitive skin and are worried about stripping skin of moisture by doing so, be sure to pick gentle and emollient formulas for both your makeup remover and facial cleanser.

For example, using a cream-based makeup remover, followed by a cleansing balm or non-foaming cleanser, will help preserve skin moisture and integrity while ensuring that your face is well and gently cleansed.

With the right care, wearing foundation won’t harm your skin. Knowing what works for you and making extra effort in your cleansing routine will mean that you can rock a flawless makeup look as often as you like without compromising skin underneath it.

Source: CNA/yy