The Difference Between Waterproof, Water-Resistant, and Sweatproof Makeup—and When to Use Them

Read this before perusing the makeup aisle.

Water dropplets on a waterproof fabric
Photo: AXIO-IMAGES/Getty Images

Whether it's a torrential downpour, sobs after your partner's engagement proposal, deep dives in the ocean, or anything else that involves a lot of water, you want to know your makeup is going to stay loyal—and by loyal, we mean on your face. If you've ever made your way down the makeup aisle at your local drugstore, you've probably seen a few different terms for budge-proof makeup, such as waterproof, water-resistant, sweatproof, and more. To find out which is really going to protect you from the elements, we asked the experts for clarification on what they mean and how they differ from one another.

The difference between water-resistant and waterproof makeup

Unlike waterproof makeup, which is meant to withstand water and not break down or move, water-resistant makeup can resist the penetration of water up to a point, but will eventually break down. "When wearing waterproof makeup, you could be slapped in the face by ocean waves without worrying about your makeup moving," explains Natalia Thomas, a celebrity makeup artist based in New York City. "If you're sitting poolside and might incur a splash or two, but don't plan on taking a dip, water-resistant makeup should do just fine."

Although water-resistant and waterproof are terms used pretty interchangeably with makeup, the term water-resistant started being used more frequently after the FDA said in 2011 that the terms waterproof and sweatproof could no longer be used for sunscreens. "They thought the term implied an absolute, that a product could never wash off, and might make consumers less likely to reapply as often as they should, so they came up with water-resistance instead," explains Kelly Dobos, a cosmetic chemist based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

When it comes down to the actual science of waterproof vs. water-resistant makeup, Dobos explains that there are two main approaches. "First, the use of polymers to create very water-resistant films and the type of polymer can vary greatly depending on the application, because we might be much more forgiving of a polymer with less flexible film in mascara compared to something we might use in a foundation," she says.

Another approach is the use of specialized surface-treated pigments. "The pigment particles are coated with ingredients that make them hydrophobic (repel water) and also help them adhere better to the skin, making them more resistant to mechanical friction so they don't rub off easily on clothes," says Dobos. "Trimethylsiloxysilicate is one of the most effective surface treatments for both water and oil resistance."

So what exactly is sweatproof makeup, then?

Sweatproof and waterproof can be approached with similar formulation techniques because sweat is about 99 percent water, according to Dobos. "The test methods can vary, like immersing skin in a whirlpool for water resistance or using a sauna for sweatproof claims," she says. "Sebum resistance is another aspect of formulating, especially for foundation or other face makeups, as oil 'breakthrough' can occur during the day and can actually cause darkening of the pigments and powders causing the color to shift. Here we have to utilize ingredients that are not just hydrophobic, but oleophobic (oil-resistant)." So when you see a sweatproof product, you can assume that it's waterproof, too.

Best tips for removing waterproof and water-resistant makeup

While waterproof and water-resistant makeup are notoriously difficult to take off, the key is to invest in cleansers and makeup removers that are specifically formulated to help quickly loosen and dissolve long-wear makeup. Makeup removers that are oil-based are your best bet for breaking down waterproof formulas. "Dual-phase formulations and emollient-based balms are especially useful in the delicate eye area, where you want to avoid rubbing or pulling the skin," says Dobos. And don't forget about makeup brush cleaners—you need a great cleaner to pull these formulas off of your brushes and makeup applicators.

Best waterproof makeup products

If you're looking for some truly waterproof makeup, shop the ones that makeup artists recommend below.

01 of 06

Dior Backstage Face and Body Foundation

best-waterproof-makeup-Dior Backstage Face and Body Foundation

One of Thomas' favorite waterproof foundations is Dior Backstage Face and Body because of the natural, glowy finish and wide color range.

02 of 06

YSL Tatouage Couture Liquid Matte Lip Stain

best-waterproof-makeup-YSL Tatouage Couture Liquid Matte Lip Stain

"YSL truly has my heart in this category—Tatouage Couture Liquid Matte Lip is beautiful; the wand hugs the lips for a perfect application every time, the colors pop on all skin tones, and it doesn't budge," says Thomas.

03 of 06

Makeup Forever Aqua Resist Smoky Eyeshadow Stick

best-waterproof-makeup-Makeup Forever Aqua Resist Smoky Eyeshadow Stick

"Makeup Forever Aqua Resist Smoky Eyeshadow Stick is also a great formula that doesn't move and offers a fairly wide variety of colors," says Thomas.

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About-Face Matte Fluid Eye Paint

best-waterproof-makeup-About-Face Matte Fluid Eye Paint

"About-Face Matte Fluid Eye Paint is gorgeous—the shade range is out of this world; a little goes a long way, and the color is so pigmented," says Thomas.

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Chanel Inimitable Waterproof Mascara

best-waterproof-makeup-Chanel Inimitable Waterproof Mascara

This mascara is a classic that never fails. Thomas loves that the formula has Vitamin B5 to help nourish your lashes as well.

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Pat McGrath Labs Permagel Ultra Glide Eye Pencil

best-waterproof-makeup-Pat McGrath Labs Permagel Ultra Glide Eye Pencil

"Pat McGrath Labs Permagel Ultra Glide Eye Pencil is a 10/10 in ease of application, opacity, and it absolutely doesn't budge once it dries down—just make sure to blend it out quickly before it sets if you are planning to," says Thomas.

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  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Questions and answers: FDA announces New Requirements for over-the-counter (OTC) sunscreen products marketed in the U.S.

  2. Abel-Roberman, Tatyana & Long, Daria & Fleming, Linda & Goff, Jonathan & Arkles, Barry. (2019). Trimethylsiloxysilicate (SR) Surface Treated Sunscreen Grade TiO2 Improves Water Resistance of Sun Care Products.

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