Style & Beauty

Is 24-Hour-Wear Makeup Legit? And Is It Good For Your Skin?

Cosmetic marketers are catering to a Gen Z audience that's apparently too busy to wash their faces at night.

Smartphones and social media have turned the concept of work-life balance into something more like a work-life continuum over the past decade, and judging from the beauty industry’s newfound obsession with 24-hour-wear makeup, cosmetics companies have clearly taken note.

As if to keep pace with a consumer who never stops working, these foundations, lipsticks and eye makeups promise frictionless, cruise-controlled beauty that goes way beyond long wear. The latest standard: a full 24 hours of sweat-, humidity- and transfer-resistant coverage.

Makeup companies are hustling to adopt the daring “24-hour” verbiage, going so far as to retrofit existing products to fit into the category: Makeup For Ever’s Ultra HD Foundation and MAC’s Studio Fix Fluid now claim 24-hour wear time, as does Dior’s family of Forever foundations. Thus, it’s difficult not to wonder: Is this new crop of 24-hour foundations just a marketing ploy? Or is there something new and wonderful at play in these products that sets them apart?

For Wende Zomnir, founding partner of Urban Decay, the 24-hour foundation phenomenon comes down to new technology meeting an old market demand: long-wearing makeup that looks and feels good. It’s code the trailblazing brand has been diligently trying to crack since 2006, when it debuted its 24/7 lip pencils.

“We have this new technology that allows for a lightweight, lovely, luminous skin that’s got a long-wear aspect, and that’s just never really been able to happen before,” Zomnir told HuffPost. Earlier this summer, Urban Decay launched its Stay Naked foundation, which offers up to 24 hours of wear, thanks to a proprietary technology. But trade secrets aside, 24-hour foundations all share some key ingredients.

“Generally, products making 24-hour wear claims contain silicone polymers, siloxanes and/or film-forming agents that produce a long-wearing finish resistant to rubbing off, fading or breaking down in the presence of sweat or sebum,” said Bryan Barron, director of skin care research at Paula’s Choice. In other words, it’s not a product you’d want to choose if you’re looking for all-natural cosmetics. And it’s important to note that 24-hour cosmetics need not meet any standard before they can be marketed as such. “That doesn’t mean the claim is bogus; rather, it means consumers should ask the brand what testing they did to support the claim,” Barron said.

Urban Decay contracts with a third-party lab that recruits test subjects and trials the product with pre- and post-24-hour pictures, Zomnir said. “When we tested our Eyeshadow Primer Potion, we got 24 hours of wear claim, and I think we could have gotten more, but all the test subjects were in revolt and were ready to just wash their faces.”

Based on feedback from dermatologists, such a reaction is hardly surprising.

Dr. Noelani González, director of cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai West in New York City, wrote by email that “[s]ome of these long wear or long lasting products are ‘hygroscopic,’ meaning they absorb moisture or water. And that’s a great quality to have because they keep the product hydrated, however they in turn dry out your skin or lips in the process because they create a seal and don’t allow your skin to be hydrated.”

Not only that, but leaving makeup on for a full 24 hours will disrupt the skin’s natural renewal process, which takes place at night. “It also won’t allow your skin to exfoliate and renew itself as well as it should, leading to dull-appearing skin,” González said. Still, there may be some ways to wear these products with less risk to the skin by taking extra care to prepare the face before application.

“If your skin is prepped properly, wearing makeup for 24 [hours] won’t do any harm,” wrote Dr. Michele Green, a cosmetic dermatologist practicing in New York City. She recommends exfoliating and moisturizing prior to applying these products, curtailing the amount of dead skin that could become enmeshed in the sebum pooling beneath the foundation.

Whether 24-hour makeup is a risk worth taking is a moot point for makeup artists, who for decades have relied on techniques and acquired knowledge to stretch the wear time of products long before cosmetic chemistry caught up.

“As a makeup artist, and from experience, I don’t believe that there is a product that can stay for 24 hours,” said Van Khai Truong, a freelance makeup artist in New York City. “It’s more of a technique and proper placement and proper product usage to get a long wear.”

Truong recommends removing any excess oil from the skin prior to applying foundation and forgoing skin care and any other product (primer, translucent powder) that could come between the foundation and the skin. “I think for it to be long wear for how they claim it, it has to hit direct skin,” Truong said. But even then, he’s skeptical that anyone would want to wear foundation for 24 hours.

“Most of my clients have been attending events on the red carpet, but as an artist I have to ensure that, for every client that I do, the makeup will stay as long as possible. So I treat all clients the same ― it doesn’t matter what event they go to,” he said. “They’ve never asked for 24 hours.”

However, the rise of Generation Z may change that.

“They want a great career. They want a great social life. And they are just like we were: They’re really busy,” Zomnir said, referring back to the early days at Urban Decay when she and her team created the brand’s first 24/7 eyeliners. “They want to look good and fresh and not cakey and they demand a lot.”

“With this super dynamic Generation Z, it’s just the product they need to have. So we’re going to deliver them.”

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