How To Sweat-Proof Your Makeup This Summer

Summer is truly the worst. I loathe sweating and chafing, and I find wearing sunscreen only slightly more bearable than wearing hats. Of course, I love wearing makeup - but my oily skin makes its own makeup remover all day long, and it works overtime in hot weather.

Given enough time, sebum will melt makeup all on its own, and throwing sweat into the mix only makes its job easier. Keeping makeup from melting off your face in the summer is a truly Sisyphean task, and after several years of trial and error, I've finally figured out what actually works. Some of these tricks boil down to ingredients and some are all technique, but I think that everyone - especially my fellow grease monsters - will find at least one of these suggestions immensely useful.

Film Formers Are Your Friends

Acrylates/Octylacrylamide Copolymer is the special sauce here.

Choosing cosmetics with high proportions of film-forming agents is extra important in the summertime. Film formers are a specific sub-category of polymers; their extended, chain-like molecular structures encourage the formation of flexible films across hair, skin, and nails. Any ingredient that contains the words "polymer" or "vinyl" is a film-forming agent (here's an exhaustive list of dimethicone copolymers), as are these:

Nylon-12, dimethicone copolymers and various siloxanes create soft, flexible films, making them a key ingredient in liquid-y, spreadable cosmetics like foundation and concealer. Acrylate and acrylamide polymers are quite a bit stronger, comprising the bulk of bulletproof formulations like eyeshadow primers and fixing sprays. Speaking of which...

Start - And Finish - With A Fixing Spray

My well-loved bottle of Mehron Barrier Spray.

If you only have room in your routine for one hot-weather makeup trick, make it this one. A proper fixing spray will change your life, especially if you use it before and after applying makeup. Spritzing your face post-sunscreen creates an even surface for makeup application; the final spritz seals everything in place, like a beautiful sandwich.

There's a difference between setting sprays - which are everywhere these days - and fixing sprays. Setting sprays (MAC Fix Plus is the archetype) are water-based and full of humectants like glycerin; they melt layers of powder together, usually smell delicious, and make your skin look awfully nice. Unlike fixing sprays, though, they don't contain strong film formers, so setting sprays don't do shit for longevity. Oily-skinned people should skip the expensive setting sprays sold at Sephora and head straight for theatre makeup brands, whose fixing sprays are both potent and reasonably-priced.

I've used Mehron Barrier Spray for years, but anything that contains specially denatured (SD) alcohol and some flavour of acrylate/acrylamide polymers does the trick.

Some people get really worked up about alcohol in cosmetics, but the dose makes the poison. Fixing sprays are applied sparingly over wide areas, and the alcohol evaporates off almost instantly. A few spritzes will not damage your skin, and oily complexions need the improved film former solubility provided by alcohol-based formulas.

Minimise Your Base

The only surefire way to keep your foundation from melting in the heat is to not wear any, but that's not always an option. I've battled pretty gnarly inflammatory acne for nearly a decade, and there were long stretches of time when I sure as hell didn't feel comfortable going out in public bare-faced.

Applying thick, pigment-dense formulations in a targeted manner is the best way to cover anything you don't like about your skin — and the less you use, the better, especially when it's hot outside. I use a heavy-duty concealer like MAC Pro Longwear (my shade is NC20), Kevyn Aucoin Sensual Skin Enhancer (Sx03), or Make Up For Ever Full Cover (5 or 6).

Drugstore brands do fabulous under-eye concealers, but their thick, camouflage-style concealers fall short in formula, shade range, or both. (Pro tip: you can order a five-dollar sample tub of Sensual Skin Enhancer from Camera Ready Cosmetics. I've had mine, pictured below, since October 2015.)

My favourite hardcore concealers, swatched top to bottom: MAC Pro Longwear in NC20, Make Up For Ever Full Cover in 5, and Kevyn Aucoin Sensual Skin Enhancer in Sx03.

As far as technique goes, Lisa Eldridge has excellent tutorials on base makeup for acne, rosacea, and vitiligo, and Emily Noel's in-depth video on melasma coverage is great - but anyone who needs or wants to wear foundation can learn something from these tutorials.

Use The Right Tools

When it comes to oil control, the formula of your powder matters far less than the tool you use to apply it. Brushes, even very dense ones, don't lay down enough powder to effectively set makeup on oily skin. Old-school velour puffs and sponges, on the other hand, leave behind a continuous layer of powder wherever they land.

Pressing powder in with a puff keeps my face matte much longer than dusting it on with a brush, which means that my makeup lasts longer, too. I use Make Up For Ever Super Matte loose powder, but any formula that's starch- or talc-based works for oil control; Innisfree No Sebum mineral powder is especially good.

Beware of Waterproof Eye Makeup

Waterproof formulas dissolve in oil, not water; they will survive an ugly cry, but oily eyelids eat 'em alive. A good eyeshadow primer - which is just concentrated film former paste - extends wear time, but apart from that, people with very oily skin should skip waterproof eye makeup altogether.

I truly loathe waterproof mascara, which I only buy if I'm attending a wedding that's definitely gonna make me cry. On a day-to-day basis, I wear "regular" formulas like Cover Girl LashBlast — which has inexplicably survived hours and hours of summertime pickup soccer — and Benefit Roller Lash. Tubing mascara is popular among people who live in super humid climates, but I haven't found one I like more than my standby formulas. Everyone likes different things in a mascara, so experiment until you find your favourite.

Eyeliner and eyeshadow get messy fast on oily skin; part of the reason I wear so little eye makeup is because my eyelids obliterate it within a few hours. Layering products does help somewhat: my go-to order of operations is NARS Pro Prime (I also like Milani's eyeshadow primer) followed by a smudged-out gel pencil, topped with powder eyeshadow.

I can get about six hours out of this combination before it creases noticeably, but it's kind of a pain, so I save eye makeup for special, indoor, occasions — if I'm going to be outside in hot weather, I put on sunglasses and call it a day.

Carry Blotting Papers

Cosmetic companies that claim all-day oil control tell nothing but lies. If your skin is oily, some amount of shine is going to happen. That's ok - God gave us blotting papers for precisely this reason. Keep a stash of rice paper, porous polypropylene sheets, or good ol' toilet seat covers in your purse, wallet, or pocket for mid-day shine control.


It's unrealistic to expect a full face of makeup to emerge unscathed from a day of ninety-degree weather; entropy makes fools of us all in the end. With the right techniques, though, you can at least expect your makeup to survive all those upcoming outdoor weddings and graduations - just don't forget your sunscreen.


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