Athleisure Makeup Has The Cosmetics Industry Breaking A Sweat

Cosmetics brands are catering to fitness enthusiasts’ desire to look good in and out of the gym.

Athleisure Makeup Has The Cosmetics Industry Breaking A Sweat
[Photo: courtesy of Tarte]

To promote its new Athleisure Makeup line, Tarte partnered with social media “fitfluencers” to push the concept that “sporty is the new sexy.” The campaign, titled Hustle & Glow, includes a beautifully produced video in which a woman wakes up in her spacious Malibu mansion and heads to the bathroom for a full beauty routine in preparation to . . . go on a solo run.


The video was met with wide appreciation from Tarte fans (and nearly 80,000 YouTube views), with many saying it inspired them to get out there and look good on the asphalt (or sand). As athleisure becomes more than just a fashion trend, it’s extended into new, unexpected categories. Cosmetics is one of them. It’s makeup that’s easy, comfy, and suited for an active individual. Brands big and small now cater to the growing fitness enthusiast, many of them millennials who are willing to pay for a sweat-proof mascara or non-clogging foundation. And these products are appearing not just at Sephora, but at the counters of local yoga, pilates, and barre studios as well.

In other words, yoga pants for your face.

“These are high-maintenance products with a low-maintenance routine,” says Tarte CMO Candace Craig Bulishak. Tarte’s tinted SPF, for example, is infused with antioxidants and natural ingredients like apple extract.

Birchbox, the beauty e-tailer and subscription service, also noticed that their customers were among the women embracing the athleisure trend, says PR director Jenna Hilzenrath. But no one had approached the space from a beauty perspective. Athleisure isn’t necessarily about working out; it’s the overall concept of being active, comfortable, and put together.

Arrow line by Birchbox

Take, for example, Birchbox’s Arrow line, which was introduced in June 2016 for women who have an “average” relationship with beauty.The collection of lightweight products, like a cheek tint and brow gel, are intended to keep up with the modern woman’s day, “whether that means going straight from pilates to brunch or just powering through an action-packed, appointment-filled day,” states the company website. They want to enhance their appearance in a fuss-free, subtle manner—they want the no-makeup makeup look.


“We saw that opportunity to translate that concept of all-day activewear in the beauty category, to create high-performance products that achieve that effortless, natural look,” says Hilzenrath of the in-house line. Arrow is paraben, vegan, and cruelty-free, and “designed to work with your body,” says Hilzenrath.

The concept is working. As of January, Arrow’s lip balm was the best-selling product on Birchbox, outpacing all other brands in their lip category. Arrow launched four more products in January and plans to expand into new products in the coming year.

More Than A Fad

Birchbox’s success shouldn’t be a surprise. Athleisure sales totaled $97 billion last year, up 40% from 2010, according to Morgan Stanley. It has dominated the apparel industry, having spread from sports brands to more mainstream clothing companies like J.Crew and Tory Burch. It’s been worn by Michelle Obama, inspired celebrities including Kate Hudson, Beyoncé, and Hilary Swank to launch their own lines, and even claims its very own entry in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Add that to the fact that millennials are now the largest U.S demographic, and they prefer buying experiences and spending toward “creating a lifestyle,” according to a recent report by Fung Global Retail & Technology. Millennials are perhaps the healthiest generation—they exercise more, eat better, and smoke less than previous generations. The gym and yoga studio have become social gathering places.

The new era of “going out to the gym” is what partially inspired Rochelle Rae to found Rae Cosmetics, sweat-resistant makeup made for women. For the self-described “sweaty girl” from Texas, “no makeup is not really an option.” She, like her peers, wants to look presentable for herself—and others.


“The active lifestyle and culture has changed—going to the gym, to a yoga or pilates class is much more than just working out. Now it’s a social experience,” Rae said via email. “You don’t just go quickly and quietly work out alone and leave. You meet friends, then have a coffee or snack, you might even meet a future date and hit happy hour on a patio . . . You meet more people at the gym than at a nightclub or grocery store. So you want to look your best.”

That also means it’s a place to take even more pictures. There was a time not long ago when taking a photo at the gym was considered inappropriate, but now Instagram is rife with selfies of people doing #yoga, #pilates, and #running.

“Taking care of your appearance and your upkeep when you’re at the gym is like a badge of honor in some ways,” notes beauty editor Bahar Takhtehchian, who is seeing more young women document their fitness routines. “People want to look and feel good at the gym.”

This isn’t to say that prior to the athleisure craze, products best suited for workouts weren’t available. They were. They just didn’t have the cute sporty logos or market themselves as such. Instead they called themselves “oil-free” or “mineral-based,” or “best for sensitive skin.”

“This is a lot of smart marketing,” says Takhtehchian of the influx of athleisure makeup lines. “Companies are always looking for new ways to sell a product, and one that speaks to and connects to the consumer.”


Big brands are beginning to pick up on this as well. Sephora has been actively curating athletic-appropriate cosmetic lines and promoting “gym bag” beauty buys for January, which was designated “skin fitness month.” Sephora also worked in tandem with Tarte on its aptly named Athleisure Makeup line.

The result is a line of over a dozen items made with natural ingredients, including sunscreen, self-tanner, bronzer, highlighter, and mascara. These products were reportedly tested in the “sweat chambers” of spinning classes by Tarte company employees.

Natural ingredients are particularly suited for athletic pursuits. Dermatologists usually warn against wearing makeup during workouts, because most products contain chemical ingredients that clog pores and irritate the skin. Consumers are also increasingly keen on all-natural ingredients; a recent survey by Kari Gran found that 73% of millennial women feel that they are important.

“There’s always a potential for any product, even those designed for exercise, to clog pores and create issues that might be detrimental to the skin,” explains Dr. Debra Wattenberg, New York City dermatologist and associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. But if cosmetics at the gym are nonnegotiable, Wattenberg suggests waterproof mascara, oil-free tints and—most important—a sunscreen of at least 30 SPF.

One startup—also pushed forward by Sephora—has made sunscreen the most important aspect of its line. Sweat Cosmetics, founded by five professional athletes, specifically caters to women who work out in the sun.


Sweat Cosmetics CEO Courtney Jones is a former professional soccer player who was frustrated by a lack of cosmetics that fit her ultra-fit lifestyle. She had problem skin and often found herself caking on foundation, especially when her soccer games were televised. Throughout her career, she noticed that looking good enhanced confidence and therefore, enhanced performance.

“Athletes didn’t have products that were made for us,” Jones recalls. “A certain part of me still wanted to cover up.”

Team at Sweat Cosmetics

Together with her fellow teammates, Jones worked to fill the gap—she wanted something that upheld sun safety standards, yet could satisfy her cosmetic needs. After 18 months of testing, the cofounders, along with a team of chemists, launched Sweat Cosmetics, a collection of breathable SPF 30 mineral foundation brushes in various skin-tone colors. The products are 80 minute water resistant, with no fragrance, oils, or silicones.

That was in June 2015. Just two months later, Sephora contacted them unprompted. “They loved our product and appreciated that the niche we were going after was completely different,” says Jones.

This was a shock because industry insiders and consultants told them it would take years of hustling to get attention from the retail giant. “We talked to so many [people] that were like, ‘Don’t even try,'” says Jones.


By the following spring, Sephora was selling their product online, which was their initial goal. As Jones says, “If Sephora is not in your sight, I don’t know what you’re doing.”

The Sephora partnership got Sweat up and running. In the last year, Sweat’s monthly revenue has grown over 560%. “We’re not done with Sephora yet . . . this is just the start,” says Jones.

Moving forward, the company plans to expand into skincare and more color categories, but not all at once. Like cult favorite Glossier, it wants to focus on an edited line of just a few products that “women swear by.”

The Message

After the video for Tarte’s “Hustle & Glow” line debuted, a few social media critics wondered whether the video was overpromoting the need for women to always look good, even during self-care activities.

To that, says Tarte’s Bulishak, it’s all about “however women or men want to feel beautiful in their skin.” Tarte, as the other brands discussed in the piece, repeatedly attest to trying to help women find their confidence, not enslave them with beauty products.


“We encourage women to feel empowered, and if you want to wear makeup, go for it. If you don’t want to wear makeup, that’s okay, too,” says Bulishak.

Sweat Cosmetics’ Jones feels similarly that her brand is meant to aid those who, like her, perform better with a little bit of makeup. It’s an option, not a mandate. “We want to use our brand to encourage women to be active and to work out, and give themselves a little bit more confidence,” says Jones.

But also, stresses Jones, it’s no one’s place to judge whether today’s modern woman wants a bit of coverage out there on the field: “Women are going to do what they want to do . . . and no one should have to say anything about that.”