Plus, how to cleanse your hair of stubborn hairspray.

By Zoe Denenberg
December 13, 2019
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Competitive Cheer
Credit: Courtesy of Maddie Denenberg

Front walkover, roundoff, back handspring, back tuck. This was competitive cheerleader Maddie Denenberg’s signature tumbling pass, one that she’d execute multiple times during a routine. Competitive cheerleading, a sport that combines dance and gymnastics, requires high energy, but also intense athleticism; a typical performance lasts only 2 1/2 minutes, but those minutes are planned out down to the millisecond, and they fly by at break-neck speed. With fast-paced pop mash-ups blasting and strobe lights flashing in rhythm with the music, competitive cheerleaders execute tumbling passes, aerial stunts, and coordinated jumps on stage, all while in full hair and makeup.

For 5 years, my younger sister Maddie was completely immersed in this world. Her team traveled across the country for competitions, from Baltimore to Palm Springs, and in the course of her cheer career, she won 7 national titles, one of which was from the NCA All-Star National Championship, the country’s largest all-star cheerleading competition. I tagged along at a few of her competitions—the energy is intoxicating.

“I’d be at the convention center from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. I’d have my hair done and makeup on all day, and it had to be perfect for competing,” Maddie said. Her team didn’t usually compete until around 8 p.m. While they weren’t practicing or cheering on another team, Maddie and her teammates spent many hours hunched over their Caboodles, perfecting their makeup.

Now, Maddie has graduated from the cheer world—she trades her signature cheer smoky eye for more subtle, peachy hues (she’s currently obsessed with the Tartelette Toasted eyeshadow palette), but those long days at the convention center turned her into a master of long-wear beauty tricks. She swears that everything she knows about makeup, she learned from trading techniques and tips with her cheer friends. So I asked Maddie to share some of that arsenal of knowledge with me.

Long-Wear Makeup Tips

1. Let Your Moisturizer Set

“If I don’t use a good moisturizer, my foundation will peel off throughout the day because I have really dry skin,” Maddie says. For those with similarly dry skin, she recommends Laneige's Water Bank Hydro Gel. After applying your moisturizer, let it set for around 3 minutes before moving on to the next step. You’ll also want to ensure you’re using setting spray throughout the process, not just once your makeup is complete, to make sure everything’s locked in.

2. Primer is Important

“The most important part of long-wear makeup is the priming. Primer sets the foundation for your makeup to stay on and creates a barrier between your moisturizer and foundation, so makeup isn’t sinking into your pores,” Maddie says. “I put more primer on my T-zone (the forehead and around the nose, but you can do this wherever your oily spots are) because those are the areas that become most oily throughout the day, so that’s where foundation would be more likely to come off.” Maddie uses Too Faced's Hangover Replenishing Face Primer. “It smells like coconuts,” she laughs.

3. Don't Apply Too Much Foundation

Long-wear foundation helps cover blemishes and give your skin a smooth, airbrushed look, but if you apply too much foundation, over the course of the day “it’ll set into your smile lines and look cakey.” Maddie opts for a thinner layer of foundation and adds touchups later—she likes Beauty Blender's Bounce Liquid Whip Long Wear Foundation because it's light on your skin, but still provides full coverage.

Maddie's #1 tip for applying an even layer of foundation: Use a damp beauty blender. “If you’re going to clean a surface, you’re not going to use a dry sponge. You have to dampen the beauty blender to maximize its performance,” she says.

4. Ditch the Eyeshadow Brush

Maddie struggled with long-wear eyeshadow for a long time. She has oily eyelids and found that her eyeshadow would seem to disappear over the course of the day. Her hack to keep eyeshadow on? “I always start by taking an oil pad and blotting my eyelids until they’re dry; after, I’ll take an eye primer and rub that on my eyelids. Let it set, then apply eyeshadow, tapping the brush first so the excess powder falls away.”

To get a really shiny, concentrated metallic eyeshadow look, ditch the brush. First, dab a little concealer on the crease of your eyelid and let that dry. Then, use your finger to apply the shimmery eyeshadow. “Your finger can get more product than the brush,” Maddie explains.

5. Try Lip Balm Before Lipstick

Long-wear lipstick is more tricky than it may seem—no matter how high quality her lipstick is, Maddie always finds herself reapplying throughout the day. Her best lipstick trick stays true to much of her other advice: Priming is key. "If my lips are too dry, the lipstick settles into the cracks. So I put on a bit of lip balm before, wait 15 minutes, then apply my lipstick."

Competitive Cheerleader
Competitive Cheerleaders
Left: Credit: Courtesy of Maddie Denenberg
Right: Credit: Courtesy of Maddie Denenberg

Long-Wear Hair Tips

“The bigger the hair, the bigger the trophy.” This was the refrain that cheerleaders and coaches chanted in gyms and practice rooms. The big hair is perhaps cheerleading’s most iconic symbol; each team has a different style, but almost all include a sky-high ponytail rising out from a ginormous glittered bow. Moms would spend hours crouched in hotel bathrooms, teasing their daughters’ hair into a knotted nest. Maddie said it would take almost an entire bottle of hairspray (she recommends Rock Your Hair, a pink bottle that's prolific in the cheer world) to keep the mountainous ponytail in place.

But how do you get all that hairspray out? “A whole lot of detangler and a good wet brush,” Maddie laughs. Although cheerleading offers an extreme example, cleansing your hair of hairspray after a wedding or a holiday party takes practice, and Maddie’s got it figured out.

“You start with a moisturizing shampoo. Lather and rinse, then use a clarifying shampoo and really knead it into your scalp to make sure there’s no buildup, then rinse.” Maddie swears by Drybar’s On The Rocks Clarifying Charcoal Shampoo—even now, after her cheer days are over, she still uses this product once a week to clear her scalp of buildup. Clarifying shampoo shouldn't be used every day, but a weekly scrub keeps your hair light and fresh.

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When Maddie looks back on her days in competitive cheer, the feelings are bittersweet. “It totally consumed my life for so long," she says. It's a culture, a world all its own, and a community that taught her how to be a part of a team. But most importantly, it taught her how to pull off a killer smoky eye.

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