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Leg Makeup

Molly's to-do list
At a picnic
The author practices her technique

No, really, it’s a thing, and it’s not just for celebrities. Molly Young investigates.

A few years ago I wrote a profile of Miss America 2011, who was a Nebraskan named Teresa Scanlan. Teresa was kind and talented and pretty, and she wore full stage makeup and a wig at every public appearance, even if it was only to read to kindergarteners. At 17 years old, she understood the mechanics of image-making and the necessity of looking like Miss America in every photo. It was impressive and precocious, and poignant in the way that it is always poignant when young people sustain pressures under which most adults would crumple. One of Teresa's pageant secrets was leg makeup—which, if you're unfamiliar, is exactly what it sounds like. Leg makeup, she explained, was what gave pageant contestants their satin Barbie Doll sheen. It's foundation for your legs. Or, as Sally Hansen used to brand it, "It's like pantyhose in a can!"

That is not how Sally Hansen markets their fastest-growing, award-winning product today. Pantyhose sales have dropped over the past few decades, and most workplaces no longer require female employees (either tacitly or explicitly) to wear them. A few years ago Michelle Obama announced on The View that she loathed hose ("Put 'em on, rip 'em—it's inconvenient"), and who can blame her? As repellent words go, "pantyhose" is up there with "sexpert" and "fondle." Put it this way: I would not want to be long on L'eggs stock.

I was lukewarm, then, when Emily called to see if I was interested in testing out Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs for a sponsored post. She'd already tested the product on herself. "Does it rub off on everything?" I asked.

"No," said Emily. "Not until I took a shower— and then it looked like a Kardashian was melting down the drain!"

I liked the idea of a Kardashian melting down the drain.

When the cult products arrived a few days later, feelings of resentment began to creep in. All ultra-specific beauty products—waist-targeting gel, lip contour cream—make me resentful. By offering to fix things that I hadn't realized were broken, they seem to create flaws from thin air. The imaginary dialogue goes like this:

Airbrush Legs: "I enhance coverage of freckles, veins, and imperfections."

Me: "Are leg freckles a problem?"

Airbrush Legs: (Silence.)

Me: "I feel bad about my leg freckles."

But forget that, for a moment. Look at the picture on the bottles. The picture shows a pair of sleek, shimmering legs. Legs like Mariah Carey's digitally-enhanced ones on the cover of #1s. Golden legs. Legs that make you think, ‘I WANT MY LEGS TO BE THE COLOR OF A WAFFLE.’ Legs that can be yours, maybe, for $11.50.

I took off my pants. The product comes in two formats—lotion and aerosol spray—but there's no actual difference, because you're instructed to aim the nozzle at your palm, spray, and then rub it in that way. I applied the makeup to one leg and took an iPhone photo to compare. The result: my painted leg was bronzed and monochromatic; my natural leg was pink and contained two bruises. Also, my natural knee formed a darker pink circle against the rest of my leg, which made it look sort of like a nipple. I had not noticed this before. How erotic.

I took my legs for a spin around the apartment. The difference between test leg and control leg was startling: if I went to work with just one leg painted, for example, it would be considered an inappropriate distraction and remarked on. The painted leg was creamily brown and longer-looking. It was a better leg—a leg that looked like it belonged on Megan Fox. It struck me that a key difference between celebrity legs and civilian legs is that celebrity legs are all the same color. They do not have nipple knees or bruises or faint scars from the time their cousin t-boned them with a Frisbee. One has to wonder: do all celebrities use leg makeup? The answer is probably yes.

The next hurdle was to find out whether the makeup would stay on or rub off. I lubed up my other leg, waited 20 minutes, put on a pair of skintight black jeans and ran errands for a few hours in 97º heat. Then I went home and peeled off my pants; there was no makeup inside. This is objectively amazing, so: kudos to the Sally Hansen chemists! I hopped into the shower and splattered bits of Kardashian all over the white bathroom tile, watching it swirl down the drain as Emily described. The more stubborn traces disappeared with a gentle scrub.

The next day I painted my legs again and went to a picnic on the Brooklyn Promenade with some friends. One person brought crusty bread, brie, and prosciutto. Another person brought gin, Cadbury chocolate, and salad. I brought a bag of shitty snow peas and my leg makeup.

"I'm wearing leg makeup," I told everyone. The reaction was muted.

Midway through the picnic, I took a picture of my legs. They looked better than my legs had ever looked in a photo. I decided I would wear the makeup one more time—to work the next day—and see how it went. Our office A/C was broken and, thanks to the huge quantity of computers, the indoor thermometer was hovering around 123º. I was too nauseated to work and spent a lot of time angrily mainlining Ice Pops in my snow-white office chair. None of the makeup rubbed off on it.

"Bare legs are nice," says the Sally Hansen bottle. "Airbrush Legs are irresistible."

So, is the bottle correct? Should all women have a bottle of leg makeup in their bathroom cabinet? Here is what I think. I think that Airbrush Legs are the equivalent of false eyelashes: a beauty procedure that takes a few extra minutes to pull off but elevates your grooming situation from civilian-status to red carpet-status. (Not necessarily movie star status, but George-Clooney-date status, for sure.) They are something to dig out on occasion, but not something to deploy on a casual basis. It is the beauty version of a closing pitcher.

It is not a substitute for pantyhose, either, if you are in the market for pantyhose. Unlike pantyhose, you cannot pull Airbrush Legs above your bellybutton and feel your stomach firm up like instant-set Jell-O. Tubes of Airbrush Legs will never be rationed during wartime. And if you work at a place that requires pantyhose, you're dealing with a cultural rather than an aesthetic mandate, so the spray-on alternative won't be much help.

But for those who are interested in an instant leg upgrade, know this: Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs is odorless and has a sheen, but no glitter. (Perfect.) It makes your legs look thinner. The lotion is easier than the spray. You’ll want to exfoliate and moisturize before applying. You’ll want to admire your legs after applying. And when they tell you it washes off in the shower, they mean it. (It really does. I have white sheets, too.) 

Molly Young

Photos by Molly Young. For more Molly, check out her Twitter and her other ITG posts

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • martyspal

    Ride Citi Bike.

  • Cat

    Molly, I dig your humour, loved this post. I had pretty much the same experience as you the first time I used my Lorac leg makeup, and quickly went from somewhat reluctant to "OMG THIS IS THE SHIT". Picking the Sally Hansen one up today and taking it for a test drive! Or walk. x

  • Groovychimpster

    I loved the writing - only Molly Young's talent could've sustained my interest in leg makeup. Referencing instant jello and closing pitchers in a story about the sheen and tint of legs !

    As tempting as having lovelier legs sounds, I applaud Molly Young for including this thought: "By offering to fix things that I hadn't realized were broken, they seem to create flaws from thin air."

    Let's LOVE our bodies, mostly as is.

    • Jane T.

      For real -- I was laughing so hard (I full on remember Mariah Carey's alien legs on that cover). I agree that this is one of those things that is really just for events, but I have definitely felt weird in bare legs and "leg nipple" is the perfect crass term for it.

  • ksegs

    Awesome, love this! Naturally, I'm wondering-- as it's so stayput, do you think one could conceivably use this as an all-over self-tanner?

    • magicmollys

      I don't see why not! Only thing is there's no self-tanner in it so it would be purely a temporary dip.

      • TriciaTum

        I've been using this product for years and I'm completely obsessed with it. Many of my friends are now hooked as well. And yes you can use it as an all-over temporary bronzer. And it will stay on in the pool, the rain, etc. One thing to note though is that this product is in fact full of glitter. It's not noticeable in florescent lighting however in direct sunlight - like at the beach or by the pool - you will be shimmering like Edward Cullen.

  • mickharper

    I'd give this post 9 out of 10 legs! Would you recommend for men?

    • Esther MK

      you know how some men put foundation on their face and it looks weird where they shave/have stubble? ...yeah

  • Chantel

    Great article!

  • Alissa

    I love the Airbrush Legs Cream! I like it better than sunless tanner on my legs. Perfection!

  • Holly

    Closing pitcher...?

  • Veronica

    What shoes are you wearing in the picnic shot?

    • magicmollys

      Robert Clergerie shoes from eBay! They are comfy, with a wedge heel.

  • http://prima-haven.com/ Prima Haven

    Laughed out loud. Molly, you are hilarious. I'm buying some.

  • Regular-shaped

    Molly! Your legs are very slim (in both before and after shots). Do you think this would be beneficial for those who don't have such slim legs?

    • magicmollys

      It would work on any shape leg as long as you're okay with being bronzed up!

  • Beauty Angel

    As a pasty Irish lady I can't live without Sally Hansen, it hides all the blue veins and pastiness!

    • odessa

      Where can I buy a leg make up and what brand my legs has lots of discolorations due of the bug allergies this summer ugly it's look like camouflage and I'm brown skin and I'm going to wear mini skirt party dress after my wedding ...pls help

  • Zoe Kolleen Ziegenhagen

    Never heard of leg makeup! Love the post and the way you wrote it. You had my undivided attention. Now on to investing in leg makeup :)

  • Sotengelen

    I hate pantyhose! They pinch my stomach and give me all sorts of
    strange bumps. But... I have horrible legs and I do need some coverage
    in dresses. I will give this a try.

  • Miriam

    Gotta check this stuff out!

  • Lana

    I sort of fell in love with Ms. Molly Young after reading this. More from you, pretty please

  • http://www.fancyalterego.wordpress.com/ Heather P.

    I enjoyed this, I really did. Leg makeup is something I would have never considered, and much like you, would worry it'd make me hate a part of my body I am, at best, already slightly unhappy about. Thanks for taking one for the team and reporting back. :-)

  • s-bomb

    I wonder if you could use it all over your body if you were wearing a bikini. I always dislike how my torso is so pasty compare to my legs and arms. Also, does it have a smell?

    • magicmollys

      No smell whatsoever (but my nose is not very sensitive so it might have a slight one that is escaping me!) and I think it would work well if you put it all over, as long as you walked around naked for a few mins to let it dry.

  • a

    Molly, your writing skills are LEGIT. Brutally honest, dynamic, witty, self-deprecating. Keep it up, lady.

  • nicolecontrol

    I am completely obsessed with Airbrush Legs! My only gripe is that I need a travel-sized bottle, because this stuff is my work meeting jam.

  • Makeup

    I use this. The only thing about it is a little sticky for lack of a better word. I mix it with lotion goes on better. LOVE the kardashian line!!!! That was great. Please do more reviews like this. Supposedly Heidi Klum uses it. If is good enough for her.

  • thunderlegz

    Molly, I love LOVE your writing! Tangent...how do you have such pretty legs-sans makeup? Squats? What gives?

    • magicmollys

      Walking to and from work in high heels :(

  • Tai

    More from Molly Young please! Also - I bought a bottle/can of this stuff, but never got around to using it because it freaked me out a little. Consider it used. (But also, thank you for comparing them to false eyelashes - perfect analogy.)

  • Julie Meowmeows

    Wh . . . what if it rains!?

  • Adelaide

    "One person brought crusty bread, brie, and prosciutto. Another person brought gin, Cadbury chocolate, and salad. I brought a bag of shitty snow peas and my leg makeup." Literal LOL.

  • skyebird

    Where did you get that amazing plastic wall pocket in the first shot? It's gorgeous!

    • magicmollys

      Go to Amazon and search "wall mount fish bowl"!! (I repurposed it.) they cost like $13

  • http://www.kayliwanders.com/ Kayli Schattner

    This was such a fun article to read! I've never considered leg make-up but it sounds pretty darn interesting.

  • http://liveitinerantly.com/ Quyen Nguyen

    What a great find! I have to try this. Thanks for sharing!

  • babs

    This was totally hilarious. Also, you seem to have a nice shoe collection.

  • Kayahs

    I have been using this product for years. Now I am ticked because this post will allow other people to catch on and it may be out of stock. Retailers never carry too much and if you like it pay attention as winter arrives as it will often go on clearance to make room for holiday pallettes of 400 eye shadows.

  • Marla

    How do you choose the right color?

    • magicmollys

      There are only three to choose from so you just pick the closest to your skin color. When I first put it on, the color difference was shockingly darker but it wound up looking natural, like my legs had gone to the beach for a few days.

  • cat & tonic

    Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs = YES YES YES. I've been using this for years because am super pale human and I don't a) tan naturally or b) fake tan - so hard/unnatural. I don't go out partying in summer without this stuff (in the lightest shade, of course) spray painted on my transparent skin. I love that it gives an even-toned appearance to the skin without being orangey or bronzey.

    I also use it on my arms and chest. Sadly, it's getting pricier and pricier in NZ - up to about $30 a can :(

    Also, once I tried it on my face and it looks gross so don't do that.

    • Vanessa @ Love This Crazy Life

      I also use this stuff all the time! Agreed on using for arms and chest - gives perfect coloring without the worry of orange/streaky fake tan. I prefer the lotion kind because it doesn't have the shimmer in it :)
      - V

  • alex

    I don't get how they dont rub off on shit! Like, when I am hot my legs will sweat, will that not melt it off?? Is it a soap required kind of make up removal? I literally just don't believe it.

  • Jenna34343

    Love this stuff—just tried it this weekend and it worked as promised. No staining of clothing or car seats and looked super-natural. I am also in the super-pale club so fake tan tends to look, well, fake on me as well.

    If you are using the spray vs. the lotion, keep in mind that it comes out ice cold in your hand, like it was chilled in the freezer for a few hours. Guess this has something to do with the pressure within the bottle.

  • amapola

    Bought the spray for a wedding I was in a couple of weeks ago and loved it. One caveat is to test in natural light - it was much more apparent where I had missed a spot than in the bathroom.

  • Jacqueline Jax

    I actually love the Sally airbrush makeup. Use it all the time for fashion photos. Since I design vacation wear, I'm always bare legged and I don't like to tan ... Save the skin so a little self tanner and a little stay and I'm happy. :0) http:/

  • Pri

    Love this style of review xx

  • Win

    Molly! Where are your t-straps from?

    • magicmollys

      Robert Clergerie via eBay!

  • Alexandra

    what if it rains? is it like melted crayons (google image that) from the waist down?

  • Behind the Mirror

    Very funny post!!! I really like the part talking to the can - "Are leg freckles a problem?"

  • Cc

    So maybe this is totally inappropriate....but what about when you're with your partner? Do the sheets and your person get covered in makeup?

    • magicmollys

      I can't speak from experience but I think it would be fine unless you got REALLY INTENSE and the room was hot.

  • Lo

    Any less glittery option in the leg makeup category that you all can recommend?

  • BT

    I just wish it came in ONE shade lighter. I'm fair but because of that, I need this all the more!

  • unza

    This was such a fun article to read! I've never considered leg make-up but it sounds pretty darn interesting.

  • 신혜진

    I want to know stuff's name white bowl.


Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs
Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs Leg Makeup (Spray)
Sally Hansen
Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs Leg Makeup (Cream)