Highlighting cosplay body paint artist Liane Moseley this week was especially cool for me because we use similar makeup brands. It’s rare for me to come across someone else who uses the same products as me, because I use pretty expensive stuff. It’s not out of vanity or an abundance of disposable income, however. I buy the makeup I do because I am locked in an ongoing, lifelong struggle against a weird and wonderful collection of allergies and skin and eye sensitivities.
When you hit Liane’s level, nothing about makeup is cheap. Makeup artists of all sorts spend more money on products in part because they want to minimize the risk of any sort of reaction… knowing there’s no way to eliminate that risk entirely. Since more and more cosplayers are investing in their own systems and kits, so I thought it would be a good idea to give you some insight into what the pros know about preventing allergic reactions, break-outs, and skin irritation.
If you decide to experiment with prosthetics – scars, fake noses, basically anything you glue on your skin – you’re performing a balancing act with your skin’s tolerance for various chemicals. There’s no rhyme or reason to what will bother various people. For instance, I’m just peachy with latex products, but I’ve had reactions to various eyelash glues, silicone adhesives and spirit gum… yes. Spirit gum. It’s really frustrating when people tell me I can’t possibly be allergic to spirit gum. It’s possible to be allergic to anything. Even certain contact lens solutions, especially combination products, can give some people trouble.
I’ve found Graftobian’s Pro Adhesive product to be an alternative I can tolerate, but, as I said, this is idiosyncratic. Always buy a small bottle of something first, in case you end up having issues with it. Testing in a store will only make severe allergies known, not lesser irritations that develop after multiple days of using the product. Something that’s okay once might not be okay on day two or day three, so you don’t want to spend a ton of money on something you’ll just have to throw out.
If you want to minimize the risk of allergic reaction, try to minimize the number of ingredients a product contains. And avoid fragrances – they can be irritants. If you’re working with colors, keep in mind that you have to test every one of them, since some colors give certain people trouble, but not others. I’ve heard from a few makeup artists that purple pigments tend to cause the most frequent reactions, but any pigment can do it. Warning signs that you’ll want to find something else include any burning, swelling, itching beyond just not being used to makeup, or a tight, dry feeling while you’re wearing the makeup. If it feels dry, it’s drying out your skin. You don’t want that.
Don’t use anything that smells bad or seems to have separated unexpectedly, changed color, or dried out. And don’t use tap water if you’re extremely sensitive, even with water-based products — use a mixing and lining liquid; it makes the product more durable anyway. At this point you might be rolling your eyes at the “no tap water” thing. Keep in mind that this is for people concerned about allergies, not the average person who doesn’t have these issues.
It seems to really piss people off when I offer similar suggestions to avoid using household products as makeup. People like using things like glue sticks, food grade cornstarch, and even modge podge, as makeup substitutes, because they’re cheap and easy to find. If you have skin like leather and the constitution of a rhino, go for it. If you’re at all prone to skin reactions, stick to makeup that’s actually makeup.
Once you’ve got products that you tolerate well, make sure they’re applied properly! Invest in your own brushes and keep them clean. Don’t rely on the applicators that come with the products – they’re often cheap and the foam can breed bacteria. If you notice your skin breaks out after a day of cosplay makeup, you might need to keep your brushes cleaner. For the same reason, don’t reuse sponges unless they’re specifically designed for multiple uses, and always follow product instructions.
With so many products on the market, it can be overwhelming trying to figure out which ones to buy. There are a lot of good lines out there so there are no firm right answers, but if you’re buying your makeup at the thrift shop that caters to Halloween, chances are that’s the wrong place. That being said, there are a lot of good drugstore brands that exist nowadays. I have Rimmel, Stila, Cover FX, and Soap and Glory products in my kit. What you won’t get at the drugstore, however, is products with strong color pigments, so if you need true colors – like Mystique’s blue or Darth Maul’s red – you need a product from a company like Kryolan, Snazaroo, or Ben Nye. In terms of overall quality, however, there’s nothing wrong with the higher end stuff you can get at the drugstore.
But the biggest thing I struggle with regarding cosplay makeup, hands down, is travel. Before 9/11, we could carry on our makeup kits in pressurized, climate controlled surroundings and the biggest concern we had was a cheap container exploding because of the cabin pressure. But now you have to check your makeup if it doesn’t fit in that liquids and gels allowance baggie, and your temperature controls go out the window. I wrap my makeup kits in a blanket inside my luggage to try to keep the temperature stable in the winter. In the summer it’s harder and I have had stuff melt. So invest in a makeup spatula and some travel containers and only take as much product as you need on the road. That way, if your loot does get wrecked, you haven’t lost all of it. It’ll cut down on the weight of your luggage some too.
If all of this sounds like a big pain in the ass… that’s because it is. But it’s a lot better than dealing with a rash, swollen eyes, or all the other “delightful” symptoms of a reaction to something you’ve stuck on your face… or other parts of you. It may seem tedious, but keeping an eye on things in advance will spare you more time later – and that time is unpleasant time, popping antihistamines, hitting the ice packs, and waiting for the ugliness to heal.