Medically reviewed by Jill Johnson, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC
Last updated 12/14/2021
A red lip, creamy blush and smooth shadow can be your best friends.
Used effectively, makeup can accentuate your best features, hide your imperfections and offer a powerful mojo boost that makes you feel like your best self in any situation.
Yet if you’ve ever looked into the effects of makeup on your skin, you may have come across claims that using makeup can prematurely age your skin and result in wrinkles, fine lines and blemishes.
While makeup itself doesn’t appear to age your skin, certain ingredients found in cosmetics and other skin care products may contribute to the aging process.
On the other hand, some ingredients may protect your skin from premature aging and help you maintain smooth, wrinkle-free skin for a longer period of time.
Read on to learn how makeup can play a role in the aging process, as well as the specific ingredients you’ll want to avoid when it comes to cosmetics and skin care products.
Before we get into the specifics of makeup and aging, it’s helpful to understand some key factors that cause your skin to age in the first place.
Your skin takes on an aged appearance due to a mix of intrinsic (natural and partly unavoidable) and extrinsic (external and largely preventable) factors.
Let’s begin with the intrinsic side of aging. As you get older, it’s normal for your skin to gradually become thinner and less elastic.
Your body’s production of collagen — an important protein that gives your skin its structure and smoothness — slowly declines with each decade.
These changes — combined with the effects of facial expressions and gravity — cause your skin to develop folds, creases and wrinkles over time.
Although it’s impossible to completely stop the intrinsic aging process, certain medications and skin care products can help slow it down.
Despite this — it’s inevitable that some wrinkles will start to develop as you move through your life.
Now, let’s cover the extrinsic side of aging. This type of aging occurs as a result of your habits, skin care routine and environment — and not due to your genes or internal bodily processes. (So you can quit blaming your parents if you feel like you look old.)
By far the biggest factor in extrinsic aging is your level of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from bright, direct sunlight.
This UV exposure damages your skin at the DNA level, affecting its ability to produce collagen, elastin and other important structural proteins.
Many people underestimate the impact of extrinsic aging. In fact, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation, photoaging — the type of aging that’s caused by sun exposure — is responsible for up to 90 percent of the visible changes that occur in your skin as you get older.
Of course, while UV radiation is the largest factor that contributes to intrinsic aging, it isn’t the only one.
Other habits can lead to extrinsic aging including smoking, nutritional deficiencies and the effects of air pollution.
For the most part, using makeup doesn’t appear to have any significant impact on the intrinsic aging process.
Put simply, wearing makeup doesn’t stop your body from producing collagen or elastin or any of the other natural substances needed to maintain and repair your skin.
However, some ingredients in certain types of makeup may contribute to extrinsic aging, either by directly damaging your skin or by exposing it to environmental damage.
For example, research has found that methylparaben, a preservative sometimes used in cosmetics, moisturizers and hair care products, may have harmful effects on human skin when it’s exposed to sunlight.
Some fragrance ingredients used in makeup and skin care products have also been linked to irritated skin, eczema and other skin issues in a small percentage of people.
And as you grow older, these imperfections may become more visible as your skin starts to lose some of its collagen content.
While some degree of skin aging is unavoidable, there are steps you can take to slow your skin’s aging process. Try the following techniques to keep your skin healthy and limit the effects of aging.
It’s alright to keep your makeup on for most of the day, but it’s important to carefully remove it before you go to bed.
Removing makeup not only helps your skin maintain itself — it’s essential if you have a pre-sleep skin care routine. (Your anti-aging creams can more easily benefit your skin, for example.)
It’s helpful to remove your makeup with an oil-free makeup remover — especially if you’re prone to acne.
Once you’ve removed your makeup, wash your face with a gentle cleanser, such as our Deep Sea Facial Cleanser.
Follow up by applying any acne medication or anti-aging products you use to care for your skin.
While makeup is unlikely to cause wrinkles, some ingredients used in makeup can contribute to acne breakouts or irritation.
In fact, if you’re concerned about scars, inflamed skin or discoloration caused by acne, try to limit your makeup collection to products labeled “oil-free,” “non-comedogenic” or “won’t clog pores.”
These products are less likely to clog your hair follicles and cause acne breakouts, helping you avoid scars and other blemishes that can damage your skin.
Regardless of how much or little makeup you use, it’s essential to keep your skin protected from sun damage to prevent skin aging.
In addition to accelerating the effects of aging, sun exposure can cause your skin to become dry and irritated.
This not only makes your skin flaws more visible, but it also increases your risk of developing acne breakouts.
To keep your skin protected, make sure to apply SPF 30+, broad-spectrum sunscreen whenever you spend time outdoors.
Try to cover up any exposed skin, and use sunglasses to shield your eyes from UV damage while reducing your risk of developing crow’s feet.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, moisturizer (along with sunscreen) is one of the most effective anti-aging products you can buy.
Moisturizer works by trapping water inside your skin. This can give your skin more volume and makes fine lines, wrinkles and other imperfections harder to see.
Moisturizer can also help reverse the dryness that’s often caused by makeup and other skin care products.
Before you apply your makeup, make sure to apply a light moisturizer, such as our Tidal Wave Moisturizer for Acne.
If you’re prone to acne, make sure to pick a moisturizer that has an oil-free, non-comedogenic formula. And if your skin is dry, you may want to use a more hydrating, thicker cream.
To get the best results from moisturizer, leave a small amount of water on your skin after you wash your face, then apply moisturizer to hold the water inside your skin.
Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and poor sleep habits can take a toll on your skin tone and texture, making everything from dark circles to wrinkles more visible.
In one study, researchers found that tobacco smoke affects the thickness and density of skin — two factors that are closely linked to premature skin aging.
Other research has found that smoking and heavy alcohol use are associated with more severe skin aging in women, including forehead wrinkles, crow’s feet, bags under the eyes and volume loss throughout the face.
To limit the effects of aging on your skin, try to avoid drinking and late nights out. And if you currently smoke, try to quit.
To avoid dark circles and other sleep-related skin issues, aim for seven hours or more of sleep per night.
While good habits can have a big impact on your skin, you’ll get the best results by combining the right habits with effective anti-aging treatments.
To keep your skin looking its best and limit the effects of aging, build an anti-aging routine that maintains your skin while you sleep.
Good ingredients for slowing down the effects of aging on your skin include tretinoin and other retinoids, caffeine, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid, as well as exfoliating ingredients such as azelaic acid and salicylic acid.
When used regularly, anti-aging products can reduce the visibility of fine lines and wrinkles, treat patchy or blotchy skin, help reverse the effects of sun damage and keep your skin hydrated throughout the day for a smoother, fuller appearance.
You can learn more about choosing anti-aging products in our full guide to building a face care routine.
While makeup doesn’t directly age your skin, some ingredients used in cosmetics and skin care products can potentially cause skin irritation and allergic reactions.
Overusing oily makeup can also clog your pores, which may increase your risk of experiencing acne breakouts.
When these result in scarring and discoloration, they may harm your skin and make the signs of aging more obvious.
To keep your skin protected from the effects of aging, it’s best to choose your makeup carefully and combine your cosmetics with good skin care habits.
Interested in learning more about caring for your skin and slowing the aging process? Check out our list of recommended skin care tips, or for a customized approach, consult with a healthcare provider to learn about treatment options specific to your skin’s needs.