11 tips for first-time Halloween face painters
Transform yourself or others into a spooky or whimsical creature in no time.
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As an avid fan of fall, I start dreaming of seasonal decor, recipes, and entertainment as soon as Labor Day passes. Above all, as Halloween is my favorite holiday, face and body paint ideas begin swirling in my head. Some background: In 2016, I had no idea what I wanted to be for Halloween (a rarity for me), and at the 11th hour, running around Abracadabra, a famous costume store in New York City, I threw my hands up in the air and decided I’d try my hand at face paint and call it a day. Little did I know, I'd fall in love.
My first foray into face and body paint was transforming myself into a half-zombie that year. Since then, I’ve created a variety of pop art-inspired face and body paint projects, including the Cheshire Cat, a pumpkin zombie, the Joker, a witch, and more. This year, it dawned on me that other people might prefer to try face and body paint over traditional Halloween costumes. With that in mind, here are my top 10 tips for first-time face painters.
1. Allot time to choose and execute an idea
Before getting into my specific product recommendations and techniques, let me give an overview of how I begin a paint project. First, I scour Instagram for face paint ideas—#mehronmakeup (for the popular brand of face paint) and #facepainting are two of my go-to hashtags to search in the app. From there, I choose a design that I’d like to try to replicate and gather all the paint colors necessary to create it. Whatever color is the background, full-face color, is the one that I start with. I apply it with a sponge or large, wide brush for quick and easy coverage. Then I apply any of the other colors besides black, as I wait to outline everything in black until the very end. I do this because white and colors are easy to cover up with more paint, but black is not. Holding off on that color until the end will save you a lot of heartache mid-paint.
Take your time as you're painting. While using only lightly dampened brushes (more on that coming) should help you avoid drips and smears, applying too many wet layers at once can muddy things up. To avoid this, wait until a section is dry (about 10 seconds) before layering with more paint.
2. Start off with a basic palette
When you’re just starting out with face paint, you may gravitate toward the largest, most colorful palettes. As alluring as they may be, all you need is a basic 12-color option, especially while you’re getting the hang of it and trying simpler looks. The Wolfe FX Essentials one is my personal favorite for its creamy colors that will last you through the years. Seriously, this is the palette that I bought on a whim back in 2016, and apart from the black, white, and green pans, it still hasn’t run out. Of course, you should take care to use the most hygienic painting practices possible, so as to not fill it with germs. For example, wash your face before application and only use clean makeup brushes to avoid any bacteria transfer.
To make the colors spreadable and blendable on skin, you have to add water. Rather than soaking (or spritzing) the container itself, I recommend dipping your brush of choice in a small bowl of water and swirling it into the paint. Just be careful not to add too much water, as that can dilute the color as well as make the painting process messier.
You can expect this paint to last on skin for hours on end. By the end of the night, your skin may feel a bit dry, but if you prep your skin beforehand (more on that below), it won't be uncomfortable.
3. Buy a set of brushes to use only with face paint
You don't want to ruin your fancy makeup brushes with face paint. While this stuff is washable, it can still muddle brushes, making them not as fluffy as you'd want for general makeup use—and they might not be the best tools for face paint anyway. In fact, I prefer artist paintbrushes. When shopping for a new set, I look for a variety of ultra-fine lining ones, as well as a selection of thicker rectangular ones that make covering larger portions of skin less of a painstaking process. This top-rated set from Amazon has both.
A word to the wise: No matter how eager you are to get to your party or tired you are after trick-or-treating, do yourself a favor and rinse your brushes once you're done applying or at least before the night’s end. The longer the bristles sit in water or paint, the more likely they are to degrade or become distorted.
4. Use cheap disposable makeup sponges
Don’t waste your $20 Beautyblender on face paint—unless, of course, it’s already on its last leg. Instead, stock your face paint kit with cheap cosmetic wedges that you won’t mind tossing out after each use. Why wedges, you might ask? They come in handy when covering your entire face or portions of your body with a single color of paint, and the pointed edges make it easier to get into small corners and creases, like those around your nose and eyes.
5. Prep your face before applying any paint
Face paint isn't formulated like skincare products or cosmetic-grade makeup—it's not noncomedogenic, meaning it can clog pores and potentially cause breakouts. Because of that, I always prep my face with the Mehron Makeup Barrier Spray, which is designed to block the face paint from seeping into your pores and potentially causing pimples. That said, don’t worry! As someone with super sensitive skin, I’ve never had an adverse reaction to face paint—only mild redness from the removal process that goes away within 20 minutes or so.
I also like to use M.A.C.’s Prep + Prime Lip Primer to set the stage for whatever ends up on my lips. The non-glossy primer claims to hydrate lips while also creating a canvas for makeup to stick to. And it works! I regularly paint across my lips (not just to define them), and even when sipping a drink, the paint stays put thanks to my M.A.C. Prep + Prime.
- Get the Mehron Makeup Barrier Spray from Amazon for $8.56
- Get the M.A.C. Prep + Prime Lip Primer from Ulta for $20
6. Buy large pans of your favorite colors
As great as the 12-color Wolfe FX palette is, I recommend buying full-size pans of colors that you will use a lot. I go through black and white like crazy because most of my projects are pop art-inspired. By having large pans on hand, in addition to my Wolfe FX palette, I never find myself in a bind mid-paint.
Like the Wolfe FX palette, the Mehron Makeup Paradise Makeup AQ Face & Body Paint is a solid paint until you swirl water into it. And it’s similarly long-lasting and comfortable to wear. Pro tip: Apply it in thin layers, if possible, because the more you cake on, the more likely it is to show cracks from facial movements.
7. Keep liquid eyeliner on hand—not just for the eyes
Even with the steadiest of hands, using ultra-fine paintbrushes to outline designs can be tricky. To make things easier, I keep liquid eyeliner on hand in an array of colors. In addition to using it on my lids, I’ll use it to outline different areas of my face, too. While black and white are always no-brainers in my book, I’m a fan of neon liners and glitter ones, too. No matter your need, the brand NYX has a bunch to choose from—and they're all highly rated and on the affordable side, which is great if you’ll be using a lot of it or want an assortment of colors.
8. Don’t forget false lashes
When your entire face is covered in paint, it’s easy for your natural lashes to get lost in the mix. For that reason, I always keep false lashes stocked for my face paint projects. Because I struggle to apply glue-on falsies, I like Glamnetic’s magnetic eyelashes. To put them on, you apply the magnetic liquid eyeliner (sold separately) and the magnet-lined lash band affixes to it. Glamnetic offers many different shapes and densities, all of which can be trimmed according to your eye shape (it even includes directions on how to do so in the packaging).
9. Keep correction tools handy
Face and body painting can get messy. It’s also difficult to maintain a steady hand when you’ve been working at a design for upwards of an hour. I recommend keeping makeup remover and pointed cotton swabs (not the usual rounded ones) within close reach. My favorite fixer to touch up the edges of my designs is Garnier SkinActive Waterproof Micellar Cleansing Water. Make sure not to oversaturate the swab, as that can lead to the micellar water dripping onto other parts of your masterpiece, leaving a streak in the process.
- Get the Garnier SkinActive Waterproof Micellar Cleansing Water (2-pack) from Amazon for $12.05
- Get the Double Precision Tip Cotton Swabs (800-count) from Amazon for $8.99
10. Invest in high-quality makeup remover
When you’re ready to remove your face paint, your usual face wash won't do. While Patrick Starrr’s One/Size Makeup Dissolving Wipes don't get rave reviews across the board, I adore them for removing face and body paint, as their jumbo size makes them easy to swipe over large areas at once. The wipes are already pre-soaked in makeup remover, but I like to spritze them with One/Size Makeup Dissolving Mist, which works well to break the bonds of the paint. The mist can leave my skin feeling greasy, so I'll often do face paint removal in the tub so I can shower off after. Then, I use Banila Co’s Clean It Zero 3-in-1 Cleansing Balm to remove the remainder of the face paint. If you've never used a cleansing balm before, this moisturizing balm dissolves stubborn waterproof makeup without the need for harsh rubbing.
- Get the One/Size by Patrick Starrr Go Off Makeup Dissolving Mist from Sephora for $24
- Get the One/Size by Patrick Starrr Go Off Makeup Remover Wipes from Sephora for $15
- Get the Banila Co. Clean It Zero 3-in-1 Cleansing Balm from Amazon for $25.03
11. Stock your bathroom with black washcloths for post-paint days
Speaking of showering, I recommend adding black washcloths to your linen closet for paint days and after. They won't stain like lighter color towels during the removal process. Even when you think you’ve removed all the paint, there’s a good chance you missed a spot, and a black washcloth or two will save your nicer towels from ruin. (Just do the laundry separately, too, so there no color transfer in the wash.)
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