Covering Up Cold and Flu Symptoms: Beauty Tips

If you've got to look great despite your cold and flu symptoms, these beauty secrets will save the day.

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on October 18, 2007
7 min read

Your nose is red and runny; your eyes are puffy and so bloodshot they look like modern art. On top of everything else, a cold sore is threatening to blossom on your upper lip. There's no denying it, you've got a whopper of a cold -- or maybe even the flu.

But you've also got a commitment you just can't break. Whether it's an important work project, that PTA dinner you're hosting, or the birthday party for your best friend, you’ve got to show up and you've got to look good -- no matter how bad your cold and flu symptoms are.

Sound impossible? It's not -- just ask a celebrity makeup artist.

"Even my celebrity clients can't always choose the most convenient time to have a cold,” says makeup artist Michael Maron, founder of Redpoint High Performance Cosmetics. "Most have no choice but to 'face' the public and the paparazzi, as well as their commitments to perform, show up for interviews, or even walk the red carpet regardless of how they feel. And they still manage to look great," says Maron.

And you can do it, too. All it takes, says Maron, are a few home remedies, a little common sense, and a few cosmetic tricks.

Among the most telltale -- and unattractive -- cold symptoms is a red, runny nose, often made worse by constant blowing and wiping.

That's why experts say the No. 1 beauty tip when you have a cold: invest in a box of lotion-treated tissues.

"If you have a constantly runny nose that has chapped already, [tissues] with aloe vera can keep the area from becoming more red and sore," says Joel Schlessinger, MD, president of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology and Aesthetic Surgery. Both Kleenex and Puffs brands have lotion-treated tissues.

Two things you should never use to wipe your nose: napkins and paper towels. "Anything rough on the nose will delay healing by at least a day or two," says Schlessinger, who is also the director of

If your nose is already red, Schlessinger suggests using a 1% hydrocortisone cream to soothe and heal it.

Until your nose returns to its natural shade, Maron recommends hiding redness with a highly pigmented concealer.

"Apply it more deftly than you're used to, and choose a yellow-based cover-up, which works best to counter redness in the skin," he says.

While your eyes may be the windows to your soul, they can also be a dead giveaway that you've got a cold. Puffy, watery, red eyes are often the result of a cold, and they can look even worse if you've also been up all night with a hacking cough.

The solution: Take a teabag nap!

"If you lay down for 15 minutes and place cold teabags over your eyes, you'll see an immediate difference in the puffiness," says Maron. Another bonus: He says the tea also reduces redness and irritation around the eyes that often occurs when you have a cold.

If your eyes are more bloodshot then they are puffy, Los Angeles stylist Allison Dickerson says eye drops can do wonders for making you look instantly healthier.

"Nothing says 'I'm sick' like bloodshot eyes, so before you walk out the door, remove any redness with drops that will also lubricate and cool your eyes,” explains Dickerson, founder of The

Her choice is ROHTO V eye drops because "they have a cooling kick that also makes eyes look and feel refreshed." Other brands include Visine, Murine, Clear Eyes, and Allergan. Some people shouldn't use certain eye drops, so make sure to look at the package labeling or consult with your doctor before you use them.

One of the most frustrating side effects of colds and flu is dry, cracked, irritated lips -- not to mention cold sores. All can occur if you’ve got even a low-grade fever, or in the case of chapped, cracked lips, from mouth breathing when you have a stuffy nose.

And they aren't just uncomfortable -- they can cause you some significant harm.

"Lips that are very dry can crack, causing fissures that can easily become infected with viruses such as herpes simplex or with bacteria," says Charles Zugerman, MD, associate professor of clinical dermatology at Northwestern University Medical School.

One way to avoid problems and look better is to keep your lips properly conditioned. This, says Zugerman, will prevent cracking and shield your lips from some of the factors that can trigger cold sores. His choice: heavy-duty lip balms like Blistex DCT (Daily Conditioning Treatment for Lips).

"It has vitamins A and E and SPF 20, to keep lips from cracking and shield them from harmful UVA and UVB rays," he says. Other lip-conditioning treatments include SwabPlus, ChapStick Overnight Lip Treatment, and Aveeno Lip Conditioner.

To help head off a cold sore, Zugerman says, be on the lookout for early signs, which can include itching, tingling, and a warm sensation in the area where a blister will erupt -- usually within 24 hours.

If this occurs, he says, reach for a medicated lip product like Blistex Medicated Lip Ointment, and apply it liberally up to four times a day. "The penetrating analgesic properties will offer pain relief, while the moisturizing properties soften and prevent further cracking," he says.

Those with recurrent flare-ups of cold sores may benefit from antiviral medication at the first symptoms that a cold sore is coming.

And what if, despite your best efforts, the cold sore appears? Marion Simms, director of SkinSense Wellness Center in Los Angeles, recommends mixing together a drop or two of tea tree oil and myrrh and applying it to the blister.

"I've found cold sores respond really well to this combination," she says.

When it comes to cold and flu symptoms, the one advantage women have over men is that cosmetics can hide a multitude of sins -- including making you look absolutely fabulous when you are feeling absolutely awful.

And while some of your regular makeup techniques will work just fine while you have a cold, Maron says, there are a few special tricks you should keep in mind.

"First, always use a moisturizer to help smooth the skin and minimize chafing," he says. Because your complexion can be slightly dehydrated when you're sick, it can dry out and chafe more easily from wind and cold. So, he says, don't skip this step.

Another tip: Go easier on foundation and powder. “Your skin needs to breathe more, and you'll feel more comfortable with less heavy makeup," says Maron.

Dickerson agrees. "When you have a cold you probably are dehydrated, so heavy makeup is just going to look cakey," she says.

Simms says she opts for loose mineral powder foundation, applied heavier to conceal red areas and lighter on the rest of the face.

Maron says it's vital to perk up your complexion with color -- but choose wisely.

"Nothing adds vibrancy to your face more than lipstick. But stay away from too pale or overly muted colors and instead go for a vibrant shade of lip gloss," says Maron. To perk up your complexion, a peach-toned blush offers an instant healthy glow.

Eye shadow can also do wonders for those sleepy peepers, but Maron recommends avoiding purple and blue shades. "They tend to exacerbate red, watery eyes or redness around the eyes," he says. Instead, opt for a soft gray or brown shadow, and if your eyes are watery, skip the liner and just add a bit of water-resistant mascara.

To complete your look, Tony Promiscuo, owner of Godiva Salon in Atlanta, recommends using dry shampoo to make hair look fresh -- even without a regular wash and blow dry.

"Dry shampoos attract the oil produced by the scalp and keep it from working its way through your hair," he says. To use it correctly, he says, distribute it evenly throughout your hair and brush thoroughly. "I prefer to use less and do two applications than to use too much the first time," he says.

Nearly every expert says the best way to keep your cold from spreading to others is to wash your hands frequently, but that can net you some chapped, red hands -- particularly in winter.

One way around it is to skip soap altogether and opt for an antibacterial hand cleaner -- but be sure to choose one that also includes skin conditioners. Many experts recommend HandClens, which not only cleans your hands, but also softens them. Other brands include Purell and BodyCare Hand Santizier with Aloe.

If you'd still rather use good old soap and water, Schlessinger says be sure to use a potent moisturizer after every wash.

Finally, Maron says, even if you're having a "bad face day," try to smile, because "nothing masks a cold better than a great smile."