How To Apply Makeup On The Subway

Know the etiquette dos and don'ts and always, always wait until the train has stationed to apply mascara and lipstick.
Publish date:
November 6, 2014
nars, Tarte, sephora, chanel, Glossier, applying makeup, gif tutorial, beauty routine, subway

It's safe to say I’m not a morning person.

When I worked at an office and commuted an hour each a.m., I did everything in my power to avoid waking up early. This included showering in the evening, drinking coffee on the bus, eating breakfast at my desk, and doing my makeup on the subway.

And although I find the last one a good use of time, others would argue applying your face during a morning commute shows a lack of manners and/or is unsanitary. Now I do agree a packed subway is not the ideal place or time to start blending your lids or contouring your face. But if you’re like me, with a reverse commute during rush hour, there’s more than enough space to do so without offending anyone.


Of course, there are certain dos and don’ts when applying makeup in a public space. Such as using fragrance-free products, staying within your space, not touching your face with your hands, and respecting boundaries (please, don’t pop a zit).


I keep my xoBeautyStash light and only pack what I need, such as bronzer, blush, an eyebrow pencil, liner, mascara, and lipstick. Other essentials, which are not pictured, include a bottle of hand sanitizer, Q-tips, and makeup wipes in case things get messy.

I also want to keep the application quick and germ-free, so I avoid products that require using my fingers or a sponge, and instead apply primer and concealer at home. While most days I forgo foundation, I would also suggest leaving it behind, too.


Now that we’ve covered the tools I carry, here is how I put them to use on my morning commute.

When the car is moving: brows, bronzer, blush, eyeliner

My go-to for eyebrows is the Tarte Amazonian Clay Brow Mousse. But since there’s no easy way to juggle a pot, applicator and mirror, I sub in the Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Wiz, which is an all-in-one product. I begin by brushing my brows upward and filling in any sparse areas, starting at the center and extending outward.

As the lighting underground is pretty unforgiving and can trick you into caking on makeup, I make sure to lightly sweep bronzer along my hairline, jawline, and below cheekbones.

I then finish by dusting NARS Dolce Vita blush onto my cheeks. Next is the tricky part: eyeliner.

If you’re worried about the subway jolting and sending the pencil through your eyeball, then I advise applying at stops. To achieve a smooth(-ish) line, I apply as close to my waterline as possible, avoid the inner corner of eyes, and omit the feline flick. There’s only so much sorcery I can do.

When the car is stationed: mascara & lipstick

Although I’m able to apply eyeliner while the subway is moving, I don’t take any chances with mascara or lipstick, and instead wait until safely stationed.

Here is the finished look on the subway, featuring NARS Fire Down Below Lipstick.

And just to be on the safe side, I always do one final check in my compact mirror as soon as I exit the subway, just to make sure everything looks even. Notice the difference between the below ground effect (above) and the above ground look (below) in natural lighting.

Since Toronto Transit is horrendous, I would’ve probably still ended up 10 minutes late to work but got in an extra 20 minutes of sleep. You win some and you lose some.