Superhero costumes will rule this Halloween—that’s according to a new survey by the National Retail Federation. Whether you choose to dress up as Batman, Harley Quinn, or even your favorite emoji, there’s a good chance your costume will require you to experiment with products that might wreak havoc with your skin and hair.
We turned to three leading dermatologic surgeons—New York City-based Dr. Sejal Shah and Dr. Jessica Krant, and Omaha-based Dr. Joel Schlessinger—for tips on what to look for in Halloween makeup and hair color. They also told us how to prevent a post-Halloween breakout, what products are safe for kids, and how to detox your skin after an indulgent night out.
1. No matter what, wash makeup off before bed.
“By far, the biggest mistake people make is not taking their Halloween makeup off before going to bed,” Dr. Schlessinger said. “This can lead to clogged pores, irritation, breakouts, and infections.”
“Make sure you check the packaging to see if there are special instructions for removal,” he added. “If not, it’s important to know what kind of makeup you’re wearing. Water-based makeup is generally a lot less stubborn than oil or grease-based formulas. Whatever kind of makeup you choose, it’s important to never use harsh scrubbing motions on your skin. Your regular makeup remover should do just fine when it comes to removing most Halloween makeup.”
Once you’ve removed makeup, follow up with a cleanser to eliminate any pore-clogging residue. Dr. Schlessinger recommends LovelySkin LUXE Clarifying Gel Cleanser, a sulfate-free formula that gently exfoliates with 2% salicylic acid and 2% glycolic acid.
2. Just say no to last year’s makeup.
“Makeup generally expires within a year, especially if it contains low-quality ingredients,” Dr. Schlessinger said. “Not only will you not get the best results, year-old makeup could be harboring bacteria, fungi, or even staph, all known causes of potentially dangerous skin infections.”
3. Choose costume makeup wisely.
“Costume makeup isn’t formulated with skin health in mind,” Dr. Schlessinger said. “This type of makeup often contains artificial dyes, fragrances, waxes, and oils, all of which can clog pores, cause breakouts, and irritate skin. Low-quality Halloween makeup can even contain ingredients that aren’t approved by the FDA, such as certain fluorescent dyes. They may also contain chromium, nickel, cobalt, or lead, four known skin irritants.”
If costume makeup is a must, Dr. Schlessinger recommends looking for oil-free, alcohol-free cosmetics with a water base. “Ointment-based makeup is much more likely to clog pores,” he said. “You’ll also want to do a patch test on your neck or the underside of your arm with any new formulas to be sure your skin can tolerate them. If you have sensitive skin, it’s better to skip costume makeup altogether and stick to the same makeup you use every day.”
4. Opt for a wig.
“A wig is a far better option than any type of hair color because it’s mess-free, contains no toxic ingredients, and doesn’t require any extra shampooing,” Dr. Schlessinger said. “The colorful hair sprays available during the Halloween season are typically very low-quality, contain harsh chemicals, and can be highly flammable.”
But be sure to test any synthetic material you’re wearing on your scalp or skin first. Similar to makeup, wigs and other fabrics can irritate. “Masks may contain paints with heavy metals like lead or chemical plasticizers which can potentially be absorbed by the skin,” Dr. Shah said. “With anything—makeup, fabrics, masks, wigs—it’s best to test it on the skin before leaving it on for long periods.”
5. Wash out temporary color ASAP.
Temporary colors can take a toll. “Halloween hair color has the tendency to stick to the ends of hair” because the ends of our strands are the most porous, Dr. Schlessinger told us. “It can also stain sensitive skin on the scalp. Depending on the formula and your hair type and color, it could take two to three washes before color is completely removed.”
The less time the color is in your hair, the easier it will be to wash out. Dr. Schlessinger suggests you “save this step for right before you walk out the door and plan on washing your hair as soon as you get home.”
When it comes time to remove Halloween hair color, choose a mild, clarifying shampoo (Dr. Schlessinger recommends Klorane, formulated to purify and revitalize all hair types). Don’t forget to lather, rinse, and repeat until the color is gone. To restore lost moisture, he recommends a rich conditioner and a moisturizing, reparative mask like Peter Lamas Youth Revival 5 Oil Hair Treatment Mask.
6. Beware of sugar.
“It’s finally becoming clear within nutritional science that sugar is a bad actor,” Dr. Krant said. “Sugar is proinflammatory, which can lead to long-term stress on blood vessels and organs, but can even cause short-term stress on the skin.”
According to Dr. Krant, inflammation can lead to breakouts, flares of rosacea, even dandruff.
“It’s hard to say how much candy you’d have to eat in a single night to notice a difference the next day, but since Halloween can come along with a few weeks of eating more candy than usual, it’s worth a mention,” she said. “Once that sugar is in your system, it’s not easy to prevent your body’s natural reaction.”
Dr. Krant suggests drinking a lot of water before you go to sleep to help dilute and flush the sugar out of your body.
When it comes to treats, Dr. Schlessinger says dark chocolate is the best, as it has lots of cocoa and less sugar. “The higher the cocoa content, the less sugar it will contain,” he said. “Studies show that dark chocolate also has some health benefits, including lowering the risk of heart disease and providing your body with powerful antioxidants.”
Look for dark chocolate with a 70% or higher cocoa content, and double-check the label to make sure it doesn’t contain any hidden sugars.
7. Skip sugary booze.
“Drinking alcohol causes dehydration overnight and into the next day, which can lead to an increase in dullness and the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” Dr. Krant said. “The sugar leads directly to inflammation, which causes the same dullness and wrinkling when present over a long period of time, but in the next couple of days can be associated with more rashes and breakouts.”
To avoid or minimize alcohol-induced skin issues, limit the number of drinks you have and choose drinks with less sugar. Dr. Krant suggests mixing alcohol with club soda and a lemon twist rather than tonic water or cola.
When it comes to wine, Dr. Schlessinger recommends going with red. “It has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers,” Dr. Schlessinger said. “Skip the white wine, though, as it has more fructose.”
8. Don’t share your makeup and use kid-friendly products.
If it’s good enough for you, it’s good enough for your kids, right? Think again. “Many ingredients in Mommy’s makeup, even if high quality, can be potentially irritating to baby’s skin because it is much more sensitive and susceptible to irritation and skin reactions,” says Dr. Shah.
“Generally, I recommend avoiding makeup on baby’s skin, in particular Halloween makeup,” Dr. Shah said. “Several ingredients in makeup can cause skin issues, but the scariest and most-concerning substances found in Halloween makeup are heavy metals, which can be toxic. Parabens, phthalates, and other artificial preservatives, fragrances, synthetic dyes, talc are just some potential irritants.”
If you must use makeup, Dr. Shah suggests using DIY recipes with safe ingredients. If making your own isn’t an option, she suggests looking into companies such as Pure Poppet and Luna Star Naturals, which offer non-toxic makeup for kids. And, just like the advice for adults, be sure to wash it all away before bedtime.
Want more fall beauty tips? Check out this season’s pumpkin-infused beauty trends.