Makeup used to promise to add a flush to your cheeks, a rosy hue to your lips. Today it aims to do much, much more: hydrate skin, minimize wrinkles, diminish lines on lips. And not just while you're wearing it: Like lotions and serums, anti-aging makeup vows to deliver skin benefits over time, so you'll eventually look better even when you don't have it on.
Skeptical? We were, too. Last summer, we began a yearlong project to determine, scientifically, if any of the myriad anti-aging cosmetics lived up to their claims — eye shadows that say they don't crease, lipliners that are supposedly anti-feathering, and primers that promise to hide lines. We enlisted 661 women, ages 35 to 79, to try them — in some cases, for as long as eight weeks. They filled out questionnaires, came to our lab for skin analyses done with high-tech equipment, and went home with the test brands. (Testers didn't know what brands they were testing.)
The good news: The bold claims aren't all marketing hype. Here are the 11 winners (gold) and 11 runners-up (silver) that were proven to work.
The contenders disguise dark circles while moisturizing, firming, and improving the look of lines and wrinkles over time.
Testing time: Four weeks
Testers found Maybelline New York Instant Age Rewind Eraser Dark Circles Treatment Concealer ($10, drugstores; six shades) lived up to its name: It excelled at hiding undereye circles as well as going on smoothly and providing lasting coverage. In the lab, it earned one of the highest scores for moisturization — quite a feat, since most of the competition was drying.
Testers said: "Good coverage — not greasy or heavy."
The lab gave Avon Anew Age-Transforming Concealer SPF 15 ($10, avon.com; six shades) high marks for firming. Though some shades had peachy undertones, consumers liked how well the product matched their skin tone. Also noteworthy: It was the only concealer we tested that offered a shade for dark skin.
Testers said: "The shade blended well with my skin. The brush tip helps dispense the concealer evenly."
Tip: Apply concealer after foundation — you'll use less, thereby helping to prevent caking and creasing.
The Contenders have an SPF of 15 or higher, instantly moisturize and firm skin, and, over eight weeks, reduce the look of fine lines and even out skin tone.
Testing time: Eight weeks
Gold winner: Sheer to medium coverage
The luxe Chanel Lift Lumière Firming and Smoothing Fluid Makeup SPF 15 ($65, chanel.com; eight shades) earned the only perfect lab score for firming, as well as high marks for moisturizing. Women raved about its natural, subtle coverage and smooth texture.
Silver winner: Sheer to medium coverage
Women favored Avon Anew Age-Transforming Foundation SPF 15 ($16, avon.com; 14 shades) for going on smoothly as well as providing just the right amount of coverage. It also earned high moisturizing and firming scores in the lab.
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Testers said: "It gave my skin a great glow, and I felt like I wasn't wearing anything."
Gold winner: Medium to full coverage
The splurge-worthy La Prairie Anti-Aging Foundation SPF 15 ($105, department stores; eight shades) excelled at moisturizing skin (per our lab tests). Just as impressive, some testers noticed that it helped even out their skin tone, a result the lab also observed after eight weeks.
Testers said: "It covered my sunspots with a smooth, velvety finish. My husband said my skin looked more youthful!"
Silver winner: Medium to full coverage
It was a photo finish, with Revlon Age Defying with DNA Advantage Cream Makeup SPF 20 ($15, drugstores; eight shades) sliding into second. Both winners garnered the same moisturizing scores, while consumers ranked Revlon just below La Prairie for non-cakey coverage. (None of the foundations we tested did much to minimize the look of fine lines over eight weeks.)
Testers said: "I absolutely loved how my skin looked using this foundation."
Tip: Don't rely on foundation alone for sun protection, especially if you're not wearing an even layer all over your face. Apply over a moisturizer with SPF.
The Contenders reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and pores and increase skin's firmness. They're designed to go on under foundation, or to be used on their own.
Testing time: Four weeks
Testers loved that Korres Quercetin & Oak Antiageing Age Reversing Face Primer ($33, Sephora), a silicone-free smoother, helped makeup go on more easily and last longer. The lab gave it top marks for firming.
Testers said: "It did add a smoother look to foundation. And it also gave my skin a nice look and feel without foundation." "It seemed to even out my skin tone and reduce the redness around my cheeks."
Wallet-friendly CoverGirl & Olay Simply Ageless Serum Primer ($14, drugstores) garnered the highest lab scores for moisturizing (after six hours) and did well at immediately minimizing the look of lines. Consumers commended the light texture and spreadability.
Testers said: "I liked that it was lightweight and did not leave an oily feel or interfere with my makeup application."
Tip: Putting on too much primer right before foundation can cause pilling. Use sparingly and allow to dry before applying foundation.
The Contenders promise to increase lips' fullness, smoothness, and softness and reduce lines over time.
Testing time: Four weeks
Acing the consumer tests, Dior Rouge Serum SPF 20 ($34, department stores; 10 shades) was the standout for volunteers who raved about its moisturizing and smoothing qualities.
Testers said: "I absolutely loved this lipstick! I adored the color, and it was so silky. It kept my lips moisturized the entire time I was wearing it."Video: Ambush makeover makes son’s jaw drop
A close second — and even pricier! — By Terry Rouge Terrybly Age-Defense Lipstick ($49, department stores; 15 shades) ranked high with women for its creamy texture. Lab tests showed it made lips look ever-so-slightly fuller.
Testers said: "I love the texture and color — it feels very moisturizing and soothing on my lips. And I like the way my mouth looks with it on!"
Tip: Expect to reapply: As a rule, creamy lipsticks lack staying power.
The Contenders, de facto anti-agers, bolster the lip line, which thins with age, and help prevent feathering.
Testing time: One week
Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Lip Pencil ($19, Sephora; 10 shades) took top honors, thanks to its smooth texture plus how well it defined lips and nixed feathering.
Testers said: "Absolutely loved this product. I am throwing out my other lipliners."
The retractable Guerlain The Lip Liner ($30, Nordstrom; seven shades, with built-in sharpener) was equally good at feathering prevention, though it earned slightly lower scores for defining lips. Still, women preferred the Guerlain to our first-place finisher for being non-drying.
Testers said: "It didn't dry out my lips and looked lovely, even by itself."
Tip: If you're looking for a shade to match your natural lip color, Urban Decay in Wallflower and Guerlain in Bois de Santal filled the bill for most of our testers.
The Contenders instantly increase lips' fullness, smoothness, and softness.
Testing time: Two minutes in the lab (to evaluate the instant claims); three to seven days at home
Testers gave mint-scented Smashbox O-Plump ($24, Sephora) a perfect score for ease of application; they also liked the non-sticky texture. Though some found that it stung and burned, they still reported immediate plumping effects. Lab results showed that it minimized lips' fine lines even more than it plumped lips.
Testers said: "It has a pretty shine that doesn't feel or look sticky and a very light scent."
While less effective at immediate plumping, Rodial Glam Balm Lip ($25, Nordstrom) was the least irritating. Both the lab and consumers found that it minimized lines, and testers liked how soft it made their lips.
Testers said: "It left my lips shiny and smooth." "The rose scent is calming."
Tip: If your lips are particularly sensitive, try applying plumper over, rather than under, lipstick.Story: Entrepreneur: It’s OK to mix professionalism with pretty makeup at work
CREASE-PROOF EYE SHADOW
The Contenders go on smoothly, without creasing or smudging, and last throughout the day.
Testing time: Six hours in the lab (to test for creasing); one week at home
Creamy MAC Paint Pot ($18, MAC stores; nine shades) won points with consumers and in the lab for lasting all day and resisting creasing. Testers liked that it was smudge-resistant, yet still easy to remove.
Testers said: "So easy to apply and not have to worry about it wearing off during the course of the day." "It's budge-proof!"
Tip: For cream eye shadow, use a brush with synthetic bristles (they don't absorb shadow, for easier blending).
Try our second-place finisher, Revlon ColorStay 16 Hour Eye Shadow ($7.49, drugstores; 16 shades), if you prefer powder. It performed just as well as MAC in lab tests for crease resistance; volunteers loved that it was easy to use and didn't settle into wrinkles.
Testers said: "Really didn't crease or smudge. It stayed fresh-looking no matter how hard I tried to wreck it."
The Contenders: Also de facto anti-agers, these help to shape and fill in sparse eyebrows.
Testing time: One week
Ousting the competition, Lancôme Le Crayon Poudre ($25.50, department stores; seven shades) was a volunteer favorite...it was the easiest to use and drew raves about its built-in corkscrew brow brush. It also got kudos for its smooth texture and for filling in and defining brows.
Testers said: "I loved, loved, loved this product — and I have used almost everything for my brows. This is, bar none, the best brow pencil ever!"
Estée Lauder Automatic Brow Pencil Duo ($23.50, department stores; four shades) was praised for being smudge-resistant and delivering the right color. Testers also appreciated the twist-up formula (no sharpening required) and the built-in angled brush for blending.
Testers said: "It blended into my brows seamlessly. I loved the color and the way it filled them in."
Tip: No need to completely color in your brows: Define areas that are sparse, usually the arch or tail, then blend.
EYE SHADOW PRIMER
The Contenders create a smooth base for eye shadow application; extend its wear; prevent creasing; and disguise eyelid imperfections. Like face primers, most rely on silicones or waxes.
Testing time: Six hours in the lab to test the ability to extend eye shadow wear; one week at home
Eye shadow lasted longest with Laura Mercier Eye Basics ($24, department stores; eight shades), per testers and the lab. Shadow went over it smoothly, volunteers noted, and colors looked more vibrant.
Testers said: "I cannot rave enough about this product. It glides on, so you don't need to pull at delicate eye skin. And it holds eye shadow like a charm!" "My eye shadow lasted all day instead of wearing off by noon as it normally would."
Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion ($20, Sephora; four shades) virtually matched the Laura Mercier in lab tests for extending wear and preventing creasing. Volunteers gave it kudos for being nonirritating and going on smoothly. It also rated well for disguising eyelid imperfections like redness and spots.
Testers said: "It is simply the best eye shadow primer that I've ever tried. The product keeps shadow on all day and doesn't crease. You can wear it alone, and it takes away any discoloration on your eyelid."
Tip: Try a nude or neutral-colored eye primer on days you want to skip shadow. It will brighten your eyes for a youthful, wide-awake look.
The Contenders lengthen and thicken eyelashes without flaking, smudging, or clumping.
Testing time: One week
An all-around champ, MAC False Lashes ($20, MAC stores; two shades) was deemed best by testers at lengthening, thickening, and separating fringe (while being no sweat to remove). Lab tests proved that it didn't clump.
Testers said: "A silky, non-clumpy formula that coated every lash without being thick, and didn't flake." "I have very little lashes, and it worked great."
Lancôme Définicils ($26, department stores; four shades) was favored for its maximum staying power. While none of the products scored high for curling, testers found this was best at curling lashes.
Testers said: "Wow! This is a game changer. It's the only mascara that didn't smudge on my oily skin. Plus, it creates lush, fringy lashes that look terrific. It's my new favorite product." "I had no idea my eyelashes could be so defined. I even received some compliments on how long and pretty they looked."
Tip: The MAC mascara comes in two shades of black. If you prefer brown or deep brown, try the Lancôme.
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