Women, Bicycling and Makeup

John Greenfield posted an article last week in his Newcity column Checkerboard City, partially inspired by my recent post on beauty videos. I’m reprinting here with permission, as we both are interested in hearing readers’ thoughts on the issue.


Last week Dottie Brackett, co-author of the excellent Chicago cycle-chic blog LetsGoRideABike.com, put up a post that was completely unrelated to bicycling. While spending several days at home sick, too exhausted to even read books, let alone ride a bike, she found herself watching instructional beauty videos online for hours on end. “I’m not that into makeup,” she wrote. “But listening to these women’s voices was oddly comforting and I felt like I was learning something while using very minimal mental energy.” She linked to videos by some of her favorite beauty experts, like Lisa Eldridge and Sali Hughes.

Dottie’s post jogged my memory about a makeup-centric article that I never got around to writing up, so here it is. Last year I got in a debate with my roommate Meagan, a non-cycling Texan who’s a bit of a Southern belle. She spends about an hour on her hair, makeup and grooming each day, and I was ribbing her about it.

Meagan said that her beauty routine was pretty much the norm for women. I argued that my female friends, especially the ones who bike-commute regularly, tend to be lower-maintenance, wearing minimal or no cosmetics, spending little on haircuts and waxing, and only getting manicures and pedicures on an occasional lark. “Oh, they wear plenty of makeup,” she said with a grin. “You’re just not aware of it because you’re a guy.” Meagan was confident, for example, that most of my female bike buddies wear foundation, but it’s subtle enough that I don’t notice.

I emailed a bunch of my longtime pals from the Critical Mass ride for backup, explaining that I planned to write up their responses, and found out that my theory was pretty much correct. “These are my confessions,” responded my friend Gin. “I move up and down the ‘putting on a face’ continuum. Some days I don’t wear any makeup. Many days I do not even shower. I wash my hair about once a week.”

However, Gin said she does spend between three seconds and three minutes a day on cosmetics. She usually applies lip gloss and occasionally wears face powder or a lightweight foundation to even her skin out. Every few months she “tames” her eyebrows. When she feels like doing more, she’ll put on mascara, eye shadow, lipstick and possibly blush. “And I do like a good mani/pedi,” she added.

My neighbor Lisa wrote that her maintenance routine is similar to Gin’s except that she uses a lightly tinted combination moisturizer/sunscreen nearly every day, only applying foundation for dressier occasions or photo shoots. She uses a similar selection of cosmetics as Gin when she wants to get dolled up, with lipstick being a priority. “I’ve always believed (and had drummed into me by the super models and my mother) that if you can only wear one thing it should be some color on your lips,” she said.

“Sometimes I comb my hair,” my friend Ash responded dryly. “Would your roommate be horrified to see our collective armpits?”

Ash and Gin

“I am your gal,” my neighbor Julie wrote. “I don’t own any foundation. Eye shadow is for kid makeovers only. On rare occasions I wear lipstick.” She doesn’t maintain her eyebrows and tries to get haircuts for free.  She’s had a pedicure three times, but never a manicure. “I don’t shave,” she added. “I tweeze hairs that appear in odd places. But I have to say I’m surprised that Gin and Lisa sometimes wear foundation—I wouldn’t have guessed that.”

Karen and her husband Kevin, the owner of a bike shop where I used to wrench, are two of the crunchier people I know in Chicago, so I wasn’t shocked to hear she possesses zero makeup. “I owned some eyeliner in high school,” she emailed. “And I know that [our friend] Lauren wears it sometime because I used some of hers in the women’s bathroom at a Chicagoland Bicycle Federation gala years ago when I was drunk.  Haven’t worn it since.”

Karen dislikes mascara, but she tried foundation once in school. She stopped using it after a friend pointed out that her face and neck were two different colors. “Lipstick looks good on a lot of women, but not me,” she said. She showers two or three times a week and has never had a mani or pedi. Although most of her haircuts cost $12 or less, she occasionally splurges on a salon cut and partial color. “I am not so unconcerned with appearances that I don’t find hiding a few gray hairs and having a cut with some style to be rewarding.”

“Sometimes I wished I looked different—somehow ‘prettier,’ I suppose,” she wrote. Actually, Karen and all of our friends who responded to my query are quite attractive—all of that pedal pushing certainly doesn’t hurt. “But I’m not convinced that the pursuit of that look would necessarily pay off for me,” she added. “Maybe for your roommate it does. But I’m looking forward to reading your article when it comes out. You could call it ‘Cycling: The Only Foundation Beautiful Gals Need.’”


Personally, I am not a high-maintenance type of person, but I wear at least some makeup almost every day. Sometimes I go through phases when I wear less or none at all, but generally I feel more professional with makeup on. Plus, I have quite bad skin with scars that I prefer to cover.  Lately, I’ve been wearing more than usual: foundation, concealer, blush, lipgloss, eye shadow, mascara.  In the summer, I tend to pare down to tinted moisturizer, concealer, and lipgloss. I’m always in a rush in the morning, so all of this happens in a slapdash 5-10 minutes.

When I started biking to work, my makeup routine stayed the same, except in hot or cold weather I began carrying my makeup bag with me to apply after arriving at work.  If anything, makeup became more important to my daily “look,” because my hair was more often thrown in a sweaty bun. A nice, bright lip takes attention away from messy hair.

Thinking of the women I know, biking and non-biking, (which includes some of those John interviewed) there seems to be an even mix of those who do and don’t wear makeup. The one difference is that the women I know who consistently make themselves up highly do not bike.

What do you think: are women who bike less likely to wear makeup?  Do you wear makeup? If so, do you change your routine or products based on your bike commuting?

P.S. After I posted about my favorite online beauty videos, reader Marsha commented, “I tried looking up make-up bike tutorials and came up empty. So I made one.” Love it!

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39 thoughts on “Women, Bicycling and Makeup

  1. Beverley Strain says:

    Hi Dottie!
    I am a daily cycler, and I love makeup (I’m from NC as well, I learned makeup tips when I was 10 or 11). But unless I have an appointment or am meeting someone, I don’t bother applying makeup. I invest more in good skincare, and always, always, ALWAYS sunscreen!!

    Boston, MA

  2. Lizzy says:

    I got into this conversation over at Corporette last week.

    I commute about 4 miles by bike all year in Chicago and am fortunate to have hair (and a hairstyle) which isn’t affected by my helmet. I don’t wear a lot of makeup: sunscreen (not tinted) in the summer/moisturizer (not tinted) in the winter, eyeliner and lipstick. For board meetings, fundraisers or going out, I sometimes add some eye color. (I’m in my 40’s, for data point purposes)

    Once it turns warm, I always wash my face once I get to work. Sometimes, I use the showers we have at work. So, I usually reapply the eyeliner at work. I keep a minikit (eyeliner, mirror, wipes, sunscreen, tinted lip balm) in my desk and each of my bike bags.

  3. Kate says:

    I bike daily, but only 2 miles or so. I adore makeup! I have some variation of suncreen, foundation, lipstick, blush, mascara, and eyebrow pencil on every day. I do all of that before getting on the bike. Then once I’ve stopped sweating at work, I apply a translucent powder and everything looks fine!

  4. imisswi says:

    I’m 55 years and don’t have a job but I do a LOT of cycling (summer only, I live in Minnesota). If you wear make-up while riding (or ‘working out’ in the health club) you’re either going to end up looking like crap or getting no benefit from your effort). A shimmering (sweaty) flushed face resulting from some real exercise is way more beautiful and real than a painted face that spent an hour in front of a mirror. I do wear make up, and I like it, but it’s only gonna look good when you can’t really tell it’s there and the surroundings are appropriate for that look.

    • eriksandblom says:

      “A shimmering (sweaty) flushed face resulting from some real exercise is way more beautiful”

      Oh thank you for saying this. Makeup can be nice but the look of a sweaty face look is underrated, in my opinion. Maybe people associate sweat with being unkempt, but if you’re clean from the start, a bit of sweat doesn’t make you look unkempt.

      Does anyone know of an essay on sweat and what people think of it?

  5. […] Women Bike Commuters Discuss Their Views on Makeup (LGRAB) […]

  6. Dom says:

    Hi! I bike to work and back every day, which is 16 km round trip. And I wear makeup!
    I comb my hair, moisturize + SPF, and then prime my skin at home.

    When I get to work, I apply concealer, powder foundation, blush, and pencil in those eyebrows. If I’m going out after work, I retouch before I leave the locker room to pedal home….I have my every day stuff in my locker monday-friday, and my mascara and fun coloured stuff I leave at home, since I only wear it if I’m going out to a bar.

    If I’m going for a long weekend bike ride, I still wear makeup…Just powder foundation (which has spf too) and my eyebrows. I don’t think I would leave the house without it, unless there was an emergency :)

    It’s not that I don’t appreciate my skin, but I do look a little ruddy and uneven, and my eyebrows are barely there (and I’m a brunette!) xo

  7. Cara says:

    In my experience, and I would guess that other women run into similar situations, the makeup routine is a big (or bigger, for me) of an impediment to daily commuting that comfort in traffic or clothing. For whatever reason one choose’s to wear makeup (applied after commuting), in many office environments it is not entirely practical or comfortable (from a human perspective of appreciating privacy) to apply a full face of makeup at work.

  8. Just to clarify my own viewpoint here, this post is not supposed to come off as anti-makeup or suggesting that bike-y women are of a different species that doesn’t use cosmetics. However, it seems that women who bike commute regularly are more likely to feel makeup shouldn’t be compulsory for females. Personally, I like makeup; I just don’t think women should feel they have to wear it every day to look presentable. BTW, men who bike often are definitely *more* likely to wear makeup.

    • Anne A says:

      “men who bike often are definitely *more* likely to wear makeup.”

      Really? Maybe you and I are looking at different segments of the male population. ;)

    • FeministBikerWhoWearMakeup says:

      I bike commute regularly, all seasons, and I wear full makeup. But I certainly don’t feel it to be “compulsory.” I wear makeup because I LIKE IT; I like the artistry of it and the flexibility it gives me to express myself. I might add that I bike for a similar reason, because I LIKE IT. I’m guessing those male bikers you see wearing makeup feel the same way I do. Please do not dismiss makeup as some socially inflicted compulsion.

      • FeministBikerWhoWearsMakeup says:

        And I apologize if I come off a bit strong. There are just too many women out there who feel like they can’t bike, because there is this perception of female bikers being tomboys. I really wish the discourse centered on being comfortable biking no matter what you choose to put on your face.

  9. friutbot says:

    While I keep makeup minimal when I ride my bike, I rarely have the time to apply my face at point B. So I pretty much look as good as I’m going to when I get on the bike.
    A few tricks; blotter papers for the sweaty oily face. They work better than applying powder, which can get cakey when applied to damp skin. Sephora makes a jumbo 12 hour eye pencil in a wide range of colors that is blendable for use as shadow or liner but sets up and STAYS ON. Waterproof mascara, the Cover Girl stuff in the fat orange tube, never budges until you want to take it off, then soap and water do the trick. Paula Dorf makes a product called Transformer that you can brush over eyeliner to make it water resistant, and Urban Decay makes a makeup setting spray called All Nighter. I almost never use the last two, they are more for when I’m going out dancing and need night time makeup but know I will sweat, but they might be helpful for some.

  10. Laura says:

    I live in Toulouse, France where transportation by bike is common
    (though only 2 out of 45 in my office bike to work). I wear make-up
    every day: powder, eye-shadow, mascara, and lipstick. I spend about 5
    minutes blow drying my hair each morning after my shower, although last
    year I had a shorter cut which required a bit more of styling. It’s not a
    great excuse, but I’ve stopped wearing a helmet during my 2km commute
    so that I can use hair clips or otherwise attach my hair without having
    to undo it to put on the helmet and then re-do it when I arrive.

    lot of female college students in France ride bikes to class and it
    doesn’t seem to have any influence on their fashion/beauty choices (some
    wear make-up, others not, high heels, sneakers, etc). Bike riding in
    France is less of a conscious choice and more an option on equal footing
    with the car, the bus, or walking.

  11. Gin Kilgore says:

    Even though I claim a 3sec to 3min make-up routine, I should also go on the record as enjoying getting glammed up–whether for a special occasion or when the mood strikes, most often in winter. I agree with the posters who explain that fun with cosmetics and biking are not mutually exclusive. People do not have to alter how they look in order to ride a bike. Logistical and/or product adjustments might be needed, but almost anything can be addressed. Riding more slowly can also keep you looking more polished.

    Oh, and I recently rediscovered eye lash curlers. My fave new tool for popping out the eyes :)

  12. My routine once I get to work is focused on cleaning up: baby wipes, 3-step face wash/SPF lotion, and mascara. I carry the color-matching foundation, eye-shadow, & liner – use them less than once a month. I am definitely in the lower maintenance category, but I do love a great color/cut & wax (however, am always looking for the lowest price or waiting 3 months between). I never get my nails done because I always ruin them with basic bike maintenance.

  13. Anna Schibrowsky says:

    I’m more likely to wear makeup when I’m taking transit than when I’m biking. Assuming I can find a seat, transit gives me plenty of time to dig through my bag and futz with all the little tubes and palettes. On my bike, my foundation often gets moist and slides around and, worst of all, gets on my collars, sometimes staining permanently. Summer sweat, spring rain, and the moist air under my dead-of-winter neoprene mask all mess up my makeup.

    But biking can still be quite glamorous. I can bike miles and miles in high heels that I could never wear on a transit-based commute!

  14. Cecily Walker says:

    I’m originally from the South, and I consider myself a cosmetics graveyard. Though it no longer takes me 90 minutes to get ready in the morning (having dreadlocks for 11 years and then cutting them off to a short Caesar cut took care of that), I feel really unfinished if I don’t have makeup on. And yes, I feel really unattractive, too. Moreso now that I’m slouching toward middle age.

    The women I work with who ride to work are all over the map makeup wise, from people who do the handi-wipes and lipgloss look, to people like me who do the whole foundation, powder, groomed eyebrows, eye shadow primer, mascara, eye shadow and lipstick look. The only thing that has changed about my routine is I bring my makeup to work in a little bag and apply it there, as I get a little sweaty on the last uphill push into the office.

  15. ridonrides says:

    i didn’t wear make up before bike commuting and i don’t now either. i mainly reserve make up for going out (which I also do by bike). i think if women like make up they won’t give it up (not even the gym). some women prefer to do their make up when they get to their destination.

  16. Sally says:

    I’ve never worn lots of makeup. I try to wear at least mascara every day, but I’m not afraid to go out with a completely naked face. I commute by bike 8.6 miles one-way, and I shower and dress for work at my office.

    Generally, my “natural” look is: eyebrow color, mascara, lip color, and lip color smudged and blended on my cheekbones for blush. My professional look is all that plus eyeliner. My dressy look is all of the above plus tinted moisturizer and eye shadow.

    My hair gets even less attention than my face – sweaty buns on days I don’t wash it and air-dried and unstyled on days that I do wash it.

  17. […] likely to spend a lot of time on their everyday makeup routine? A great question! In turn, Dottie wondered how her readers deal with makeup and biking into the office. At first, I was just going to post a comment, but then I decided to do my own post […]

  18. Bettina says:

    I did a small post myself to show you my almost-daily makeup routine, here: http://wp.me/p1gPfH-j1 – I wear makeup almost every day and haven’t had any problems biking with it.

  19. The women I know who cycle are all different in their makeup techniques and preferences. It really depends on how their ride (fast/slow/sport/transport) and on their lifestyle off the bike.

  20. Thus far I’ve only bike commuted intensely in the fall/winter and my makeup routine has not changed. Curl the eyelashes, mascara (non-waterproof Covergirl (the waterproof one always smudged for me!) and just enough foundation to even out my skin tone. If I miss a day it is no big deal but I always curl my lashes. Towards the end of last summer I did just the eyes since I work outside and didn’t want to have makeup on my shirt from wiping off sweat!

    I’d say my biking and non-biking friends are roughly the same in terms of beauty routines, but I don’t really hang out with very make-up-y people in general…

  21. Shawn says:

    I do my eyes and brows at home, and hit the restroom as soon as I shed my layers when I walk into work. I think I spend all of five minutes de-helmetizing (yes, it’s a word) my hair and applying powder foundation, blush, and gloss. i do think my routine has become way more streamlined since I started bike commuting, and I love it.
    The first (and last time) I wore lip gloss on my commute a passing truck kicked major road dust my way. The “road glitter” on my kisser was not the effect I was going for. Lesson learned.

  22. Megan B says:

    I read John’s article earlier this week in New City, and it got me thinking that I don’t fit the mold of most of the female bikers he happens to be friends with. It’s not a good or bad thing – it just is.

    I commute 9 miles each way to work and wear make-up. I apply foundation, concealer, and water-proof mascara at home – my eyes water A LOT when I bike in the morning, especially when its under 65 degrees. Then at work I freshen up with a moist towelett and apply powder, blush and eye shadow. Unless someone sees me walk into the office in biking attire, they would have no idea whether I biked or took public transit based on my outfit/make-up that day. I like it that way. It does help that I am cold natured and don’t sweat as much as many people.

    As more and more people take of biking in the Chicago/US, I think more women will make it fit into their normal routine, whatever that may be, just like some of the ladies in Europe who’ve posted here mention they do.

  23. I’m the Texan roommate mentioned in John’s article and love the comments! This is the response that I left on Facebook “Whether it’s a dab of lip gloss, hiding the aftereffects of a late night with a touch of concealer, or to even out skin tone with Pür Minerals pressed powder foundation (the type that I showed John), it’s still makeup and I think most women wear some. Maybe not always, like around the house or running to the liquor store at the corner (that’s what big sunglasses are for), but when going to work, social events, or on dates…”

    My lifestyle is quite active and I do wear makeup 99.9% of the time when not at home. Years ago, I used to bike commute and would close my office door for a few minutes each morning and apply makeup once the sweating stopped. Makeup has come so far since then. Now, with products like Pür Minerals 4-in-1 pressed foundation and Lancome’s powder eyebrow pencil (both discovered with the assistance of super helpful associates at Ulta), makeup stays looking natural and doesn’t clump or slide off from sweating or hours of wear. Along with blush on cheeks and very lightly at the jawline, mascara, glossy lip balm, and a tiny bit of foiled eyeshadow (applied wet), it takes me about 10-15 minutes to do my makeup, maybe 10-20 more if glamming it up with liquid eyeliner or something extra. Although there are a few variations when it comes to preferred products, which should be expected considering we don’t all have the same features and skin type, I think this is pretty much the norm.

    As for the comment in the article about armpit hair- Ash, I’m not concerned with anyone’s body hair grooming except for mine and my significant other’s. ;)

    • Thank you for sharing your tips! I love mineral foundation but always was afraid to wear it while biking because I heard it got gross if you were sweaty. But it sounds like Pür is good? I use Bare Minerals but am totally up for switching.

      • It’s my pleasure to share. :)

        Pür is awesome! I actually switched from Bare Minerals because of under eye coverage and clumping around fine lines.

  24. masami k-m says:

    I always bike in makeup! Primer, tinted moisturizer, foundation, concealer, brows, blush.

    As an aside I would love to see tutorials for long hair that work under a bike helmet.

    • Hi Masami! Not sure where you live, but Po Campo is doing a Bike Friendly Braid Bar in NYC on May 17 (with Eleanor’s NYC) and at Chicago’s Bike to Work Rally on June 14. This would be great starter tutorial with videos to follow!

  25. Payton Chung says:

    Just to even out the gender balance here, I put in about as much effort as Lisa does: daily sunscreen, year round, which has the nasty habit of stinging my eyes when I’m sweating.* I also usually use some hair product, so that it looks more touseled and less helmet-ed.

    And yes, matte foundation is something I have on hand for those rare occasions under stage/camera lights.

    * I’d guess that sweat is a bigger problem for American urban riders than in, say, France or Denmark or Quebec or Japan, where city biking looks just effortless. After all, we have longer distances to go amidst faster traffic, with more stop lights & stop signs. It’s also more humid, especially here in the southeast! Although maybe I should ask some Japanese salarymen for their “biking in a dark suit in summer” advice.

  26. Dottie, thank you so much for starting this dialogue! Somehow I got to my mid-thirties without wearing much make-up but I’m just starting to get into it now and I loved reading these tips from your readers. I agree with what others have said that make-up has really come a long way and is a lot more versatile and compatible with active lifestyles.

    For my part, I’ve always loved Action Wipes for freshening up and have fallen in love with Tarte’s BB tinted primer for just everyday. It feels super light, has SPF 30 and does a nice job of evening-out my skin tone. And I can sweat in it!

  27. Simply Bike says:

    I wear eye make up every day. I don’t feel like myself without it. Unless I’m home all day and no one will see me or I’m going for a run and plan on showering and getting ready later, I wake up and usually put on eyeliner, shadow, and mascara. That’s all I wear, no lipstick, foundation, blush, etc etc. But this has been my routine for years and it’s what make me “me.”

    That didn’t change when I started cycling. The only thing I feel like I have to “compromise” when cycling is my hairstyle. I’d like to wear more updo’s but I find them difficult to fit under a helmet and I don’t like having to do my chair/change things up once I get some place. I just want to do it in the morning and be done for the day. So cycling (and wearing a helmet – which I know is a contested choice and a highly personal one) forces me to change my hair routine and not always sport the hairstyles I’d like.

    It’s a compromise I can live with. Especially given the benefits in exchange :)

    As for how high/low maintanance I am – I definitely like to look put together and stylish but I am always on the look out for the quickest routine with maximum results. I only wash my hair every 3 or so days and I could never spend a whole hour getting ready each morning. This is especially true now that I have a toddler who’s up at 6 am and ready to go!

    • LGRAB says:

      Interesting to hear about others’ routines. I always need to have something on my lips – at least gloss or tinted balm – and I often go without any eye make up at all.

      I can imagine that having a toddler makes efficiency MUCH more of a priority. I already rush quite a bit in the morning out of stress as my cats meow at me pitifully for breakfast. :)

  28. margyartgrrl says:

    TIP: Eyelash tint and eyelash curlers. No mascara ever.

  29. Nun Ya says:

    Bike commuters in Texas sure don’t shower often.

  30. Kate Mundie says:

    I wear a lot of makeup for work. I keep my kit at work and get there a 1/2 hour early so I can get made up. I also do my hair at work. I do put on a lot of moisturizer and sunblock because biking into the wind and sun day after day can dry out and damage your face.

  31. Olivia says:

    I use foundation, eyeliner, mascara, primer, eyeshadow, blush, and bronzer. Currently I only commute about 2-3 miles one way though! I am lucky because my area doesn’t have too high of humidity, but I am considering getting a makeup setting spray just in case!
    The one thing that goes is the hair! Mine is bob length, and I pull it up :)

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