Wondering how to look moderately attractive while doing extreme-camping? I offer this post to help you navigate between what is necessary from the superfluous. Warning: HOT BEAUTY TIPZ AHEAD.
Run a Google Image search for ‘Burning Man, and you’ll see images of ornately-
dressed decorated hotties with perfect hair and makeup. These are the people who looked good enough to photograph. Ha. The majority of folx at The Burn look delightfully average (such as myself), accessorized by sedimentary layers of sweat, dust, and sunscreen. SO. Let go of any pressure to look like an ethereal creature while roughing it for 10 days in a remote desert …with no running water. That said, there are magical ways to overcome the elements and feel *almost*-photo-worthy. (Almost!)
What should/shouldn’t I put on my face?
Given that sweat is constantly seeping out + sunscreen re-slathered on, it’s not the ideal place for makeup…Many (maybe even most?) gals at BM appear to be makeup-free. Since I’m a Ginger with invisible eyelashes and eyebrows, my guy Tyler suggests that I keep those features visible, at least a little so that people know where my face is. (I love you too, Babe).
Trust me, I’ve done a ton of research into easy, dust/sweat-friendly options to keep you lookin’ like your damn fine self at Black Rock City. Read on for my PHD thesis in Burning Man Beauty. I’m covering eyes, brows, hair, skin and nails in as much detail as you’ll need for your unforgettable adventure in the sun. Word to your mom.
For those with natural movie star eyelashes (*cough* Corrina *cough*), skip this section, but for mere mortals with are-they-even-there eyelashes like me, here are my fave options for low-maintenance, luxe eyes at The Burn.
Option #1 Eyelash extensions:
- Feeling GLAM 24/7, with thick, curled, and dramatic lashes— but not too dramatic for Black Rock City 🙂 With no other makeup but these, you’ll look and feel great…BUT…(cue ominous music)
- Eyelash extensions are in a grey area as to whether they’re BM kosher. The reason is that if they fall out, the ‘leave no trace’ rule will be broken. Yes, I realize this sounds extreme/crazy, but it’s no joke. So, you could lose your natural eyelash while there, however, extensions + glue + your natural lash leave a slightly bigger and less natural footprint. Contrary to rumours though, extensions don’t cause you to lose your eyelashes more quickly. If your conscience is pro-extensions, then go to a reputable place that uses long-lasting glue. If you go to a cheap place that uses crap glue, you lose your extensions quickly and litter all over the playa. Don’t be that guy.
- Some warn against eyelash extensions as they can trap dust and become heavy, annoying to see through. During both burns, I had extensions and didn’t find this to be the case, but I’m good about having my goggles nearby, as well as brushing the extensions at night (sounds weird, but it’s a thing you’re supposed to do).
- Cost. They aren’t cheap, and range from $60-$200 for a set. I have an amaaaazing girl I found a girl through FB marketplace who charges $120 and does them from her house. Still pricey, but her quality is AMAZING, and last almost 2 months! Not to mention she’s much cheaper than most salons. I tested it out four months before the event, so I could know they would last, and then got them again days before I trekked down to BRC (Black Rock City).
- MAKE SURE you do your research and go to a well-reviewed place that uses high-quality glue! Good glue allows extensions to stay put longer, so be sure to ask how long the lashes will last AHEAD of your booking. Anything under 3 weeks would be more prone to falling out, so try for something with a reputation for lasting longer (a month is good).
- I don’t know if this is true, but I was told by a lash technician that volume lashes last longer than classic lashes, so ask your technician if that is the case with them, and go with whatever will last longest; you want resilient lashes out there! I had volume the first year and loved them. I got classic lashes last year and I wasn’t happy with them, although they lasted the week, they looked pretty sparse on me, and didn’t give me a defined dark lash line, because my OG lashes are clear.
- Make sure your lashes aren’t SO long that they will bump into your goggles. Your technician will have a variety of length options, so there’s no need to cut them yourself (PLEASE DON’T). Discuss with them that you need to be able to wear these with goggles, as they are ESSENTIAL to seeing while caught in the inevitable dust storms.
- If you need to sleep in complete darkness as I do, find an eye mask that has structured room for eyelashes. These will protect your investment from getting smooshed/broken if you’re the type to flail an arm over your eyes to block sunlight.
- Get your lashes done a few days before you leave to give them the best chance of survival (and remember to book the appointment weeks ahead of time, as back to school season creates a huge demand for beauty appointments).
Option #2: Lash lift/tint
- I’ve had lash lifts and they’re great. They’re basically a perm for your eyelashes (sounds scary, right?). Your lashes will stay curled perfectly upwards, like some kind of Disney character, for 3 months. Swoon. If you’re the type to rely on an eyelash curler, you will want to pinch yourself.
- The one drawback to only using this that if you have thin lashes, you’ll likely still want the volume that mascara offers. Mascara + lift in normal circumstances is AMAZE, but if you don’t want to mess with makeup, the lift alone may not be enough for you.
- If you go the lash lift/tint route, bring mascara in the event that you desire a bolder look. Just in case!
- If you need a lash tint as well (if you’re like Invisi-Eyes over here), so MAKE SURE TO ASK them to dye your bottom lashes too, prior to treatment! Often lash lift+tint includes service only for the upper lashes, which leaves you with no visible lower lashes. Request that they include the bottom lashes for the tint beforehand, and you’ll be set.
Option #3: Your Favorite Mascara
- Cheap, relatively easy
- I don’t like spending ANY time applying/removing makeup when I could be out exploring, so this is not the route I’d take each day, not to mention, that during a sudden rain/rust storm you could get black eyes.
- If you do decide to wear mascara, bring proper makeup remover wipes to use at night (no running water, ‘member?). If you have a great waterproof mascara, and an effective cleaner for it, then please let me know about it! I find I lose more eyelashes when trying to remove waterproof mascara, and so haven’t tried again in…over a decade? I’m open to suggestions!
In summary (eyes)
In the eye-fancying-up dept, despite the cost, I’m a HUGE fan of the effortlessness of having a QUALITY set of volume eyelash extensions. Waking up feeling instantly fab with zero effort (friends with naturally amazing lashes —you live the dream) and simply brushed my teeth, pulled on some clothes and I was ready for my day. BUT do your research and make sure you get an extension that will last — we don’t need more MOOP left in the desert. An option I may try next year is a lash lift + tint, plus bring a great waterproof mascara (I’ll need to start testing some, please share your favourites!).
If you’re wondering why I didn’t suggest those DIY-glue on lashes, well, they’re annoying AF to put on, but most importantly, the glue is only meant to last a day, meaning they’d be a likely MOOP candidate. So, no.
For the love of poutine, PROTECT your hair BEFORE getting to BRC. The alkaline dust will immediately mingle with your locks to create a dry, un-brushable mess, and possibly leave it permanently damaged. If you have medium-long hair, this is what I advise you do, the same day that you will be arriving on playa (and BEFORE you get there.).
- Wash your hair the morning of leaving it sparkling clean, and apply a thick layer of leave-on conditioner.
- Braid your hair tightly, keeping in mind a style of braid that you won’t mind sleeping for days in. I do two side braids (Willie Nelson style) so that if I sleep on my back, my head isn’t resting on a lump of hair. Not braiding medium/long hair puts you at risk of out-of-control knots, damaged strands, etc. DO NOT WAIT TO BRAID IT — do it BEFORE you arrive on playa. You could arrive in a dust storm and boom, insta-dreads for the next ten days.
- If you want to get funky, braid in wool, yarn, or hair extensions. Many do this, and it looks cool. I personally tried it and wasn’t a fan of the extra weight and warmth, but you might like it.
- Grow out your bangs. For me, having bangs was annoying at BM; next time, I’ll cut them afterward so that I’m able to successfully braid those whisps (and keep them from falling in my face).
- During the event, book an appointment at a hair washing camp, and if you need braids, book an appt at a braiding camp too! Be sure to get your name on the list early in the day (and early-ish in the week), otherwise, you may not get your chance.
- After BM, deep-cleanse and deep condition your hair. That first shower will be euphoric (you believe me).
- If the thought of exposing your hair this way scares you, consider wearing a (non-appropriative) head wrap or a long hair scarf. I saw some of these worn, and they looked gorgeous.
In summary (hair):
Have a plan for your hair BEFORE you get to BRC! The dust is no joke; it does no favours to hair.
Get them brows did before you come; a great brow shape can do wonders for a natural look. If you have clear eyebrows as I do, consider getting them lightly tinted as well so that you can leave your eyebrow pencil at home. I love getting mine threaded, but you do you.
As you know, the alkaline dust is very drying, the wind abrasive, and sun, obviously UV-filled. Come prepared to take good care of your precious melanin during these 10 intense days.
- a lot of sunscreen. Reapply often throughout the day. Don’t be that guy who thinks it’s a good idea to burn first in order to tan — that’s a recipe for sunstroke (and worse…). Ensure you always have sunscreen with you. Have a spray sunscreen for quick/easy application, and a good cream one for your face (or whatever works best for you).
- a high-quality chapstick with SPF
- a spray bottle with witch hazel in it — not only is it refreshing, but it neutralizes the alkalinity of the dust and makes a great toner
- baby wipes, for that epic ‘shower’ each night
- hydrating lotion to wear on your face at night (NO SPF in this one). I haven’t found a specific brand that blows my mind, so I welcome your favourites
- Flavouring for your water! If you’re like me and drink less water than necessary, this is the time to add some pizzaz to your water so that want to guzzle that H20! This will help your skin to stay supple, and your entire body to keep running optimally. Electrolyte tablets are also a must, as you’ll need to replace what you’re losing in sweat. I alternate between using fruity stevia drops (sugar-free, President’s Choice brand) Nuun electrolyte tabs and coconut water powder.
- A corded, WIDE-brimmed hat, dorkier-the-better to protect your face and neck from the perils of UV
- I have no expertise in spray tans, save for the one I got the day before a wedding in 2007 (who was the satsuma in the wedding party? Me!). BUT, if a spray tan is something you value, make sure to get a quality one that will last you for at least the full ten days, and will stand up to daily wet-wipe-washes and intense sweats without leaving bare patches.
- Some feet are prone to getting a painful, drying, cracking effect called ‘playa foot’ through dust exposure. Don’t let this happen to you! Keep your feet protected by wearing socks whenever possible. At night, give them a baby wipe cleaning and then moisturize before covering in a clean pair of socks before bed. I personally use Eucarin (basically, medicated vaseline) while there and my feet have never felt better…I guess I should start doing this at home, ha.
If you want to feel truly clean, showers are available at BM…but there’s a catch: they’re shared, and coed. If getting nekked with strangers doesn’t phase you, you’re in luck. Dedicated shower camps truck in/out all the water used, which isn’t possible for most other camps.
AFAIK they are all co-ed, which is why I haven’t gone, but my bro-law went and enjoyed it; he said any self-consciousness wore off quickly (note, he’s a model, I’m accepting SIL applications), and feeling clean was the greatest gift. Next year, if there is a non-coed setup, I’ll be there! Guess I’d better pack a towel…
TLDR: Cut ’em short and leave ’em au naturale!
Last year, after much research as to how to protect my nails during BM, I opted to try gel nails. IRL I occasionally treat myself to gel nails — they’re hardy and look so pretty, so last year I got them done a few days before leaving for BRC.
Unfortunately, they weren’t tough enough to survive BM and became ragged within a few days. They also proved to be an annoyance, limiting me in doing things such as replace my bike chain, untie a tight knot, etc. It was frustrating, as BM requires attendees to be completely self-sufficient. That said, I went to a sub-par place and the gel layers were unusually thick, so it could be why.
If you are the type who can do anything in nails and can keep them looking sharp even when doing manual labour, I tip my dorky, wide-brimmed hat to you! For those not enlightened in this area, embrace the fact that your nails will be dirty for 9 days, and that’s ok (you won’t be alone). Just remember to keep them SHORT (minimize dirt storage), and deeply moisturize your hands and nails at night, to save them from becoming dry/cracked.
I did however get a pedicure before the burn, and that was great. I don’t recommend exposing your feet to the dust, so if you wear socks and shoes, and clean/moisturize your feet each night, having them painted and the dead skin scrubbed off (even if it’s just for you to enjoy), is a nice touch.
Tip: I’ll be packing a pair of thin, breathable biking gloves to wear, to protect my hands from sun and dust (and to feel clean…the dust feels like chalk on your hands), while hopefully keeping moisture in.
Make life easy for yourself by being prepared BEFORE you arrive at BRC. Ensure that you’ll be kept clean(ish), hydrated, moisturized, and feel attractive with minimal effort. Whatever treatment works for your budget, and personal taste, effin treat-yo-self! If you prefer the makeup-free look in regular life, you’re golden. If rolling au-naturale isn’t your jam, you won’t regret investing in your future self beforehand. Doing so will free up time to explore the playa and allow you to look/feel a tad more like your regular, off-playa self. Hot damn, girl, you look like whoa.