So, last year I posted an article about the struggles of cosplaying a Drow. How in the world can you get pasty beige skin to turn an obsidian shade of blue-black? On the face? No problem. On the hands … well, if you don’t need to touch anything you haven’t got a problem. But eventually you’re going to have to pee, or open a door, or eat something …
If you’ve visited a cosplay forum recently searching for solutions to this problem, you’ve been probably come across someone asking “Hey is there any way I can dye my skin black?” Or green. Or blue. Or whatever colour is required. And you’ve been disappointed to find a bunch of people crying “No! Don’t dye your skin! It’ll be there for weeks!”
How do I know? Because I did that. I do it every year to see if someone has come up with anything better than alcohol activated paint. AA paint is great! But it still rubs off on high-traffic areas like the hands.
That’s because your skin refreshes itself faster on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet than anywhere else on the body. Those areas get the most friction and pressure because they come in contact with the world a lot. You walk on your feet (obviously) and pick up objects with your hands. If you have good hygiene, you’re washing your hands multiple times a day. That means that poor paint is going to take a beating and you’re going to have to touch it up periodically. Unless …
Unless you’re insane like me.
Ethan what the crap did you do?! Don’t panic. I used a few bottles of Inkbox freehand ink. Why? A few reasons.
- I am crazy.
- I’m hosting a Halloween party in which I will be serving food. That means I have to be washing my hands thoroughly several times over the night especially because one of my guests has severe allergies.
- I am self-employed, I’m 33, and I’m an artist. That means I don’t give a fluff what people think of my weird black hands for the next two weeks. It’s not going to jeopardise my job or get me into trouble with my parents.
- I am scheduled for a minor surgery on the Monday after Halloween and I’ll need 2 weeks to recover at home. Yep, your memory is correct. Inkbox lasts only 2-3 weeks maximum. Even if I did have to worry about my job, it’d be gone by the time I get back to it.
Why didn’t I dye the entire hand? Well, sadly 1 ounce of Inkbox freehand ink doesn’t go very far when you’re covering every square millimetre of skin rather than just doing a design. So I did the practical thing and dyed only the areas that will face the toughest test: the fingers and the palm. The back of the hand doesn’t get beaten up nearly as much so it’s quite fine to simply airbrush some alcohol activated paint from there on up. I don’t go around rubbing my face on things so it’s not necessary to dye that either. AA paint will do fine.
You might be wondering what’s up with that purple-blue marbling effect. That is a result of the ink’s gel-like consistency. It was very difficult to get it to spread on evenly. It did not want to cooperate. Imagine trying to get an even layer of sunscreen or grape jelly all over your hand. It’s not as easy as you might think. There are areas where it’s not quite as thick and consequently, they don’t dye as darkly. I still have a little ink left that I can touch up the marbled bits with or I can just spray a little AA paint on it. Frankly, I don’t think anyone will notice.
So what do you need to know if you want to do something insane like this?
- What is the product made of? If you’re using Inkbox, awesome. Go nuts. It’s 100% fruit-based and will not hurt your skin. If it’s henna or jagua, go nuts. Those are safe. Any other inks/dyes? You have to know what’s in it. HAVE TO. I’m not kidding. Some hair dyes and similar things have additives that will lead to permanent scarring, rashes, permanent chemical sensitivity, chemical burns … it can be bad, okay? If you don’t know what’s in the product, find out. Please. It’s worth it.
- Got a skin safe product? (Or one you’ve researched thoroughly and you’re pretty sure it’s fine.) Okay. Test a wee dot of it somewhere inconspicuous. Wait at least an hour. Wash it off. Look for any signs of skin irritation. Wait a bit longer. Still no signs of irritation? Okay. Test a bit more of it. Make a little doodle. Same procedure. If it still shows now sign of rash or swelling and it’s not itchy or painful, it’s very probably fine and you can proceed.
- Don’t dye any more of your skin than you have to. Pick the areas that are going to give you the most trouble and get those first, especially if your supply of dye is limited.
- Dye only one hand at a time. You will inevitably have to pee. Yes I know this from experience. LOL!
- DON’T. TOUCH. ANYTHING. I have smudges of ink on my right forearm, my left shoulder, and a wee bit on my CHIN from my little dyeing adventure. I have no idea how these transfers happened but I must have touched other skin areas accidentally while I still had ink drying. Just … put on a marathon of your favourite show and try not to fidget. That’s also why I suggest not dyeing any more of yourself than you have to. It … wanders. Somehow. It’s annoying. LOL
- Do you have an employer/parent/teacher/authority figure you have to deal with in the next 2-3 weeks who will NOT be okay with your re-colouring experiment? If so, this might not be for you. You might have to either clear this in advance with them, or stick with alcohol activated paint.
Who should consider skin dying as a solution?
- Anybody doing a multi-day convention who wants to save time on makeup application in the mornings and not have to touch up their body paint during the day.
- Anybody doing a multi-day LARP out in the forest or the back end of nowhere who doesn’t want to fuss with makeup when they’re going through the inconvenience of camping and limited potable water.
- Anybody doing a theatre or film production who has to wear body paint and prosthetics many times who wants to save time on makeup application.
- Crazy people like me. LOL
Any questions? Feel free to ask! I’m here to satisfy your cosplay and LARPing inquiries and I don’t mind testing products. Together, we can find unconventional solutions for tough costuming challenges. 🙂
6 thoughts on “Skin Dyeing: For Body Paint That HAS To Stay Put!”
Ethan, how can I make my face bright red? May I know what product or tanning lotion to have my entire face to look bright red? Thank you very much.
There are henna dyes that can make a red colour. I’m not sure if it can get a bright, cherry red for you but it may give a good base-coat to work with.
You must test the henna paste somewhere on the skin to see if it’s the colour you expected it to be. There are many types of henna-based hair dyes which can work but you must read the ingredients very carefully to make sure that there are no mysterious substances in there which you don’t know what they will do.
Often, people will tell you absolutely never use hair dye on skin and this is the reason. Sometimes dye that will happily make friends with your hair fibers will make painful blisters on your skin. So you must make sure that what is in the dye is only henna, maybe some citrus … just ensure that you know what each of those ingredients are and test them first.
I’m going to be working on testing different colours of natural dyes on my skin when I have my workshop back. Hopefully I’ll have a more certain answer of which things work and which ones don’t in the near future. 🙂
Thank you for your post. I came across this when googling skin dye. I have been searching high and low for a scalp dye for the purpose of hiding thin hair, for if the scalp would be the same color as the hair it would be much less noticeable, of course, especially if the hair color is black. 🙂 🙂
Do you have any product recommendation?
Jagua would certainly work. You’d have to re-apply it every 1-2 weeks. Indigo may also help and it may be slightly cheaper depending on where you live. Just make very sure that there’s no odd chemical additives in it. Sometimes companies put funky things in it when they make it into a hair dye. A very dark henna can also work but also make sure that there’s no weird stuff in it. You don’t want to damage your scalp especially if the hair is thinning.
I found your blog post after a similar search on the internet for pink skin dye. I’ll be using it for lower scale art on the face too.
Do you know if Inkbox has any pink skin dye and do you think that Inkbox is for my kind of project?
They only offer jagua. Jagua is blue-black in colour.