How to Wear Makeup When You’re Sunburned

Lauren Caruso


So you forgot to reapply sunscreen, eh? Whether you’ve had one too many and totally blanked or flat out fell asleep on your blow-up swan float, we’ve all been there—and by there, I mean burnt to a crisp. While the best thing to do in the immediate is get the heck out of the sun and slather your entire body in aloe, you might want to go out in the world again at some point. And should that coincide with your face peeling off, you might scare some people. But there’s hope! We talked to the experts to find out how to cover up your sunburn with makeup.

The good news: So long as you don’t have any open wounds from the sunburn, it’s okay to load up on products, says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. “It may look cakey with peeling skin, but it’s not a health issue.” So that’s a plus.

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But before we get to the actual act of covering up the burn, first, get your skin in check. Start by priming your face with a super-hydrating moisturizer like hyaluronic acid to repair your damaged barrier. Makeup Artist Ashleigh B. Ciucci likes Dr. Jart+ Water Fuse Water Sure Gel, which checks the hyaluronic acid box, and Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel is a great drugstore pick that Dr. Zeichner recommends. Ciucci also likes to prep her clients with a mask to replenish the skin like Peter Thomas Roth Cucumber Gel Mask, Boscia Tsubaki Deep Hydration Sleeping Mask, or Jay Jun Collagen Skin Fit Sheet Mask.

If you’ve accelerated to the peeling stage (fun!), resist the very natural urge to exfoliate or pick at it and keep moisturizing, Dr. Zeichner says. Definitely don’t do what I’ve done in the past and break out the tweezers to peel off the top layer of your skin. You could do some real damage. Trust.

Now that you’re moisturized, Mission Cover Up starts with a good primer. “You can subtly color correct lobster red with a lightweight yellow primer,” says Ciucci, who recommends Koh Gen Do Maifanshi Makeup Color Base. “But this primer can mattify, so you want to balance out any dry finish by mixing the yellow primer with a highlighting primer. It sounds like a lot of steps but it’s worth it to avoid looking dull or flat.” Ciucci recommends cocktailing it with & Other Stories Radiance Cream or Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector, then follow with a sheer moisturizer that’s a shade darker than your skin pre-burn to avoid looking chalky, she says. Try It Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC Cream SPF 50+, applying it with a damp Beautyblender for the most even application. Follow with some powder just between the brows, on either side of the nose, and the chin, avoiding the spots where the sun probably hit the hardest.

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Now that your base is set, Ciucci says to focus on the eyes and lips to distract the eye from the “molting,” a verb that is also my new favorite word. “Use cool colors on the eyes and lips to cancel out the appearance of your red face,” she says. “This means shimmering taupes, silvers, and lilacs on the eyes and glossy nudes and plums on the lips.” Try Maybelline Eyestudio Colortattoo Eye Shadow in Too Cool, The Estee Edit Metallishadow Crème + Powder in AquaNova, and Smashbox Matte Lipstick in Plum Role.

The summer’s still young, so to keep this from happening again, make sure you’re prepared. Reapply often (I like to do it every hour so it’s easy to keep track, even when I’m four margaritas deep), and should you still manage to get burnt, apply an after-sun lotion like KORRES After-Sun Cooling Gel to soothe the pain and help restore the skin barrier function.