Doing Your Makeup On The Subway: Gross Or NBD?

Illustrated by Shawna Huang.
We spend a lot of time on the subway. We also spend a lot of time doing our makeup. So, it goes without saying that we've considered, at least once, just doing our makeup on the subway. After all, if we could spend those extra 15 (cough) minutes sleeping, we'd feel really good about our lives. But, then there's the ick factor. Subways are far from clean — plus, do our fellow passengers really need to see us applying concealer on our zits?
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There's also that touchy subject of living in New York City and constantly being on display. When you're in public, anything you do or say can be seen, heard, and judged by any one of the 8 million or so neighbors who might be sharing your train car. Especially the judging part; these passersby are likely to have opinions about whatever it is you do while in plain view.
It's obviously a contentious debate, and one we had to pose to two beauties in our midst who felt extremely strongly about their respective positions. Can there be a final answer about subway makeup? We had no choice but to let them duke it out. Ahead, the case for doing your makeup on the subway — and the case for nope, never, not even considering it. Whose side are you on?


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Illustrated by Shawna Huang.
Venus Wong, living production assistant
I am not exactly proud of it, but I have gotten applying makeup while on public transportation down to a science. I'm really not a morning person and would rather spend that extra few minutes reading in bed than getting ready, which means I end up having to beauty prep on my commute quite often. It's become part of my routine, for better or worse.
My Position: As long as it doesn't require making a weird face during application (like pulling up your lids for eyeliner), it shouldn't be off limits. I get why some people think it's unhygienic and, yes, there are lot of germs. But, you can say the same for virtually anywhere in NYC — they are inevitable. You're susceptible to all kinds of bacteria literally by just choosing to live in this space, so you really can't win 'em all.
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My Defense: I'm probably one of the most frequent hand washers you'll ever meet: I carry disinfectant wipes with me everywhere I go and wouldn't even touch my face before using one. So, I'm doing my best to safeguard myself for the deed. I have not had any major infection or breakouts thus far (knock on wood). If it's really as risky as some people claim it to be, I'm sure my skin would be ruined by now. From a personal standpoint, I think I'm careful enough. And, I'm essentially just touching my face, and people touch their faces on the subway all the time, don't they? It's pretty normal when you think about it that way.
Even when I'm pressed for time, I make sure to wash my face and apply toner and sunscreen before rushing out the door. On my train ride to work, I apply my concealer, cream blush, and a thin layer of eyeshadow. Luckily, I have thick bangs so it's easy for me to keep my head down and do it discreetly. I save the tricky parts — like my liquid eyeliner — for when I am on solid ground. (Trying to draw a smooth line while mobile can end very badly.) I never wear lipstick, so I'm not putting my fingers over my mouth.
My Bottom Line: Etiquette-wise, I think I'd be more self-conscious about doing my makeup so publicly if I live in a city with stricter code of conduct. (For example, you cannot eat or drink on the Tokyo metro.) But, this is New York. There are people doing much weirder things than I am who DGAF. It's that kind of place; a little glam on the subway shouldn't bother anyone.
Illustrated by Shawna Huang.
Megan McIntyre, beauty director
I'm going to go ahead and preface this essay by saying that under usual circumstances, I am not a typically judgy person. I'm very much of the "free to be you and me" mentality. Except, that is, when public transportation is involved. There is nothing like sharing a very small place with a lot of people to make you infinitely aware of just how gross your fellow man really is. Which is why you will never see me applying so much as a lip balm on the subway.
My Position: When I see other girls applying full faces of makeup mid-commute, I have to do my best not to show my signs of revulsion. Hey, I know some of us just don't have the time (or the power to resist our snooze button) in order to do our routines at home. Or, that some people have such crazily long commutes that they'd have to get up at an ungodly hour to put their face on. I get all that and I am sympathetic. But, none of it outweighs just how disgusting of a place the NYC subway system really is.
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My Defense: I always knew this in the recesses of my mind, but an article published last year by New York magazine brought all those tiny worries roaring to the forefront where they could no longer be ignored. In it, a geneticist documented 137 different types of hardcore bacteria on five subway lines — everywhere from the hand rails to the vending machines and kiosks. From this piece, I learned about all kinds of fun germs hanging out on things I touch during my day to day, just waiting to make me sneeze, make me sick, or make me involuntarily crap my pants. I've been a devoted post-subway hand washer ever since.
I don't know about you, but when I apply makeup, I use my fingers. And, many of the girls I see on the subway putting on makeup are also using their fingers. The same fingers that were just wrapped around a grody subway pole are now dabbing gloss onto their lips or concealer under their eyes. Which, at some point is going to migrate into their bodies and then things are going to get ugly.
My Bottom Line: I'm not saying we all need to live in bubbles or walk around in Hazmat suits; germs happen and we are going to come in contact with them as we go about living our lives. But, you wouldn't rub your hand on an NYC sidewalk and then lick your palm, would you? That, to me, is what blending a lipstick on your lips while commuting is like — you're touching something full of germs and bacteria, and then putting that germ-ridden thing directly on or near your mouth and eyes.
So, if you want to apply your makeup on the subway, knock yourself out. I won't be partaking in that particular habit, because there is some straight-up nastiness going on in those subway cars. People, there is no amount of bleach in this world that will erase that last image from my brain. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to figure out a billion-dollar idea that will allow me to buy a private jet for all future traveling needs.
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