When Lindsey Vonn finished her gold-medal-winning ski run during the Vancouver Olympics, she not only looked like a winner — she looked ready for her close-up.
Setting aside her achievement on the slopes, how does a woman come through that kind of physical workout looking downright gorgeous? Somehow many female Olympic athletes seem able to look terrific during the most physically challenging workouts of their lives, muscling through pain, trying to conquer stress and battle nerves. And they’re doing it in rain, snow and fog in winter, searing sun and humidity in summer or the stifled nature of a packed indoor stadium.
So why don’t the Olympians look spent and smudgy — like the rest of us do after a routine workout at the gym?
Vonn was happy to answer. “The one thing that always helps to keep my skin looking good is exfoliating — keeping my skin really clean,” she said. “I clean my skin at least once, sometimes twice a day, and I use a lot of moisturizer and sunscreen. Sunscreen is really important and I think that it’s a common misconception that you don’t get sunburn in the winter, but you definitely do and it definitely takes a toll on your skin.” Vonn is right. During winter, not only is your skin exposed to damaging UV rays from above but can get a double whammy if the sun is reflecting off the snow.
After cleansing, Vonn uses an exfoliant to get rid of dead skin. (Using an exfoliant about three times a week should be fine for most people.) She uses moisturizer day and night, “nothing too heavy — kind of in the middle” so that her skin doesn’t get too oily or too dry, she said. “I wear makeup when I’m skiing, so I put sunscreen on first and then put the makeup on and finish it off with powder with sunscreen in it to make sure that I’m double protected.”
Vonn is signed with Procter & Gamble, whose brands include Cover Girl, Olay, Pantene, Herbal Essences and others, so it’s not surprising that some of those are in her makeup kit. For instance, she wears Cover Girl Lash Blast. “I have to use waterproof mascara, especially in the Olympics when I was crying so much!” she said, remembering her emotional reaction to winning a gold medal. “I also use the Cover Girl liquid eyeliner, and that usually stays on really well when I’m skiing. I feel like any pencils or any other types of eyeliner don’t usually stay on while I’m skiing.”
She skips liquid foundation and creams in part to avoid clogged pores. “I just use the powder blush and powder foundation — for some reason that stays on better for me than liquid,” she said. For lips she prefers lighter colored lip glosses or a lip balm that has sunscreen in it. “In the winter especially your lips just get so chapped,” she said. “I think it also helps when you stay hydrated, and drinking a lot of water definitely makes your skin look better and [your lips] don’t get as dry.”
What about that ubiquitous winter annoyance: hat hair? “It’s really hard to avoid [it],” she said. “I mean almost impossible! For me I always try to keep my hair parted the way I normally would have it, and then I put my hat on top of it. But if you’re sweating there’s really no way around it — just make sure that you bring a hat that you want to wear all day long.”
Gymnast Nastia Liukin, who won a gold medal at the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008, also knows about hair issues. “I always get my hair up and out of my face because I think that out of all the beauty things, for us [gymnasts], the hair is the most important,” she said. “We have to make sure that it stays out of our face so we don’t have to worry about it while we’re performing on the beam or whatever.”
And although almost everyone in her sport seems to wear a ponytail, Liukin has lately been wearing a side-braid (a look that’s also big on the runways this year). As an alternative, instead of wearing her hair entirely slicked back, “I do a little updo sort of at the top and that was kind of my thing this year — that and lots of hairspray.” Both styles would look just as good at the gym.
Figure skaters such as Kristi Yamaguchi, who are in the most glamorous of Olympic sports, rarely have the option of wearing minimal makeup. And when it comes to being athletic while wearing a full face of makeup, Yamaguchi’s additional experience and first-place win on “Dancing With the Stars” certainly makes her an expert in the looking good while working hard department.
When she was competing in the Olympics, “I pretty much wore the works,” says Yamaguchi “because of the TV lights in the stadium you get washed out.” That meant base, eyeliner, mascara, lipstick, “and powder for perspiration and all of that.”
But she does have tricks for helping your full face of makeup stay on while being athletic. “You definitely have to use powder to set your makeup,” says Yamaguchi. This includes a light dusting of the entire face, including the eyes before applying eye shadow and eyeliner.
Yamaguchi prefers long-wear cosmetics that last all day. “The one eyeliner I wear almost every day is the long-wear Revlon [colorstay liquid and pencil eyeliner.]” And she always wore waterproof mascara every day for skating. “I use Lancome Bi-Facil eye makeup remover. That’s really good for waterproof mascara…it takes a little bit of work but it gets it all off.”
The one makeup no-no that the athletes all agreed isn’t good for competition? Fake eyelashes. “You don’t want anything that can distract you or impede your vision at all,” says Yamaguchi, “but on ‘Dancing With the Stars’ it’s hard to avoid them!”
Like Yamaguchi, Liukin says that she’s really lucky because she doesn’t perspire as much as many athletes do. But for gym workouts, she has this tip, gleaned from other competitors: “A lot of gymnasts will have a little hand towel with them at all times in training and competitions and pat themselves down,” she said.
She said she doesn’t wear a lot of makeup when training at home, but she does wear makeup when she’s away at a training center and, of course, during Olympic competition. Luiken is also associated with Procter & Gamble beauty products and, like Vonn, she’s a fan of Cover Girl Lash Blast. “At the Olympics I wore bronzer, mascara, foundation, eyeliner and I wore gold eye shadow,” she said. “At the beginning you always start with lip gloss but that definitely goes away towards the end. I remember when I went up to go get my medal I reapplied lip gloss.”
But she doesn’t obsess about her looks during competition. “You’re really focused on your gymnastics — it’s more about what your goals are than about how you look or how your makeup looks.”
But looks help shape the public perceptions of an athlete in today’s hot media spotlight. That fact hit home with Vonn in Vancouver. Right after she won the gold, she recalls, “I was crying so hard for so long — everything was just streaming down my face. So I reapplied some of my foundation powder on my face right before the medal ceremony and the camera guy was sitting there filming me! I was a little bit shocked to see a camera two feet from my face watching me put makeup on.” The media picked up on that moment and in a flash it was all over the Internet.
“When you cry you don’t usually want everyone looking at you,” she says, “and I was crying for a long time with a lot of people watching and I wanted to try to look somewhat decent for the medal ceremony pictures.” Vonn says that ski racing is not like some other sports, where there is time for a shower and other grooming before the medal ceremony.
“For us we have to look good right from the beginning because there’s no opportunity for us to not look as if we’ve just been doing sports,” she said.
Like Liukin, Vonn most often does her own hair and makeup, even for photo shoots and media appearances. “I just kind of figured it out,” Vonn says. “When I first started having some kind of success in my career I had a couple of photo shoots. I just kind of asked questions and got tips on products and just kind of took it from there.”