Makeup For Biking to Work

makeup for biking to workWhich makeup is best for a biking commute, or another commute where you expect sweat and possibly wind? Reader K wonders…

Being lucky enough to live only four miles from my office, I’m wanting to start taking a bike to and from work every day for personal fitness, sustainability, and savings on gas and vehicle wear-and-tear. The difficulty is with wardrobe and makeup. Specifically, making sure I don’t look like a war zone every day. I have a feeling this is an issue for women in very urban environments as well, where walking and subway commutes can be the transportation method of choice. Since I’m in Texas heat is the biggest issue, but I’d also be interested in any ideas for dealing with the cold, wind, and other factors. What are some ideas for making sure I don’t look like a hot mess at work after biking in?

Great question. Biking to work (or walking!) are solid ways to sneak more exercise into a busy life — I actually really miss the time I used to spend walking to and from work. We’ve talked about the best bags for commuting, how to cool down quickly after a hot commute, and how to keep your regular bra sweat-free.  We’ve had guest posters share their love of wedges for walk-to-work heels, and I’ve shared my own trick — getting a pair of comfortable/stable “commuting shoes” that were the same height as my regular pumps (so I didn’t have to hem my pants differently), but maybe a bit uglier than what I’d otherwise wear around the office; I’ve also talked about how I’ve logged way too many miles in Reef/Teva flipflops with arch support (not recommended).  But we haven’t talked about which makeup is best for a possibly sweaty/windswept commute.

I think reader K has two choices: go for heavy duty makeup intended to last forever, or delay the majority of her makeup application until she gets to the office.  Elle actually had a whole article on waterproof makeup designed to go the distance — a taste:

I have just hiked eight hours, mostly uphill, through mud up to my shins. Along the way, I swam under a 300-foot waterfall that pounded my face so hard it stung. …  I have perspired copiously and nearly wept more than once. My waterproof makeup , however, is immaculate.

The article is from 2011, though, so some of the product reccs may be out of date.  If this were my commute and makeup, then I would probably focus on doing my eye makeup at home, using waterproof/longwearing products, then do a quick swipe of my forehead, cheeks, nose, and chin once I got to the office with a product like Basis So Refreshing Facial Cleansing Cloths and apply whatever concealer/foundation/blush I needed.  Products that I’ve used and can recommend:

Readers, how do you do your makeup differently if you bike or walk to work?  Which are your favorite long-wearing and waterproof products?

(Pictured: Shiny and Bike, originally uploaded to Flickr by add1sun.)


  1. hoola hoopa :

    I will be reading comments with interest. I’d also like to start biking a similar distance commute, but I am hesitant after bike commuting years ago and never figuring out how to mesh bike commuting and looking professional. My solution then was to pack my clothing and makeup, shower at work, and completely dress and style at work. I changed again for the ride home. It was inconvenient to say the least, and I don’t have time to do it anymore.

    Similar to makeup – what do bike commuters do with their hair? Any tricks to not have a sweaty, frizzy, or helmet-flattened mess by the time you arrive?

    • For hair – I have curly and frizz-prone hair. It helps to tie a silk or smooth polyester scarf over your hair, under your helmet. It’ll still be a bit flat but a lot less frizzy.

      For sweating generally – Bike more slowly (when I biked to grad school I was often running late -> more sweat), carry your belongings in a basket or rack instead of in a backpack/messenger bag, any direct contact with your body draws sweat stains.

      For eye makeup in cooler/cold weather – Big sunglasses (wraparound style; don’t have to be the athletic kind) will keep the tears from streaming.

      Clothing in cooler/cold weather – Wear a wind-resistant jacket but you don’t need to bundle up as much as you would if you were walking, you’ll just get sweatier. Wind-resistant mittens are a must.

    • Here’s what works for me (3 miles each way, about 7 months of the year). I think there will always be a tradeoff between quick change at work and looking professional. To me, it makes more sense to look a little less “perfect” for the convenience.

      What I do:
      -Keep a few workhorse basics at the office (pants, dresses) and bring in new shirts daily- I avoid button downs when I bike in.
      -Toiletries drawer at the office with deodarant, makeup, mirror and hair brush and product
      -Wearing biking clothes and changing at the office (I usually get in about 15 minutes before others for this, but lots of people bike here so there’s no stigma)
      -Pulling my hair into a ponytail, then oomphing the roots with product when I get to work
      -I rarely wear makeup, but if I do, I put it on at work
      -Diaper wipes/sport wipes in the summer (diaper wipes are cheaper and I notice no difference between the two)
      -In the winter, lots of layers so I can remove some on the bike ride in if I get too hot (cuts down on sweat)
      -Biking at a comfortable pace – not as much of a workout, but that’s balanced by the fact that I do it almost every day.
      -Wearing biking clothes that aren’t embarassing if I meet a VIP in the elevator on my into/out of the building

      It really does improve the start and end to my day, so if it’s an option for you, I highly recommend it. I worked long hours on a project last year, and biking home late at night was such a good way to unwind before going to sleep (depends on your city of course – mine is relatively safe).

      • And of course, putting all your stuff in a pannier. If I carry any kind of bag on my back I get sweaty no matter what!

  2. I never figured out how to do it without bringing an extra set of clothes. Because sweaty Betty.

  3. A good primer

  4. TO Lawyer :

    I would apply your makeup at the office after biking in but then I prefer lighter make-up and foundation – my skin tends to react to anything too heavy.

    I would also be hesitant with biking on the way in, especially if you have meetings or something and are a sweaty person but that could just be me. I can barely stand it 5 minutes after my workout if I haven’t showered so I wouldn’t really be able to deal with a full day, especially if it was really hot in the morning.

  5. I live on the West Coast (read: no humidity). I also live exactly 4 miles from work. I have a very nice road bike, and have only used it when my car is in the shop; it’s a pretty dangerous commute–people have been killed on the route due to inattentive drivers.

    That said, I did not find a way to make biking to work, freasible. Bike helmet + sweaty body = flat hair/needed a shower. So this is how I handled it.

    1) Drive to work on Sunday and leave a week’s worth of outfits on hangers in my office, along with shampoo/conditioner/hair products/makeup (I don’t blow dry–I have curly hair)
    2) Take a shower once I got to work

    If you want to meander on your bike, or you’re in a city where there’s tons of stoplights, I could see your bike ride being more leisurely. However, 4 miles is a pretty substantial ride if you’re moving with other bikes/traffic, and if you’re going at even a decent clip (my ride was slightly hilly, with a huge downhill at the end), I don’t know how you could not be sweaty.

    My work offers showers, so this was the only thing I could get to work.

    This does not even mention the total creep out factor of having co-workers check me out in spandex. Yuck.

    • If you have a downhill it should cool down your self proclaimed hotness. Try it.

  6. Also any recs for carrying a laptop along with the extra set of clothes?

    • Ortlieb waterproof panniers

    • Amelia Pond :

      I’ll caveat this with the fact that I am a law student, but what I do on days when I need to wear a suit to school is that I’ll ride in shorts and a tank top and then stick my suit in a garment bag folded in half and put that and my laptop in my giant bike basket. After a month of toting all of my stuff to school on my back I finally got a basket and I will say the basket is heaven. Not only can you carry more stuff, but you get less sweaty/tired because you don’t have stuff strapped to your back.

  7. Diana Barry :

    I used to walk to work and go to the gym before work. My solution was to carry my work clothes in my bag and get to work before everyone else – then do my makeup there. Note – this doesn’t work if you are wearing jackets. My workplace was more casual than where I work now.

  8. Bike Commuter in Chicago :

    My bike commute is about four miles, and, once it gets warm, I always wash my face when I get to work, so I’d advise doing your make-up at work. Of course, I don’t use anything other than eyeliner and lipstick, so it’s practical for me. If you have a more involved make-up routine, that may not work. Same with my hair–it’s a very low maintenance style so I don’t have to worry about helmet-hair.

    There’s a bike blog with great advice about bike commuting in professional lawyer clothes: Let’s Go Ride a Bike,

    I bike exclusively in my regular clothes and shoes on all but the hottest days. On really hot days, I usually bike in a tank top and whatever skirt or pants I planned to wear at work and then change shirts. Fortunately, my office has a shower room for very hot days. but most of the time, I just leave off the hose and bike slowly. I don’t get any sweatier than I would walking to and from the bus and it’s more pleasant.

    • I did this in grad school and when I worked abroad and biked in pencil skirts just fine (just be sure you get a ladies’ bike with the low bar). With work slacks, I’d use a strap to keep the pants close to the leg (and not get damaged by the pedals).

      On this note, is anybody else considering signing up for NYC Citibikeshare???? I live about 1 mile from work and it’s relatively flat so I might just start biking to work. Bike up Lex/Madison/Park scares me though. Although, I did see NBC weatherguy bike up Madison after the morning show on his folding bike once.

    • I think I lost the last post. I took the NY bar and my dad paid for it b/c he wanted to make sure I passed. I do NOT know anything about waving in, so look into THAT b/c you are NOT right out of law school.

      Also, make sure you dry clean your clotheing when you come to NY b/c peeople do not like stinky clotheing on lawyers. Like I explained yesterday, the Manageing Partner got divorced, and his clotheing needed to be dry cleaned. FOOEY! No one told him and his clotheing stunk! Doubel Fooey! Once he was told, he now has clean clothes. YAY!

  9. I guess it depends on where your commute is. People use bikes in Europe just fine with their regular work clothes and without much special fuss. I see lots of cute men and women do the same in NYC now that we’re finally getting bike lanes so many places. No bike shorts or special shoes seem to be required. I am sure any commute will be made more difficult by extreme heat or cold and certainly some streets are better than others for bicyclists, but I think ultimately the key to a successful commute is to leave the mountain bike experience for another day and treat it as you would walking – take your time, don’t go too fast, and don’t forget to look both ways. Oh, and attaching a basket to the bike helps with your purse or anything else you need to carry.

    • I think one part of this is tempo and temperature. When I lived in Copenhagen, which is handily designed for biking, the chief purpose of people biking was transport – and not exercise. So we would just dress in our regular work clothes, not need anything fancy – and do it at a decent speed – ie. not racing.

      Baskets for transporting purses/etc. is also majorly helpful.

      My commute distance was around 4 miles.

      But I wasn’t doing it for exercise, and the climate in Copenhagen, even in summers, is no match for Texas.

      • I think that not thinking about it as “exercise” is key. When I first started bike commuting, I would always arrive sweaty and out of breath, but after a while I started making a concerted effort to bike at a pace that was essentially the aerobic equivalent of walking. I look much less messy when I arrive to work now.

        I also second the products mentioned above — the Bobbi Brown gel eyeliner and Blinc mascara have been my go-to products for years because they really don’t come off, even if I overdo it and get a little sweaty.

        • Elizabeth M :

          I think that not thinking about it as “exercise” is key. <—- this is really good advice.

          Biking for transportation is great and easy to do in ordinary clothes, as long as you go at a moderate pace, which is unfortunately hard to do in a place without good cycling infrastructure. Mapping your route carefully will help you find calmer streets, where you will feel less vulnerable traveling at a genteel pace.

  10. Jessica Glitter :

    I am definitely interested to read comments – I also live about 4 miles from my office (in Texas)…but this gulf coast humidity makes biking to work seem impossible!

  11. When my hair was longer, I would twist it into a bun and clip it in an octopus clip for my walk to work. I don’t know how well that would work with a bike helmet though. Living in the South, it’s super humid and the walk to work can even get a little…glowy so I make sure to have a fan at my desk and some face cleaning wipes at my desk so I can get the sweaty feeling off my neck.

  12. I used to bike the 8.5 miles to work about twice a week back when I clerked. I wore my cycling clothes and carried my work clothes in a backpack – usually choosing a dress that doesn’t really wrinkle. The office was business casual, leaning a bit more towards the casual side. There was a shower at the office; I didn’t always rinse off but the option was there. My makeup routine is pretty much just lipstick and mascara, and I’m not much of an accessorizer. Now I only live 5 miles from work but up a rather steep hill so haven’t tried biking yet.

  13. On a related note, any notes / bike recommendations for those of us who wear skirts? I’m moving in December and am hoping to avoid the cost / aggravation of the bus and gosh darnit, if the (fictional) PM of Denmark can do it, so can I?

    • Bike Commuter in Chicago :

      I ride a Linus Dutchie–it’s a step-through, so it’s good for skirts. The Linus is comfortable and nimble. Reasonably lightweight for a commuter (I have to carry it up and down a pedestrian underpass to get to work and into my basement at home at night), low maintenance, and I think attractive. I also have a Suede (stepthrough frame, the actual model is no longer made), which is a little less nimble, but pretty comfy.

      I borrowed a friend’s Civia Twin City Step-through. for about a month, just to see what it was like. It’s nice, light, agile, but I am happy with my Linus.

  14. bike commuter :

    I bike to work 3 miles in the summer. Summers are cool here so heat is generally not a factor. It’s always in that zone where it’s just too cold to just wear a t-shirt while biking but also slightly too warm to wear a jacket. I bring my clothes in a backpack and keep all my work shoes at the office. I try not to go too fast to cut down on the sweatiness. I spend about 5 minutes fanning the air under my arms in the ladies’ room after I get to work. No shower at my office so that would not be an option. I would have to join the gym down the street from my office if I needed a shower. I don’t wear makeup so that’s not an issue, but if I did I would put it on at work. My hair is easy too since I just put it in a ponytail and spritz water on it to cut down on the frizzies. I do get a mark on my forehead from the helmet but that goes away in about 1/2 an hour.

  15. Ride at a leisurely pace and don’t carry your things on your back if at all possible. I have panniers for my bike and it has cut down on the sweat considerably. Sweaty helmet head is another story, but it’s easy enough to manage.

  16. Mary Ann Singleton :

    I used to bike 12 miles each way to work and carried my work clothes rolled up in a shoe box in a backpack. That kept them from wrinkling. I showered and changed at the gym near work.

  17. I’m lucky enough to live in San Francisco where the weather is usually extremely pleasant for bike riding, but I have picked up some tricks in the ~ five years I’ve been riding to school and then work. (1) Don’t do any heavy makeup before your ride. I second the idea to just go in with a clean face, splash on some water when you arrive, and then add any makeup you want. I can also get away with tinted moisturizer + waterproof mascara for the ride, and then just doing a little blotting when I get in. (2) For me, wearing my hair in a braid with my bangs pinned back works great. I take out the braid when I get to work (extra body), and then wet down my bangs and quickly blow-dry with a tiny little hair dryer. When I was at school, I just wet them down to re-shape, quickly toweled them off, and let them air dry. But I realize this might not work with all hair. But please wear a helmet! (3) Paniers are great to cut down on sweat. (4) I bike in my normal clothes, except pencil skirts. With those, I just wear exercise pants in and then quickly change when I arrive. It’s a pretty good look – spandex and heels. (5) Invest in good bike lights if you’re going to do any riding at dusk or in the dark. Good luck and enjoy!!!

  18. I used to bike a long way to work (14 miles) but had to shower afterwards. I also used to bike one mile to work, but it was downhill and I would wear my full work outfit, including heels, and just cruise down to work (that was awesome, but I did get a little sweaty on the way home).

    I would think for 4 miles, depending on heels, you could wear your work clothes. But I would not put on makeup in advance. Just do moisturizer, then use a wipe at the office, and apply my makeup. Your hair will be a problem, because you should definitely be wearing helmet!!

  19. BikeCommuter :

    Long time lurker – but have done lots of bike commuting so thought I’d chime in.

    I have biked to work in my “normal” office clothes, and at the moment I use a road bike carrying clothes for the day and a laptop.

    If you’re going to bike in normal clothes, you want to minimise the sweat. I found choosing the right kind of bike helped with this (of course, you may already have a bike so this won’t help). I used a more traditional, slower step-through frame bike, and used a front basket or a pannier so I didn’t have a bag on my back causing me to sweat. I also just biked slower! I had to think a bit more carefully about what to wear (think A-line rather than pencil skirts, a lighter jacket that usual), but mostly I just wore my regular clothes. Make sure you’ve got mudguards (fenders?), otherwise you’ll end up a mess if it’s wet.

    On my road bike I carry all my things in a rucksack, including my laptop in a padded sleeve. I like to think my laptop gets less bashed up this way, but you could try a padded pannier bag.

  20. I used to bike to work in D.C. but stopped because it was too much trouble. What worked best for me was to wear gym chlothes for the ride and pack clothes to change into. I added a basket for the front of my bike to hold my bag because my back got too sweaty when wearing a backpack. I put on makeup and changed clothes in my office after cooling down.

  21. apply make-up when you get to the office. Even if you use waterproof make-up, winds, getting a bug in your eye, etc will cause that to look less fresh.
    I’ve also gotten in the habit of dyeing my eyelashes. Even when I forget to apply mascara after my commute, I’ll have some ‘paint on’.

    I bike every day, around 12 miles a day. In summer, I bike in sports clothing and change when I get to the office. When I have to go straight to a meeting, I make sure to wear clothes that are business-appropriate, but a little easier to move and sweat in. I’m a big fan of merino shirts (e.g Icebreaker), since they tend to smell less. If I’m wearing a blazer, I keep it in my pannier, so it doesn’t get smelly.
    Stretchy-cotton pants are also good. Just be aware that your pants tend to wear out faster, and get a little ‘shiny’ due to rub on the sadle.
    Skirts are not a problem, just pick A-line over pencil. In winter, I wear large gore-tex pants over my skirt (bonus in rainy weather) and/or wear thick fleece tights with boots.

  22. i love love love urban decay’s 24/7 eyeliner and shadow pencils. i haven’t tried the concealer so i can’t speak either way on it, but unfortunately the liquid eyeliner is kind of terrible from what i’ve found. i’m not a liquid liner expert by any means, but i found it difficult to apply, and it would run and get in my eyes and it was just bad news.

    what i can say is that when i put on UD primer potion, 24/7 liner and the shadow pencil, my bigger concern is actually getting it to come off when i want it to. i’ve never worn it while biking but i have in other sweaty situations and it doesn’t really budge.

  23. Amberwitch :

    I bike app. 10 miles to work each day, and i bring clothes and make-up each day – shoes are optional since i have a pair of flats and a pair of heeled shoes stashed in a locker (they take up a lot of room in a backpack).
    My experience is that anything more than 2 miles leave me sweaty, so i prefer to shower and change at my destination. Besides, biking wears out my nice clothes and shoes too fast. One of my favorite dresses has pale spots on the rear from rubbing against the saddle.

  24. Threadjack - Going to Conference in Chicago This Week :

    I’m an attorney in the Southeast attending a law conference in Chicago Wednesday through Friday. Looks like the highs will be in the low to mid-50s. What do you suggest to wear that doesn’t look to wintery but will keep me warm in the hotel meeting rooms and on the street? I like to wear skirts/dresses with a jacket but I’m wondering if I’ll look stupid if I wear tights this time of year.

    • Cornellian :

      I still see people in NYC wearing tights, and I think Chicago is 5 degrees colder this time of year, so I’d go for it. Maybe not huge thick cashmere ones, but otherwise you’re good.

    • Tights are everywhere in Chicago this time of year. April can be really cold (or really hot). It’s going to be no warmer than the mid 50s and you can expect a wind. Wear the tights–you will fit right in!

    • I’m a Chicagoan in tights today.

      • Threadjacker :

        Thanks, all! Off to the dry cleaners so I actually have something to wear….

  25. I bike 6 miles each way year round, in a non-humid climate but where I sometimes get snowed on. In the winter I generally just bike in my (business casual) work clothes and a wind-proof jacket. In the summer I usually bike in a cycling jersey and my regular pants. I second the comments on using panniers, since backpacks make you sweaty. (However, despite that being true, I’m usually lazy and use a backpack just because it’s so much easier to always use a backpack than to have to unpack my paniers for the 1 day a week I have to drive in (due to a cross-town appointment right after work)). For a humid climate, I think I would recommend biking in cycling clothes, and bringing some wipes to quickly wipe down, and do your makeup at work.
    I’ve found, though, that a little sweat is a minor detail compared to all the great things I get from biking. First off, my director saw me biking in 20 degree weather, and that somehow means I am now known as a woman of awesomeness. Second, there is a strong community of cyclists. I’ve gotten to know a lot of higher up folks at my workplace since they are fellow bike commuters. Third, it saves a lot of money! Lastly, I’m super fit and get to work happy and energized rather than grumpy from sitting in traffic. At 4 miles, I think you will very likely find that you get to work fast biking than driving and parking. That was the case for me when I lived 3.5 miles away from work.

    • saacnmama :

      Have you thought about the panniers that have a shoulder strap, so you can lift them off and carry them like a bag?

  26. Am I the only one not familiar with the term pannier? I consider myself at least somewhat bike savvy (I used to be in a cycling club and have done a century ride) but somehow I’ve never heard this. Guess that’s why I’ve always used a backpack!

    • saacnmama :

      I hope you’ve looked that up. You need to get some if you are commuting by bike! They are the “saddlebags” that hang on either side of a luggage rack over your wheel. Most common are racks on the back of a bike, but you can get them for the front as well.

  27. I either bike or walk to work every day in the SF bay area (mild climate). I occasionally get a little sweaty in the summer, but it’s usually not too bad- I live less than 3 miles from the office. I put make up on at home or the gym, but I in the summer I blog my face and then add a little mattifier when I get to work. No big deal. I bike or walk in my normal clothes, but with different shoes, and keep all my heels at work. When i get to work i change my shoes, drink a big glass of cold water to cool off, add some mattifier and I’m ready to go. Also, i ride at a pretty leisurely pace on purpose– and my hair is low maintenance, so a helmet for 20 minutes is no big deal.

  28. I have biked 23 miles daily for 14 years and next year my commute goes to 4 m one way. I live in Boston and bike year round. Make sure you get fenders, lights and a comfortable helmet. I find that waterproof pants are also essential for bad weather – dirt gets kicked up off the road easily and can stick to your pants if it is wet.
    I bike in work clothes in cool weather and wear shorts in the warm weather. I wear padded bike shorts with a pair of loose shorts over top, I don’t feel comfortable walking into work wearing only Spandex shorts. I wear waterproof mascara applied at home, anything else I apply at work. Work shoes live at work, I bike in sneakers or sandals.
    Pants will wear out in the seat faster if you bike in them so I don’t bike in my best pants; shoes will get grime and wear so I don’t typically bike in good shoes.

  29. I recommend Mrs. Rainbow’s face tutorial for long-lasting face makeup. I did this for my wedding and it lasted through dancing my ass off, although I have to admit I’m not a cyclist.

  30. This Seattle-based designer makes professional looking bike clothing for women:

  31. saacnmama :

    Just chiming in to say that I’m a biker for transportation too. Everybody’s already given the advice I’d give–you aren’t racing, use panniers, clip your pants so they don’t get in the chain. A friend used to joke that I rode at a “professorial pace”. I was usually not sweaty when I arrived on campus, and just used a wet wipe if necessary. I’ve commuted by bike lots of places, and generally found that I arrived at my destination in about the same amount of time as if I’d driven, but I didn’t have to search for a parking space and my time was not as dependent on traffic.

  32. I leave most of my suits at work in my office. Carry lunches, etc, in a pannier on the rear bike rack. We have showers here but I only use them on days I ride extra in the AM as a workout. Change clothes, or at least bottoms, at work.

    If you don’t have showers or a bathroom you can use to wash your face and wipe off sweat: Try Ponds wet cleansing wipes – about 10-15 minutes after you get to work (and have stopped sweating), use one to wipe off and clean your face (I keep these in my office for late nights too – so nice to feel clean!). Then put on the makeup. Aside from feeling sweatier by riding in with makeup already on, you’re more likely to breakout if you sweat in your makeup (as least I am).

    Baby wipes are also your friends if you can’t shower. And baby powder – but be careful not to get white powder on your clothes!

    As for hair, eh, it’s only hair.

  33. I really like bb cream with spf, waterproof Great Lash mascara, and bright lipstick

  34. I wish I had seen this blog earlier! I just made a video on commute make for AFTER the bike ride…
    Hope it helps!

  35. I didn’t read through all the comments, so apologies if this has already been suggested, but for my 10 mile ride into work I freeze a washcloth (in a ziploc bag) the night before and then toss it in my bag before I leave.. It’s still quite cold when I arrive at the office, and does wonders for cooling me down.

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