Why the next beauty frontier is at the gym

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We’re living in a fitness-obsessed world, and it’s influencing everything from our lingerie drawers to the dictionary (athleisure is officially a word, by the way). But there’s one market that the workout craze has only just started to penetrate: beauty.

From standalone brands (like Sweat Cosmetics) to spin-offs (Arrow, launched by Birchbox) and one-off products (like the made-for-workouts mascara from Eyeko) there are now a slew of cosmetic options that you’re meant to sweat in. That means no  more mid-workout pore clogging, sweaty raccoon eyes, or a makeup-stained workout tank.

Which begs the question: why the sudden active-makeup boom? For some women, working out has become as integral to their social lives as happy hour; for others, their gym trips are just one of the many things they’re doing all day—and being able to go from work to the gym to happy hour without making a beauty pit stop is a serious time-saver.

Photo: Birchbox
Photo: Birchbox

Bridging the beauty-fitness gap

Perhaps no one knows this reality better than pro soccer players Lindsay Tarpley and Leslie Osborne, the founders of  all-natural, mineral-based makeup brand Sweat Cosmetics. “Lindsay and I were always on TV, but we never wanted to wear makeup because when you wipe your face with your white uniform, you wind up with orange stuff on you,” explains Osborne, who spent seven years on the US Women’s National Soccer Team. “We would also wear sunscreen, but that would go into our eyes—which is terrible when you’re outside playing in hot weather.”

Osborne says they were always choosing between the two equally unappealing alternatives, and realized there was a hole in the market. “We wanted to bridge the gap between beauty and fitness,” she says. After three years of testing and research, Sweat Cosmetics launched at the 2015 Women’s World Cup. “We use natural ingredients and mineral sunscreen, and our product doesn’t clog your pores—it’s really meant for you to work out in, so we wanted to make sure we use ingredients that actually help your skin,” says Osborne.

sweat cosmetics
Photo: Sweat Cosmetics

Those skin- and sweat-friendly ingredients include vitamin E (which is an antioxidant, increases the efficiency of active sunscreen, and retains moisture, notes Osborne), milk thistle (which helps skin resist stress and remain strong when faced with pollution and UV rays), and rhodiola rosea (an anti-inflammatory that aids in DNA repair after the skin has been exposed to the sun)—all of which you can find in Sweat’s SPF-laced foundation, illuminator, bronzer, and powder.

Practicality meets polish

Birchbox saw the same opportunity when it launched Arrow in January 2016. “No one had approached this space from a beauty perspective, so we saw an opportunity to translate the concept of all-day activewear for the beauty category and create high-performance products that achieve an effortless, natural look,” says Melinda Small, director of Birchbox product development. “It’s not about looking perfectly done up—the idea is to add just a bit of polish so women feel fresh and confident while they’re out and about.”

Photo: Birchbox
Photo: Birchbox

Arrow aims to be subtle, yet practical. “We worked hard to create lightweight, long-lasting formulas that won’t streak or clog pores during workouts—they’re designed to work with your body during physical activity,” adds Small. “For example, the cheek tint has a unique cooling effect and the lip balm reacts with the pH of your lips to deliver just the right shade of pink.” (One thing to note: Arrow does not bill its products as all-natural, although they are free of parabens.)

But is it just a fad?

Of course, brands like Sweat and Arrow are at the forefront of a totally new product category, and it still remains to be seen whether working out in a full face of makeup will really catch on in a big way. But there’s no question that the frenetic pace of life today—and the growing importance of fitness in that mix of activities—has created a need for products that allow women to seamlessly transition from one activity to the next.

The fashion world has adapted with the rise of super-stylish, work-to-workout activewear (and it’s been seriously lucrative), so why shouldn’t the beauty world follow suit? That frustration of prepping my face for the day only to sweat it off hours later is something I, for one, would be thrilled to kiss goodbye—with perfectly glossed lips, even after boot camp.

Temperatures may be dropping, but your workout routine is heating up! Check out our Fall Fitness Preview, your guide to having your healthiest fall yet. And make sure to mark your calendars: Well+Good’s annual Fitness Biathlon in NYC is back this October 22.

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