You apply make-up in the morning and by midday it’s gone. Game over. Stylist investigates the vanishing act.
When Stylist’s fashion director, Arabella, mentioned mid-meeting that she was sick of applying her make-up in the morning only for it to mysteriously disappear by lunchtime, a ripple effect ensued. A chorus of “Mine too”, “Where does it go?”, “It’s as if my face is eating my make-up” and “How do we make it stop?” left the beauty department embarrassed about our lack of an explanation. The problem spreads wider than Stylist HQ of course, and 43% of British women list products that don’t last as their number one make-up frustration. Despite all the primers, powders and a back catalogue of ‘long-lasting’ formulas, it seems there’s no stopping that beautiful base you crafted pre-porridge slowly vanishing.
However, with promises of eight-hour, 16-hour and even 24-hour coverage (and science to prove it – Estée Lauder tests its formulas on women to measure how long they stay on the skin), evidence suggests that the problem isn’t our make-up products, it’s the state of our skin before we apply them that’s triggering this phenomenon. But that still doesn’t explain where our make-up is going and why? Are our pores hungry to get their fill? Are our complexions so devoid of moisture they will suck up anything, including make-up pigments? Or is it that our skin is so oily everything we apply just slips off?
What’s causing my make-up to slide off?
Sadly, there isn’t one sole escape route for your make-up, which is why it’s even harder to keep it in place. “Oiliness is one of the biggest factors in make-up coming off as foundation is less likely to adhere as well,” explains Dr Emma Wedgeworth, consultant dermatologist for the British Skin Foundation. “Every day we lose millions of skin cells without noticing and because make-up sits on the surface, it also sheds. However, with oily skin, cell turnover is often disrupted and more skin cells are produced than normal so more of those cells will be lost.” And that means your carefully applied make-up will be lost with them.
The idea of your face falling off and taking your make-up with it wasn’t the answer we expected. It’s marginally better than the idea of make-up infiltrating your insides though. Except that happens as well. “Pores aren’t muscles and they can’t actively ‘suck’ ingredients in, but that’s not to say some of the formula might not be absorbed – it depends on the size of the molecules and whether they’re small enough to cross the skin barrier,” says Wedgeworth. Before you start panicking that there are globules of foundation clogging up your veins, Wedgeworth says that if any were to get into your blood stream the amount would be negligible and there is no evidence to suggest make-up is harmful. The concept of your make-up evaporating isn’t an exaggeration either.
“Sweating throughout the day allows the natural oils of your skin to come through your pores to the surface. The sweat then evaporates, taking the particles of make-up with it,” explains award-winning make-up artist Lan Nguyen-Grealis. Touching your face and using your phone are other factors which can cause your make-up to fade faster, as it gets worn down by fingertips, the glare of screens and humidity.
How do I prevent dry patches in my make-up?
Even if you haven’t got oily skin, you can’t escape the curse of the make-up munchies. Dehydrated or dry complexions searching for moisture may become patchy and uneven as time passes, owing to the skin recognising your foundation as a hydrator and causing it to migrate to the arid areas of your face. This is where preparation becomes paramount. Taking the lead to ensure the longevity of your make-up by getting your skin to behave before you reach for your foundation is entirely logical. “Balancing the water and oil in the skin enhances the performance of make-up by preventing oxidisation and makes products wear and look better for longer,” explains Jill Tomandl, vice president for product development at Smashbox.
Experts advise using cleansers, serums and moisturisers that suit your skin type. Those with oily skin should incorporate a toner to minimise excess oils and help prevent sebum seeping through pores throughout the day. It’s also worth bearing in mind that skin is often oilier in the run up to your period due to fluctuating hormone levels, so if you’ve been finding that one week your make-up appears perfect and the next week it’s gone (despite using the same products) we might just have cracked the code for you. Leaving a good amount of time between each step will help too – ideally around 10 minutes between skincare and make-up applications. This gives products enough time to absorb properly and prevents any surface residue thwarting the staying powers of your base.
It’s also a must if you’re using cosmeceutical brands that have high levels of active ingredients. “They use ingredients that soften the skin and make it more penetrable,” says clinical facialist Kate Kerr. “They also often include delivery systems that send active ingredients into the depths of the skin and it’s important that make-up ingredients aren’t transported to these layers – a 10-minute window will prevent this.”
Could primers help to keep my make-up in place?
Besides your skincare products, support acts like primers, setting sprays and blotting papers are a wise investment. “Primer is essential as it locks moisture into your skin to help prevent make-up disappearing when your pores start to perspire, while setting sprays act like a sealant and cement powders into place,” says Nguyen-Grealis. Recent statistics show that primers are becoming non-negotiable in our routines, with almost a quarter of women purchasing one last year.
The thing is, brands now have multiple primers to choose from, and it’s becoming a minefield to know which is right for you. Amy Conway, senior pro artist at Bobbi Brown, simplifies them into two main categories: “There are water and silicone-based primers and both contain polymers that smooth and adhere make-up to the skin. I love water-based primers that are hydrating and packed with glycerin to give a natural look. Silicone-based primers have the benefit of being smoother but with the downside of causing make-up to look heavier because of the thicker formula.”
As for that moment when you notice that your make-up is slipping away (read: a face that is void of colour and spots that are starting to get shouty and red), blotting papers are your rescue route and are far better than reapplication. By packing more foundation and blusher on, you’re not only spreading bacteria, you’re also teasing your skin into producing more oil and restarting the vicious cycle of the vanishing act.
Is long-wear make-up really worth it?
If using the right skincare and prep products is all it takes, is long-wear make-up really worth it? According to The NPD Group, sales of long-wear foundations and bronzers are declining. While there’s no definitive reason for this, there is a perception that long-wear means heavy and cakey, which doesn’t fit with the demand for a lightweight, glowy aesthetic. Even pioneers in durable products like Estée Lauder (whose Double Wear Stay-in-Place foundation is the UK’s number one base) admit that not all consumers want or even need long-wear. “It’s important to understand your skin type in order to select the right fit. If you choose oil-enriched formulas then you have to accept that naturally they won’t be as long-lasting,” explains Marianne Russo, executive director of product development at Estée Lauder.
You don’t need every product to be everlasting, either. “For long-wearing results, cream blushes can be best as they blend with your base to give an all-day glow. If your base has been well prepped and set, you can use any products on top and it will still last,” says Conway. For years the prime suspect in the case of disappearing make-up.
Setting spray has been the products themselves, but it seems the saboteur is actually our skincare. Handing over our findings to Arabella, along with a new primer, setting spray and some blotters, is it the lifeline she needed to evade the evaporation? “I’m fairly low maintenance with my beauty regime so these extra steps seemed quite time consuming, but they worked!” she says. “Will I be getting up 10 minutes earlier in the name of perfect-looking skin? It’s a no-brainer.”
How to Avoid Make-Up Meltdown
Dr Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Pore Perfecting Cleansing Gel
AHAs lift away sebum and flush out pores for a balanced beginning to your routine.
Garnier Organic Pure Thyme Perfecting Toner
Thyme, salicylic acid and barley stem water soak up any remaining oils that could cause your make-up to slip.
A’kin Shine-Free Facial Moisturiser
Containing bamboo powder that absorbs the skin’s excess oils, this hydrates your face without adding shine.
Smashbox Photo Finish Primer
Adhesive technology ensures pigments stick to skin like Pritt Stick while still allowing it to breathe.
Normal to Dry
Dr Roebuck’s Noosa Nourishing Crème Cleanser
The oat leaf, arnica and calendula in this cleanser calm any areas of sensitivity, leaving skin supple and soft.
Vichy Minéral 89 Hyaluronic Acid Serum Booster
For skin that’s full of moisture, smooth this on before make-up to stop it looking patchy and uneven.
Uriage Eau Thermale Light Water Cream
Protecting from pollutants, UVA and UVB rays, this is a does-it-all cream that absorbs quickly.
Make Beauty Moonlight Moisturizing Primer
Glycerin keeps skin hydrated and make-up in place while marine algae protects against free radicals.
All Skin Types
Morphe Continuous Setting Mist
The most searched for setting spray on cultbeauty.co.uk, use this on top of, or in between make-up steps.
Blotter Mai Couture Vitamin C+E Blotting Paper
Sweat and shine will disappear but make-up won’t. These are great for dabbing under the eyes too.