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Starting Out As A Professional Face & Body Painter: Part One - Choosing The Right Paint For You

We have specialised in all things cosmetics and special FX for years, so we know first-hand just how overwhelming the industry can be for those just starting out. With so many different brands out there, from budget to luxury and everything in between, it can be a task in itself to know what products to purchase.

For those who are starting out in the face and body painting industry, the best place to start is at the beginning, getting a strong understanding of the variety of products available, and working out which will suit your preferences and needs the most.

In the first of a two-part series, we will be looking at face paints, the different types, how best to use them and our personal recommendations when it comes to brands to look out for! 

Safety & Professionalism

If you are hoping to begin a career as a professional face & body painter, you will want to make yourself aware of the health and safety aspects of the job. It isn’t the most exciting part of the industry, but it is a vital one if you want to be taken seriously in your field.

Using acrylic or ‘craft’ paints is a no-no; these are not designed for use on the skin and will cause irritation, allergic reaction and be dangerous. The paint you opt for doesn’t necessarily need to be the most expensive, however, it should always be FDA approved, and in line with regulations. You can find out more about this here.

Be sure to do your research when introducing any new brand to your kit, any reputable company will have a website full of information, including their manufacturing process and ingredients used.

Water-Activated Face & Body Paint

Super affordable, easy to work with and offer huge variety, water-activated paints are either wax-based or glycerine-based, and are a must-have in your kit! 

These pure pigment palettes require water to ‘activate’ them, meaning that water is required to enable you to paint them onto the face and body. They are long-lasting by nature, but will often flake and fade over time.

Wax-Based Paints

Wax-based water activated paints are often extremely pigmented, vibrant and ideal for line work due to their dry texture, and elasticity.

Pros Of Using Wax-Based Paints:

  • Ideal for creating bold and striking looks
  • Require minimal water for activation
  • Super thick coverage
  • Durable
  • Smudge-proof
  • Non-streaky

Cons Of Using Wax-Based Paints:

  • Not great for blending work
  • Not great with sweat due to minimal water-absorption
  • Get extremely hard to work with in cold conditions
  • Melt easily in hot conditions

Wax-Based Paints Red Carpet FX Recommends:

  •  Diamond FX offers a range of face and body paints that are versatile and affordable starting around £4.75 for single colours.

Glycerin-Based Paints

Unlike wax-based water activated paint, which is quite firm, glycerine, is soft and creamy making it an ideal base paint. Perfectly bendable, glycerine-based paint offers a less vibrant but more malleable option.

Pros Of Using Glycerin-Based Paints:

  • Perfect for using as a base for most looks
  • Works well with sweat due to glycerine being highly absorbing
  • Soft on the skin

 Cons Of Using Glycerin-Based Paints:

  • Can be easily smudged
  • Not great for line work due to consistency
  • Less vibrant
  • Require a fair bit of water to activate

 Glycerin-Based Paints Red Carpet FX Recommends:

  • Kryolan Aquacolor range is a luxury high-end range of glycerin-based paints that are perfect for professionals around the world. Individual pots start around £6.20 - £10.90 (and do also come in palettes!).
  • Mehron offer a great option that has moisturising properties and has great skin compliance.

Alcohol-Activated (AA) Paints 

As the name may suggest, this type of paint requires 99% Isopropyl alcohol in order to activate it. A hugely popular option for the big screen, this type of paint offers super high pigmentation, is waterproof and durable, making it an ideal option for those who want a hardwearing look. AA paints are typically used for special FX applications as opposed to general face painting, as they have an "in-the-skin" appearance that makes them invaluable for when realism is key.

Before activation these paints are hard, dry but create a perfect natural look upon application due to the fairly thing consistency.

Pros Of Alcohol-Activated Paints:

  • Highly pigmented
  • Extremely durable
  • Waterproof, smudge proof and non-transferring
  • Allows a natural and realistic look
  • Long-wearing

Cons Of Alcohol-Activated Paints:

  • Can only be used with 99% Isopropyl alcohol or purpose designed activator
  • Not good for sensitive skin and not suitable for children
  • Can be difficult to remove without a purpose designed remover
  • Only suitable for professionals

Alcohol-Activated Paints Red Carpet FX Recommends:

  • Dashbo offer a range of palettes in a wide variety of colours, from neutral to vibrant and special edition shades for every look. 5 colour palettes start at £13, whilst the 12 colour palettes are around £30. 


Perhaps one of the oldest and most classic face and body paint options, greasepaint has been used in theatre for over 100 years and remains to be a go-to option in the performance arts.

Grease paints blends like a dream; it is super easy to apply and a perfect choice for those still getting into the swing of things. It is also one of the more affordable options and is pretty easy to get hold of!

Pros Of Using Greasepaint

  • Accessible and affordable
  • Easy to blend
  • Great for beginners
  • Great coverage
  • Highly pigmented
  • Durable when set

Cons Of Using Greasepaint

  • Doesn’t really set on its own and requires the use of powder to prevent transfer.
  • Can be quite heavy on skin and not great for those who suffer from acne.
  • More difficult to remove than its water-based counterparts.

Greasepaint Red Carpet FX Recommends:

  • Kryolan Supracolor is a great luxury option if you are looking for the top-shelf brands. The individual pots start from £6.10 - £23.30.

Red Carpet FX Tips & Tricks For Using Face & Body Paints

Every artist works differently, and many will choose a wide variety of paints, and throw in the odd metallic and UV paint for good measure. There really is no right or wrong, and it comes down to personal preference for the most part, as well as the purpose behind the job itself, i.e. is it for the stage, TV or just a bit of fun?

However, there are a few things to consider that can help you along the way to success. Check out below our team’s top tips for all things face and body paint: 

  • Using a split cake, which includes a sort of rainbow of different coloured pigment in one wide palette, can be a great way to create a unique and striking effect with just one stroke. We would suggest you have at least one split cake in your kit, and we love the Diamond FX range!
  • Always have spare of black and white paints; these will be your most used shades.
  • At the start don’t try and pack your kit with every colour imaginable. Think about the kinds of jobs you will be doing, and opt for the best shades that can be used across multiple jobs. You can always add to your collection as time goes on.
  • Have both brushes and sponges, remembering that some types of paint work better than others with brushes.
  • Wet wipes, something to rinse your brushes in and a fine mist spray bottle will be your saviours!
  • You can’t go wrong with some glitters to compliment your perfected paint job!

Stay Tuned For Part Two: Choosing The Perfect Face & Body Paint Brushes

We hope you’ve enjoyed the first instalment for our guide on all you need to know to get started as a face & body painter. Next time we will be taking a detailed look at the best brushes and tools you should be considering adding to your kit!

Until then, check out our wide range of face and body paints here, and we will see you soon!