US Rugby Player Ilona Maher’s Self-Care Survival Kit Includes the Lipstick She Sees as ‘War Paint’

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Even if you’re not a rugby fan, you probably know the name Ilona Maher: The center for USA’s Women’s Eagles Sevens has racked up over one million followers on TikTok, where she does everything from sharing inside looks into pro sports (who can forget her poking fun at the infamous “anti-sex” beds in Tokyo’s Olympic Village?) to putting female beauty standards on blast. (Case in point: posting a photo of her own cellulite to prove “we all have it.”) And if you hadn’t heard of her before, you may well soon: She’s set to represent the US once again on the biggest athletic stage in the world.

Three years after she made her Team USA debut at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Maher is preparing for another round of Games. When she spoke to SELF in late May, she and her teammates were playing their last tournament of the season—in sunny Madrid—before they’d head home to kick their Olympics training into high gear. Less than a month later, on June 17, the official women’s rugby sevens roster was announced—and Maher was on it. Soon, the team will fly to France to spend a week at a pre-Olympic training camp in Tours, a city a few hours’ drive from Paris. “This helps you acclimate to the time difference, the weather,” Maher says. Then, it’ll be on to the City of Light to rub shoulders with the rest of the world’s top rugby athletes.

With the Paris Olympics looming—the opening ceremony is on July 26—Maher says she’s both excited and a little nervous. But she’s made peace with her butterflies. “I think it’s okay to be a little nervous. It means you care,” she says.

One thing that helps her feel at ease going into huge competitions like this? A well-packed bag of must-haves that she can rely on to offer comfort no matter where she goes.

“Even though you’re going to play rugby and it’s going to be tough, you want these little things that give you that escape or still [make you] feel like yourself,” Maher says. That’s why her personal list of essentials includes several skin and beauty products—she’s previously called lipstick her “war paint.” After all, she says, athletes are more than just their workout. “They want to take care of their skin, feel beautiful, and feel good about themselves,” Maher says. “And that’s something that’s really important to me because being an athlete is such a small part of who you are.”

Here’s what would be in Ilona Maher’s Self-Care Survival Kit.

1. Some serious skin protection.

We play in so many different climates, and we need to protect our skin, wherever it is. We go from places where the UV index might be two to others where it’s much higher: We’ve played in Sydney, where it was a 12 or whatever it gets up to. For sunscreen, I use Sun Bum or something else with a really high SPF, like 50. We’re training, we’re sweating, so we want something that stays on.

Recently, I’ve also been using other products from a skin care brand I’m cofounding called Medalist, which is for athletes, by athletes. We have this release called the Game Face Moisturizing Spray. It’s a rehydrator, so it’s just great to use after travel or practice.

2. Perfume—and not just one kind.

Yves Saint Laurent Libre Eau de Parfum

This Is Her! by Zadig&Voltaire

I used to go out and do this thing where whenever I went to a new place, I would buy a new perfume so I can remember the smell of that location. It almost got to be a problem because I had too many, so I was like, Okay, you can’t keep doing this, Ilona.

YSL Libre is one of my favorites, and then Zadig & Voltaire This is Her! I definitely just switch it up. I’ll use the YSL a lot because it’s the bigger bottle, honestly, so I can just use more and not be afraid of wasting it all. And then the Zadig & Voltaire, maybe I’ll use for a special occasion. I really love that scent; I think it’s different.

3. Lipstick with some staying power.

Maybelline Super Stay Matte Ink Liquid Lipstick

When I’m traveling, I always bring my lipstick so I can play my games in it. I use Maybelline Super Stay Matte Ink Liquid Lipstick.

I’ve always loved lipstick, even from a young age—just really loved expressing myself through it. And for me, playing what’s considered a very masculine, tough sport—it’s important to still be able to show my femininity and be myself on the field. So lipstick was kind of my own way to be like, I can tackle and I can run hard and stiff-arm, but I can also feel feminine and be myself. So that’s really important to me.

I like seeing more girls in sports wearing makeup and expressing themselves, since it wasn’t traditionally that way. I think female athletes are put into a box sometimes, and I don’t like that. I’d like it to be like…you can be all these things. You can be beautiful and you can want to get dressed up, but also be a great player on the field.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.


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