Follow TV Tropes


Your Makeup Is Running

Go To

Nostalgia Critic: You weren't even wearing mascara. How is it running?
JesuOtaku: [confused] I don't know!

When someone is wearing heavy makeup they run the risk of it getting smudged. This is especially true if they start crying or otherwise get their face wet. Their makeup will start to run down their face in heavy, inky and colorful rivers; mascara especially. The black lines streaming down the face are very striking visually and make a very visible sign of sadness. A Sub-Trope of Inelegant Blubbering.

Some characters may purposely invoke this effect by applying makeup in this way as a sign of continued grief, kind of like wearing black to a funeral. Be very careful, because these characters are generally carrying their sadness with an equal yearning for bitter revenge.

May sometimes overlap with Cosmetic Catastrophe, especially if it happens during production. May wind up being the result of Guyliner if it happens to a male character. See also Makeup Is Evil and Excessive Evil Eyeshadow.



    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In One Piece, Bentham has this happen during his final talk with Luffy and co. after they went through the Gate Of Justice towards Marine Ford. Only in the Anime though.
  • In Princess Jellyfish, this happens to Tsukimi several times after Kuranosuke dolls her up, though the second time it winds up being averted since he used waterproof mascara, a fact he comments on.
  • Agni's Philosophy: In WITCH Chapter 0 [cry], Agni cries profusely because of the horrors of the previous demo. It's hard to notice until the demo zooms in close, but it also shows makeup running around her eyes.


    Comic Books 
  • Alice in Batwoman has this happen to her twice, in both cases showing one of the drawbacks of such elaborate makeup. Given her general aesthetic is a blatant in-universe-reference to Alice in Wonderland and the associated tropes this may have been deliberate on the part of the character herself.
  • Occurs to Eyeda, a minor character attending the same school as Sabrina the Teenage Witch. When Eyeda is accused of cheating during a hex exam, she breaks into tears pleading innocence. Since Eyeda has a single huge eyeball in place of a head, her mascara stains both upper and lower lids, plus the front of her outfit. Clearly, Eyeda applies mascara by the pint.
  • At the beginning of X-Men: Blue, Jean Grey scans Magneto's thoughts. What she sees in his mind causes rivers of mascara to flow down her cheeks.
  • In Superman storyline Who is Superwoman?, Supergirl used to fly up to the Sun when she wanted to mourn her father in private without one entire city worth of people listening. She stopped going, though, when she noticed her tears were ruining her makeup.
    Kara: I came out here the first time to cry. It's next to impossible to feel like you have any privacy in a city where everyone has superhearing. In space, though, no one can hear me grieve. My tears would boil, then instantly freeze in the vacuum. No evidence of weeping for anyone to see... I miss my dad. Last week, I caught a glimpse in the mirror as I made my way back to the city. The boiling tears were wrecking my makeup, so I stopped making the trip up.
  • Future Foundation: It happens to Julie in the Fantastic Four #11 backup after the break up with Karolina in Rainbow Rowell's Runaways.

    Fan Works 
  • Happens to Marinette in Fermeture when she breaks down in tears after returning home from seeing Adrien again, ruining a pillowcase with her mascara.

    Film — Animated 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Dramatically used to great effect with Winona Ryder's character Beth in Black Swan, who's all smeared mascara and smudged eye-liner.
  • Dance of the Dead: Jennifer puts on a lot of makeup before going to the prom. It's running down her face (directly under her tear ducts) when the heroes find her hiding in the bathroom, having witnessed the deaths of most of her classmates.
  • Head Office: After Frank's secretary is falsely told that he's dead to explain why his office is being emptied out, he finds her with smudged makeup.
  • The Madam of Liquid Silver in the Tank Girl film.
  • Dakota in Planet Terror as seen in this poster.
  • Lola in Transporter 2 and Valentina in the second half of Transporter 3.
  • Rachel in Blade Runner.
    Rachel: I'm not in the business. I am the business.
  • A very dramatic example in the railroad car scene Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Laura and Ronette's smeared makeup and dripping eyeliner lend them the appearance of clowns, adding to the grotesque horror of the scene.
  • The Apartment lampshades this when word of Mr. Sheldrake's previous affairs leaves his current mistress, Fran Kubelik, in tears:
    Fran: You'd think I would have learned by now — when you're in love with a married man, you shouldn't wear mascara.
  • The Windmill Massacre: When Nicholas has his vision of the patient who died on his operating table, she is wearing mascara that has smeared and run down her face. Quite possibly this how she looked the last time Nicholas saw her.
  • Life Blood: When Brooke finds the mostly naked Carrie on the floor cringing away from Warren, her mascara has run most of the way down her cheeks.
  • American Mary: After Mary is raped by Dr. Grant, there is a scene of her riding the elevator to the ground with her mascara running from her tears.

  • In Henry Zhou's Warhammer 40,000 novel The Emperor's Mercy, after aristocrats are rounded up in a raid, the women are crying with their black make-up running.
  • In the first chapter of I'm Ok (2018), Ok notes that the woman face-to-face with him has her cheeks streaked with mascara from her crying.
  • Journey to Chaos: After her tearful reunion with Eric in Looming Shadow, Kasile's makeup is a mess. Eric has a laugh at her expense.
  • When Ma’s mother from Room cries after seeing her daughter for the first time in seven years, Jack mentions her tears are black. Prior to that, he thought it was just a TV thing, as he had never seen someone cry while wearing makeup before.
  • In Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, during her ordeal Jessica cries so that her make-up runs.
  • Marianne from Saving Max weeps mascara at the sight of her son's autopsy photos.
  • Sharon from I Think I Love You wears mascara for the first time in her life on the day of the David Cassidy concert. She cries when she learns that Petra entered Gillian as her partner for the David Cassidy Quiz instead of Sharon, making her look like a baby playing with charcoal.
  • In Harmonic Feedback, mascara streams down Kari's cheeks as she cries over Naomi's unconscious, meth-overdosed body.
  • In Eye of a Fly, Ernest sees an underage prostitute with a bruise on her cheek and big streaks of mascara running from her eyes.
  • Asperger Sunset: When Angela holds Russ and Baldy at gunpoint and demands to know which of them murdered her boyfriend, her face is streaked black with mascara.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Sabrina the Teenage Witch episode "Sabrina the Teenage Boy," Sabrina's mascara starts running while she cries in male form, indicating that the spell is wearing off.
  • Mimi on The Drew Carey Show had some pretty spectacular versions of this considering how much makeup she tends to wear.
  • On That '70s Show, Jackie puts makeup on Kelso to give him the "androgynous David Bowie look", only to have it go wrong.
    Jackie: Kelso. Your mascara's running.
    • In an episode where Red was unemployed because the car part factory shut down, he becomes addicted to soap operas, and has an Imagine Spot where Kitty reveals that Eric is the son of one of the doctors she works with, and when she cries after the revelation her mascara runs.
  • The Colbert Report: The inauguration of Barack Obama caused Stephen to cry with massive amounts of mascara running and snot hanging from his nose.
  • Discussed in Soap when everybody is going to find out if the courts find Jessica guilty or not for Peter's murder when Mary (Jessica's sister) is unable to talk because she's holding back her tears. Burt tells Jessica she's trying not to cry because her make-up will run and she'll look like a raccoon.
  • Played for Laughs in Hannah Montana with Miley encouraging an emotional Lilly to find another boyfriend at the beach, after thinking Oliver is cheating on her. It doesn't work well for Lilly. Similarly to the above Soap example, she is compared to a raccoon.
  • Elliot on Scrubs has this happen to her on one occasion, causing her to remark that her running mascara made her look like Alice Cooper.
  • Rae on My Mad Fat Diary, when she was stood up and started crying as a result (and then smudging whatever stayed on deliberately).
  • In the final episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Played for Laughs with Pearl's mascara when the S.O.L. engages re-entry protocol.
  • The visual effect was inadvertently used in an episode of Angel when people started going crazy due to a weird shift in cosmic forces and the intention was for them to start "crying blood." The DVD commentary lamented how the make-up design looked more like red mascara running.
  • Pretty much inevitable on RuPaul's Drag Race given that the contestants are all Drag Queens. The Untucked behind the scenes episodes in particular often feature this. And it was once invoked by a challenge where the queens had to cry on cue, and several of them deliberately did this.
  • Annie in Community learns the hard way that Stop, or I Will Shoot! works better with a gun than pepper spray. Running into your own pepper spray tends to have this effect.
  • Played straight in Vikings. Floki wears kohl around his eyes, and it runs (to great effect) when he's sitting by Torstein's body early in the third season.
  • In the "Friendface" episode of The IT Crowd, Roy reluctantly meets with a girl he used to date, who wears too much makeup and it runs when she gets upset, causing her to look like the Joker.
  • Black Mirror:
    • "Nosedive": Getting to the wedding gives Lacie this effect. It's a very powerful effect because the black tears seem to represent tears of resentment as she uses the speech to tear into her Alpha Bitch friend, and also her realization about society.
    • "Playtest": When Cooper seemingly returns home to America at the end of the episode, he finds his mother (who he has been neglecting to contact) crying her eyes out over trying to phone him, and worse for poor Cooper, she has contracted Alzheimer's in his absence and doesn't recognize him standing right in front of her.
  • Averted in Lucifer, the titular character wears black eyeliner, but it doesn't seem to smudge or run when he cries.
  • In a "Church Lady" sketch on Saturday Night Live Jan Hooks portrayed Tammy Faye Bakker at the height of the scandal surrounding the Bakkers' Praise The Lord ministry. Tammy Faye was known for wearing heavy makeup including mascara which sometimes ran when she cried. Hooks was shown on-camera applying a black liquid to simulate runny mascara. It's unclear whether this was supposed to be seen by the TV audience or not.
  • In the fifth episode of Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters it happens to Yellow Buster, following her emotional breakdown over Ryuji's overheating and going berserk.

  • In Porcupine Tree's "Blackest Eyes":
    "It's so erotic when your make up runs"
  • The Non-Appearing Title of the Foo Fighters song "Cheer Up Boys (Your Makeup Is Running)" references this, in a likely Take That! at the emo scene.
  • The Julie Roberts song "Men and Mascara" refers to "little black rivers running down her face" in addition to its hook line, "men and mascara always run."
  • Cherry from the animated band Studio Killers looks like this all the time.
  • The Decemberists' The Tain: "Darling dear, what have you done?/Your clothes are torn, your makeup runs."
  • Franz Ferdinand's "Walk Away": "mascara bleeds a blackened tear".
  • Marina & the Diamonds In "Shampain", Marina has mascara and tears running down her cheeks from a night of heavy drinking on her own.
  • Imelda May's "Black Tears" (on the 2017 album Life Love Flesh Blood) is a Break-Up Song built around the image of mascara running.
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Go Robot" has the lyric "She cried so hard, you know she looked like Alice Cooper", comparing this trope to Alice Cooper's signature stage makeup.
  • The cover art to Stabbing Westward's Self-Titled Album features a model with running eye shadow giving a Kubrick Stare.
  • Midway through the video for the ballad "I'll Be There" by The Escape Club, lead singer Trevor Steel has quite the stream of makeup running down his cheeks.
  • Joni Mitchell's "People's Parties":
    Photo Beauty gets attention
    Then her eye paint's running down

    Video Games 
  • This is how Mimi made fun of Peach before one of their fights during Super Paper Mario: "Better not cry, or all your pretty makeup will run!"
  • Mass Effect 2 has this happen when you romance Jack/Subject Zero. During her romance scene, she will begin to cry and her black eye makeup will run down her face which you can fully enjoy here.
  • In Batman: Arkham Asylum Dr. Young's mascara is ruined when she starts crying after she's nearly killed by Zsasz.
  • Resonance of Fate: Leanne exploits this trope, mentioning at one point that she wears makeup as a reminder to stay strong because if she cries, she'll ruin the makeup.
  • Peri from Fire Emblem Fates frequently lets her makeup run whenever she is crying or about to cry when things don't go her way.

    Web Comics 

    Web Videos 
  • During a crossover with JesuOtaku, The Nostalgia Critic is puzzled after he has running makeup crying over characters from Digimon: The Movie.
    Critic: How did that even happen? You don't wear makeup!
    JesuOtaku: [confused] I. Don't. Know.

    Western Animation 
  • Helga's older sister Olga in Hey Arnold! has her mascara run whenever she cries.
  • Happened to Luanne in King of the Hill when she cried.
  • A recurring joke in Drawn Together is that whenever Captain Hero cries, his mascara runs. Happens to Xandir too.
  • Happens to Mai at one point in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
  • Eska wears this as she tries to catch up to Bolin in The Legend of Korra. Even more unsettling since up to then she was The Stoic.
  • Caitlin from 6teen is prone to crying, and whenever she bawls her face becomes a mess with black liquid running under her eyes.
  • Misery's cousin Morose from Ruby Gloom, like the rest of her family, has endless trails of tears running from her eyes. Due to wearing heavy dark eyeshadow, they appear as thick black streams instead.
  • A rare male example would be Xiaolin Showdown's Jack Spicer. However, this has only happened once.
  • The Flintstones: In an episode, Wilma uses makeup to make herself look more tired than she really was to guilt Fred into hiring a maid. Fred points out that her makeup is running, proving he knows she's faking it. Fred laughs at her and she breaks down and cries. Eventually, he gives in and hires a maid.
  • In the Futurama episode "Crimes of the Hot" due to the excessive heat Linda the newscaster has this in the same scene that gave rise to the "WINDMILLS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY!" meme.
  • In The Loud House, whenever Lori Loud, the eldest sibling, cries her mascara runs down her face.
  • Moonbeam City: Both Pizzaz and Rad. Pizzaz's crying is used for dramatic effect, while Rad's is wacky comic relief.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: When Rarity cries, this usually accompanied by her mascara running copiously down her face — although this doesn't leave any lasting smudges afterward.
  • Wander over Yonder: Lord Dominator's signature look is black makeup dripping from her eyes like tears.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In "Girls' Night Out", Mrs. Puff's mascara runs after a bout of Ocular Gushers.

    Real Life 
  • This was something of a trademark of Tammy Faye Bakker, wife of televangelist Jim Bakker. There is a story that she was once asked why she wore such heavy makeup since it invariably ran when she (invariably) wept; she is supposed to have replied that it was so that people could see her cry.
  • Invoked by Sir Michael Redgrave to take revenge on fellow actor Geoffrey Edwards. Redgrave was playing Horatio to Edwards' Hamlet and was required to grieve while cradling Hamlet's body. Always able to cry on cue, Redgrave turned on the waterworks so that "a large splash of warm mascara fell on Hamlet's chin."
  • Behind the scenes on Pee-wee's Playhouse, Paul Reubens kept the Playhouse set refrigerated in an effort to defy this. Remember that 1) as Pee-Wee, he did an awful lot of running around, and 2) taping each episode took a 16-hour day—in TV land, time is money, and the less time having to run back to the makeup chair, the better.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: