I don’t sweat what I look like at the gym because I sweat so much anyway. My propensity toward perspiring—and my oily skin’s tendency to eat up makeup five seconds after I put it on—means I’ve never considered wearing makeup to the gym. But for the past two months I’ve run sprints, done pushups, wobbled on a surfboard, and taken a 90-minute yoga boot camp in a 100-degree room—all with a full face of makeup. I tried more than 100 products in all—primer, foundation, eyeliner, shadow, mascara, and lipstick.
The works, you might say, so I could test which “melt-free” makeup works—because if a product stays on through my workout, chances are it won’t drip or smudge on you during Washington’s heat and humidity. (Or, of course, your own workout.)
Here’s what I found: Unlike most foundation, this stuff does what it says.
I tried cat’s eyes and smoky eyes and pretty much every makeup tip I’ve ever read, reasoning that if I’m going to be a hot mess—and if it’s all going to slide off anyway—I might as well revel in the ridiculousness. But apart from the comedy of sporting cat’s eyes at an 8 am spin class, my makeup stayed where I put it.
The expensive products didn’t necessarily work better than the cheap ones, but they sometimes felt better. Most of the primers and foundations made me feel as if I were wearing a facial mask made of papier mâché—and within minutes my towel was wearing more foundation than I was. Stila Smudge Stick Waterproof Eyeliner made my eyes feel on the verge of tears. Ditto Neat 3B Face Saver Gel, a facial “antiperspirant” to which I lost a contact lens after this stuff ended up in my eyes when I got sweaty. (So no, it didn’t work.)
Some of My Favorite Melt-Free Products
1. Clé de Peau Beauté Concealer
I’m not one to spend $70 on concealer I’m pretty sure is overhyped. I tried this one almost by accident, hitting the makeup counter when I was out shopping, then catching a cardio sculpt class. It made my skin look like a better, airbrushed version of itself. To avoid a cakey finish, use your finger to apply it over moisturizer, then set with powder. $70, barneys.com.
2. Giorgio Armani Lasting Silk UV Foundation
According to the company, this is designed to handle “extreme” conditions such as hot camera lights. It was the only one I tried that stuck by me—and without feeling like glue. I don’t plan on ever wearing foundation at the gym again, but I’ll be trying this on a hot summer day when I need the coverage. $59, nordstrom.com.
3. Make Up for Ever HD Microfinish Powder
This loose, fine-milled translucent powder gave my skin a lovely, natural finish—once I figured out how to use it. Makeup artist’s tip: Pour a tiny amount into the cap and work your brush into it. If you can see gobs on the brush, you’re using too much. $32, sephora.com.
4. Make Up for Ever Aqua Cream
I tried this eye shadow—some shades of which double as cheek and lip color—because it’s the pick of the Aqualillies, the glamorous synchronized swimmers who are LA’s pool-party-of-the-moment entertainment (Glee, Justin Timberlake’s surprise party). I didn’t care for it as a cheek and lip color, but it looked and felt gorgeous as a shadow. As for its staying power, they’re not kidding about the brand name—and I liked it so much I might use it, um, forever. $23, sephora.com.
5. Urban Decay 24/7 Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Not the easiest to apply—the brush takes practice to control, and I only discovered thanks to Google that you need to shake it first. My reward: some of the richest, most playful colors I’ve seen, including shimmering golds, purples, and greens. There are also the more office-appropriate black and navy. $19, sephora.com.
6. Stila Long Wear Liquid Lip Color
Most of the 14- and 16-hour lipstick claims didn’t pan out—my gym towel fast looked like the pillowcase of a 12-year-old girl practicing kissing. Stila’s lip color makes no crazy promises, yet it appears able to outlast any marathon. One note: The color looks glossy when you apply it but dries matte. $22, sephora.com.
7. Blinc Mascara
Every makeup artist in the world seems to swear by Maybelline mascara for a “budget beauty buy.” But it does not work for me. Blinc does because it surrounds lashes in tiny individual tubes that don’t budge. (You’ll see the little tubes as they come off, but only when you apply remover.) $26, sephora.com.
And finally: How to take off makeup that no amount of sweat will?
I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit I’ve found a way to remove it in my kitchen. Nothing, including my beloved Shu Uemura cleansing oil, worked as well as plain coconut oil.
Courtney Rubin, a former Washingtonian senior writer who now lives in New York, writes for the New York Times, Self, O, and other publications. You can follow her on Twitter at @courtneybrubin.
This article appears in the July 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.