Sara Adams began her journey into the world of professional ballet at age 13, when she left her home in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to study at New York’s prestigious School of American Ballet (SAB). From there, she joined the New York City Ballet, a company connected to the school.
At SAB, students not only learn the foundations of Balanchine’s aesthetic—how to move with musicality, control, precision, speed, and expansiveness—but also the techniques for applying stage makeup, as ballerinas don’t always have access to makeup artists backstage.
“When I first joined SAB, an older girlfriend did my makeup for every show. She helped me learn the tricks,” Adams tells Culture Trip. “I’ve got my routine down from one hour to a half hour.” The 28-year-old ballerina explains that the very basics of dancer makeup include pancake, powder, contour, eyebrows, eyelashes, and hair. Sometimes, girls line their teeth with Vaseline to help them keep smiling throughout a performance.
“Even though it’s impossible to be perfect, I fell in love with ballet because it’s a way to reach for perfection,” the dancer says.
Adams’ quest for perfection is visible in her precise movement, but also in her appearance: not a hair out of place, a chiseled body, all feminine features exaggerated by makeup. She seized the opportunity to transform her look when cast as a soloist in Balanchine’s The Nutcracker in 2015. “When you’re in the company you have to live up to beauty standards,” she says. “You want to look like a woman, not a student.”
“My job forces me to live between a few cities,” says 24-year-old Womack. “I am back and forth between Russia, New York, Istanbul, and Seoul. I’m traveling almost every two weeks.”
A hectic travel schedule paired with the rigors of dancing and packed-on makeup has taken a toll on this world-class ballerina’s skin. “I keep makeup remover wipes in the wings so the second curtain comes down, I start to clean my face while I am being un-sewn out of my costume and receiving feedback from my coach,” she says. Right now Womack is under a dermatologist’s care for a flare-up.
Skin issues are common among dancers, making ballerinas experts on how to problem solve adult acne. Retired dancer Jordan Samuel, who trained at SAB and went on to dance for the Pacific Northwest Ballet, used his days of dealing with “rashes, breakouts, and irritation” to develop his own skincare line, Jordan Samuel Skin. Inspired by ballet, Samuel’s range includes products like The After Show (a cleanser that binds to makeup particles for efficient removal) and The Performance Cream (a moisturizer that can be layered with other oils and serums).
“When I was dancing, I was always getting facials, and looking out for what worked and what didn’t,” Samuel says.“It was like hell. I was lucky enough to go through teenage years without blemishes only to break out at 18 and 19 when I was wearing pigment-rich stage makeup.”
Instead of regular, mineral-based makeup (which has a non-irritating, non-comedogenic formula) dancers must use petroleum-based products that can withstand sweat, movement, and stage lights. “In other words, it’s not skin-friendly,” explains Samuel.
To combat the problems associated with stage makeup, Womack has adopted an intense cleansing program, which she carries out every night before bed. “Post performance, I clean my face and use Banila exfoliating pads to remove skin and pollutants,” she says. “While I am coming down from the endorphin rush, I apply a Dr. Jart Mask.”
As for her favorite products, Womack is taking advantage of the Korean beauty scene in Seoul. “I love browsing Watson’s here in Korea and picking up little samples to experiment with. For day I mix a small pump with Innisfree sunblock and Laneige Water Base CC Cream for a super light yet dewy looking cover. I love Holika Holika, Missha, and Banila.”
Womack is also hooked on MAC Primer—”it feels lightweight and can cover every blemish,”—and her post-performance routine includes Gold Snail face wash and Mediheal toner.
Womack maintains long hair “to make historical and dramatic roles feel like [her].” The dancer rarely cuts it (except for maintenance trims) and keeps the ends healthy with Tsubaki Japanese shampoo and conditioner. This, along with Argan oil and Ma Cherie End Care, is a must.
For dancers such as Nancy Richer, beauty is part of an overall wellness routine. “Every morning when I wake up I take a probiotic (ideally with 50 billion CFU or more) on an empty stomach, ideally with lemon water,” says Richer, who was formerly with a company and now teaches ballet to professional dancers, models, and actresses in New York City.
Richer currently dances for TV shows, commercials, and music videos, with credits in Rita Ora’s videos and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, among others. “Whenever you’re doing something at a high level, you’re always focussed on yourself.” And with that comes the quest for perfection. “In the morning,” she says, “I like to dry brush. It helps if I feel tired and with circulation.” Richer doesn’t go too heavy with makeup, as she’ll sweat it off during the day, but the dancer’s days on stage taught her how to “tightline” her lashes by smudging black eyeliner along the lash line. Richer adds: “I don’t use a lot of blush, but when I do I like to sweep it across my eyeshadow to unify the look (something I learned from doing my stage makeup).”
A big fan of France’s Biologique Recherche products, Richer loves beauty that is nourishing and practical. “Anytime I have my hair up in a bun I usually put coconut oil in it first. I do this when I am dancing or working out as a conditioning treatment.”
Beauty secrets don’t have to be skin deep. Richer adds that a vital part of her beauty routine is taking time to shift her “internal dialogue” to a mindful and calming place. To this end, she often removes makeup while soaking in a bath of Epsom salts. Samuel agrees that a body-mind connection is one of the most important things you can incorporate into your routine. “My number one beauty secret is to check in with your skin every day,” he says.
So, using thoughtfully curated beauty products helps ballerinas achieve flawless beauty, but so does channeling a glow from within.