It depends on a few things:
1) How much money are you willing to spend per use and on equipment?
2) How often will you be wearing this costume?
3) What percentage of skin are you covering?
4) How much time do you usually have to prepare?
5) Do you have to drive somewhere painted up, or can you do it at your location?
6) How long do you expect to be this color?
7) What other difficulties will you experience with colors/brands?
I will try to answer each of these questions for each type of skin covering product. Additionally, if you have Photoshop, you can tidy up professional or even snapshots pretty easily. If you don't have Photoshop, please don't download it illegally, and don't ask me where you can do so - I will not help you do this.
Step 1: Tools and Equipment
Suggested tools, at minimum:
Small baggie of wedges, 10 or so
Spirit gum remover
Black mascara and eye liner, neutral lip gloss
Black pencil and shadow
A set of around 15 brushes include a wide eyebrow brush, a kabuki brush, brow brush and wide and narrow flat brushes
Spare eye shadow applicators and lip brushes
Hair pins and ties
Cold cream and/or facial wipes
False lash sets
Spare bottle of contact solution and contacts case
Small tube of concealer
Small bowl with airtight lid, for mixing
Travel-size Q-tips case
White pencil and white shadow
If painting your feet, legs or other large portion of your body, put towels on the floor, toilet and sink. If your'e in a hotel, call for extra towels - the hotel staff like cleaning make up less than taking extra blue tinted towels from your room.
Something I cannot say enough is: do not buy cheapo make up when buying colors for costuming. Feel free to pick up cheapo stuff for color tests, but don't use only them. I try to buy makeup made in the US, and that is cruelty-free. Try to buy unscented makeup when possible. You won't use your shadow brushes as often as your regular makeup, so make sure you dispose of them once a year and replace with fresh ones, even if you haven't run out of a particular color. Your brushes can become bacteria nesting grounds, so treat them well and keep them clean between uses.
Step 2: Makeup Application Tips:
This may sound weird, but if using paint or water activated powders, I recommend shaving arms as well as legs. Get your brows done, and wax or pluck lip hairs. Color will lay much smoother if uninterrupted by hairs - unless of course, your character is hairy. Because alcohol based inks/paints are thinner, hairs are less of a problem.
I highly recommend paying just as much attention to blush, eyeliner and shadow application over a body paint as when you do your own regular every day makeup (or at least 'going out' makeup). The biggest drawback to using any product that changes your overall skin tone is that it usually does so in a very flat way. It evens out freckles, but also any natural variations in skin tone.
A tip I picked up from a friend is to paint or brush brown, black, or darker same color as your skin eyes shadow under the jawline and into neck and clavicle crevices. I've used both mixed paint and shadow, and I think dry shadow works better. Use a poofy brush for subtle, feathered application, and it can make a huge difference. Dark powder swept into recessed areas makes muscles pop, and generally gives a more realistic appearance, especially in photos.
Always use pink toned blush on your cheeks - even on blue skin. There's something very natural and friendly about pink or red toned blush, even if your character is not red-blooded. It adds depth of color and just a touch more realism. I like shimmery eye shadows to further break up flatness of solid color skin tone.
Suck your stomach in and stand back straight for any pose that allows it. It's easy to forget, believe me. Never just stand straight on, facing a camera, try present an angle and at conventions, be aware of your surroundings - don't step back, and if in a hallway, don't stop walking (can you tell I've been to DragonCon?) One person stopping you for a photo can quickly become several.
Before costuming, remove non-character rings and jewelry. The only time I take off my wedding ring is when I'm blue :)
Additionally, even if you've done the make up for your character 10 times already, have a color print out of a close up of your character's face, just to make sure you didn't miss anything going just by memory. Doesn't have to be full size, some 4x6's can fit nicely in a small binder in your makeup bag.
This youtube video is just awesome. She does 'anime eyes' but I recommend the technique she demonstrates for nearly any character. 90% of facial expression is in the eyes, and if people are taking full-body shots, and nearly all of them do, the eyes do well to stand out.
Also, Photoshop is always your friend. Always.
Step 3: Ben Nye Liquid Color Paint
This paint is non-greasy, goes on fast with a brush but takes a few minutes to dry. Per use application, it is fairly inexpensive and requires no special tools or removal creams or cleansers - soap alone in the shower will remove it, and it won't stain your shower either. It can be used straight out of the bottle, mixed with other colors and even other brands, and pre-mixed and chucked into your makeup bag in an airtight container for anytime in the future. I once doubtfully used a year old bottle of the stuff, and if anything it worked better than a fresh bottle. I have been known to mix my Ben Nye with Mehron mixing liquid and it works fine. Mixing in extender/setting/final seal liquid does not have to be an exact science, a splash will usually do. Setting powder and/or final seal work equally well.
Ben Nye has a very wide range of makeups to choose from - both natural and vibrant color powders, mixing liquids, setters, paint liquids and even temporary hair colors which can be applied with a cheap plastic hair brush and a shallow plate with a few spoonfuls of the hair color. Like the regular Ben Nye, the hair color washes out very easily.
If you don't use a setting powder, it can completely rub off on the inside of the elbow, under the arms, and anywhere else your body will rub against itself repeatedly, especially if you don't stand still and let it dry after applying, even then, it can and will still rub off. My skin type runs to the oily range, and I can tell you it flakes on me, but doesn't crack. Some people have difference experiences with this product.
As with all products, you should sample an area, maybe the inside of your forearm, and let it sit for several hours and see how it feels and looks. Even with the powder, I've had Ben Nye rub off on my clothing/costume, so make sure whatever you are planning to wear can be handwashed or machine washed safely. One coat is not usually opaque enough for my tastes, but more than 2 will sometimes pull paint back off and leave exposed skin, if you don't wait for it to fully dry first. It can also pool on certain places on your face, or if you're not careful, run down places if you start with too much paint on the brush.
The biggest disadvantage I run into is that it dries out my skin, sometimes very badly, and that my pores are full of blue paint for days. I have giant pores though, so others may not have this problem. After cleaning the paint off my skin, I must moisturize with two or three passes of lotion or another cream or liquid. Once, when I attempted to wear Ben Nye two days in a row at a convention, the paint would not stop soaking into my skin and sitting on it blotchy - I had to shower and choose a non-paint costume.
Liquid Ben Nye body paints are relatively inexpensive. I usually look to Ebay for a source. 1 oz of liquid paint can be found from $4.99 to $7.99 per bottle. The 1 oz bottles come with an 'applicator brush' in the lid, but those are generally a waste of time. 1 oz bottles come in a wider variety of colors than the bigger, 4 oz size. 4 oz bottles run around $12.99 to 16.99 per bottle, plus shipping. You should also pick up a bottle of 'neutral set' (the neutral is very important, not any other color/type) to brush on after applying paint. I have never had paint come off my hands and onto another person while using this method.
If you only have access to a small mirror, or at least a bathroom, you can paint on location with only your pre-mixed bottle or other container and a paintbrush. You can fit 2 oz of paint, a brush and some setting powder in a pouch or purse quite easily. If you are driving to your location and you have painted legs, a towel would be recommended to keep your car seats clean. If you will be more than 2 hours away and must paint yourself then drive, Ben Nye may not be the best choice, as you may have started flaking a little by the time you get there.
The only issue I've had reported to me by a friend was that she sometimes reacts to the color red, when applied liberally over her skin. I was unclear on if it was Ben Nye or another brand, but it was a liquid paint. Always test for allergies before painting sensitive areas or all over.
Step 4: Packed and Loose Powders
It does take a few tries to get the right amount of water/brush/powder correctly, but once you do, it's less likely to run or drip. Some powders will stain the skin, and most will apply lighter than the color you are looking at before you add water. Wolfe Bros in particular, lightened by several shades when mixing with water.
A huge advantage to applying water/powders to your skin is that it dries very quickly, and stays put. It does not pool on the skin, and I have little trouble applying it to my face.
Applying a primer first would probably be ideal, and reduce the amount of mixed powder you need.
Mehron: Paradise in light blue:
MAJOR CON: It smells like coconut. The color is not as vibrant as it probably could be/name suggests, and brushes on as a light blue/grey. It's not a bad color for Midna, but I probably won't be using it for her, just because of the sheer quantity that I would need to use + coconut smell over my entire body. Like the other powders, two coats is recommended. The first coat went on fairly lightly compared to Wolfe. The scent is not as bad once it dries, but I would still consider this a problem during application.
Pros: It goes on light, and washes off with almost no effort.
The size is about 15 grams for around 9 bucks, plus shipping. Uses about the same amount of powder per brush dip as others.
It seems to dry my skin out just a little, but nothing unreasonable.
Wolfe Bros. Hydrocolor creme, light blue:
Pros: It takes hardly any effort to pick up color on your brush. Just dip in a small amount of water, gently swish around in the color then apply. It colors very evenly, even on the first coat, much more so than the Paradise. The Hydrocolor is odorless and I assume tasteless. The color is very vibrant, but not what I would call 'Light Blue" - it's much more turquoise.
Cons: It washes off really easily, so don't get caught in the rain while wearing this. While the warning exists on the product itself, I didn't see this mentioned on the website: Your skin will be tinted for several hours after putting this on, even for a fairly short period of time. It will wash off eventually, but after scrubbing my hands, there was still some blue tint to my test areas. Also listed on the product is that you should not get certain colors near your eyes or lips - the blue was not listed under 'not eyes', but the test application still had my eye burning just a little. I would keep Ben Nye or another product you feel safe using around the eyes for that purpose.
It seems to dry my skin out just a little, but nothing unreasonable.
Wolfe Bros runs between $8 and $16 - for what you get, I feel this is very reasonably priced - the size of tubs range from 15 grams to 45 grams - the ones I have shown below are 30 grams and were $11 per color - the 30 gram tub seems larger than what they show on the ordering page.
Pros: The container has a nice shape to it! It has some nice tones and shimmer in the color and is not completely monotone.
Cons: You get a tiny amount of product for the price.
Geek Chick Cosmetics: These girls sell a couple of loose powders meant for skin coloration - some of these work great, and some do not. They require the buyer to mix the powder with a foundation or another liquid to use the powder. I have tried concealer, which works well, but it ends up being rather pricey and the concealer will tint the color of the end product.
Pros and Cons: You can apply with fingers or a brush, it wont dry out the skin and it stays put to the touch and doesn't wash off easily - this would be a great 'around the eye' product to have. It is odorless, and best of all, made in the US, with specifically selected cruelty free ingredients. They made me up a custom Midna color, but it didn't work out for me because of the paleness of the color I needed - the custom powder kept picking up the skin color of the concealer and would not achieve a hue to my satisfaction - that said, it works great for darker shades. I haven't tried mixing a batch ahead of time and sealing it in a container - I don't know if I would due the risk of ruining an expensive product. Do not mix with moisturizer - the end result is greasy and rubs off on clothes easily. A concealer or foundation will soak up the powder - the end result looks good, but it's pricey.
Just Pros: Once mixed, it goes on very well on the first pass and lasts a long time. They also make a line of eye shadows and lips that are very nice.
Snazaroo: (Thanks, Olivia!!)
Pros: great color selection; mattes, pearls etc. A little goes a long way;- water-based; washes off easily. Solid cakes; nothing to spill. Hypoallergenic, very gentle on skin- can be used in an airbrush if you have one! Works well with others; I used Snazaroo with other materials (glitter, latex glue, glitter gel, regular make-up etc) with great success and website is FULL of painting tips and tricks
Cons: Some colors don't show up well on light skin also, doesn't stand up to sweat and oil. Reds tend to stain skin (red was the only color I found this problem with)- batches may vary; Sometimes I had GREAT results with a color, then re-ordered and it was just ok- website stuck in the 1990s ;)
Step 5: UPDATE: Ben Nye Powder + Final Seal
Weird thing - it mixed better with the Wolfe Bros than the Ben Nye powder, but this may need more experimentation.
I needed about 2 coats of dipping, mixing and painting for full coverage for a deep medium blue for Aayla.
Pros: Better coverage than dry powder+water. Next time, I may try the wedges instead of a makeup brush - if only so I don't lose stray brush hairs on my skin. It absolutely sticks better than using water alone. The scent is fairly strong at first, but dissipates once dry. The paint mixture did dry faster than using liquid paint out of the bottle, and I liked how it laid on my skin better than liquid - it's thinner but still fully coats and covers the skin. For a less saturated blue than I typically use, one coat could be enough, if applied evenly.
HUGE point it favor - it STAYS in place extremely well. Even near fabrics, it really didn't rub off all that much, nor on others.
It doesn't seem to take itself off - you can paint over the previous layer very quickly. without waiting for it to fully dry.
Cons: Same issue with water application - you have to dip the brush, press out extra liquid, rub in cake and then apply. The Final Seal burns around my eyes, but again, it stops quickly. I still had to only paint around one eye at a time, upper, paint something else, then under the eye.
Another problem that unexpectedly cropped up was that the paint, when dry, became sticky to itself. I had a minor wardrobe malfunction and had to hold my arm against my side. Even after powdering, my arm STUCK to my side and was nearly painful to pull away from my body-amazingly, however, there was very little blue lost - it took me only a moment to touch up the areas.
The issue I had with my eyes was that the upper lid started to stick to itself - I ended up just covering with eyeshadow alone, which works fine.
Additionally - it was hell to scrub back off. It took much longer in the shower than washing off liquid paint or water-applied powders. If your skin is sensitive, I don't recommend this method, or just be liberal in your use of make up remover.
YOU MUST powder with this application (full final seal, no water). You need a setting agent to keep the paint from sticking to itself, at the very least, on the neck, inner elbows/knees and armpits.
I had some serious redness on my face after removing the makeup, but I might need a different cleanser - I had to scrub pretty hard to get all the makeup out of my pores- but I do have giant pores.
I don't think I would do this again without a friend to help me powder. The paint soaked up the setting powder and in some cases, made the result a little uneven. More patience with the powder brush might have been required. That said, the paint stayed in place VERY well at the elbows, neck, and around my eyes. I had only slight rub off around my shoulders where the shirt touched my skin, and surprisingly, very little rub off at all around my waist, which should have been pretty bad between all my walking and posing. In return, very little got on my costume, which will make it easier to wash. I also didn't have a pink line in my forehead at the end of the night where my Aayla cap touches my face. I didn't even have to touch it up after removing my helmet for a break.
For my second pass, I diluted the Final Seal with water for a 50/50 mixture, and it reduced the stickiness, but kept the staying power.
Overall, I am extremely happy with the coverage result - but it IS more time consuming, and requires attention to powdering and standing perfectly still to allow certain areas to fully dry before moving on, especially around the neck and elbows. I don't know how my hands were different, but they didn't stick together, nor did I lose any blue to my lightsaber hilt.
UPDATE NOTE: with Midna below - did just the 505/50 water/final seal mixture and did not have to powder at all - I don't know if it was due to a different color blend, use of solely wedges, or some other combination, but I only had to wait for things to dry before I moved around. For my hands, I just loaded up the sponge and squeezed in my fingers and rolled it around until my hands were coated. Once dry, I took another new sponge and lightly cleaned my fingernails off so the polish would show. I only had the paint on for about 4 hours - if going longer, I'd probably try the original full final seal mix +powder again.
PHOTO NOTE - one of the two photos below of my make up was taken by White Wolf Studios - who took some really wonderful shots at Animazement 2012 :)
My favorite thing about the 50/50 water/final seal is that it kept my glasses from rubbing paint off my nose. Even in the close up, I can see no paint strokes from applying with wedges - and this photo is unedited, as you can see from the palm of my hand. In the second shot, there's some color difference on my leg vs. body, but I think it's because I rushed and did not mix the same ratio for my whole body - which is hard with 3 tubs of powder.
Step 6: Latex
Goes on thicker than a paint, but stays put very well. If you have an allergy to latex, DO NOT USE IT.
Latex peels off rather than washing, and it can be a problem if using over large parts of your body - it's also expensive.
Pros: If you need the equivalent of a latex body suit - this is the way to go - but only if you want a shiny, fake look. Primarily, latex will work great for details such as fish scales, spots, as instant pasty and other places you would want to have a raised look, or if you want to stick glitter securely to the body. One big advantage to latex is, if you have the body for it, you can do painted superhero quite easily. You can achieve shapes with latex that you just can't do with paint alone. You can build up layers to make battle damage, wounds and zombies or to create face-melting effects. It makes great puffy scars, bald caps, and is otherwise incredibly versatile. You can create things like elf ears and scabs in molds and apply them to your body later.
When applying and while wet, throw glitter onto latex spots and it will stay there! You can paint dry latex with regular make up to create an even more interesting look.
Cons: Latex will stain clothing when wet. If using with clothing, put on after the latex is dry. Additionally, latex needs a finishing powder to make it set. Latex can peel off on it's own if you aren't careful. Once a peel has begun, it can be hard to control, and will be distracting. Latex is finicky - if you tear a latex ear, there's no repairing it. It can stretch in less than ideal ways. Additionally, it smells like the dickens.
Also, latex does not breathe nor absorb liquids. Try not to get too warm if wearing a lot of it, because sweat doesn't have anywhere to go but away from your skin.
Apply with a foam brush you don't plan to use again, with a separate brush for each color, and make sure you have a fan running or a window open with a cross breeze. Stand on newspapers or drop clothes, a plastic tarp or something else you don't care about. Do not apply without a 24-48 hour skin test first, even if you don't have a latex allergy. If possible, have a friend apply the latex to you rather than trying to do it all yourself - chances are, you'll need someone to do parts you can't reach easily anyway, without warping the latex you already have on.
Latex is not something I would use if I were planning on moving around a lot - standing and walking, fine, but I wouldn't drink anything for several hours before using or while wearing- if covering your hands, you won't be able to wash them and I don't know how anti-bacterial gel would react if at all. I would do my best not to sit while wearing latex - the less body deformation, the better. You might be tempted to do power poses if dressing as a super hero, but fully test all poses you plan to do before leaving your preparation area. Don't try the split leg crouch with arms outstretched for the first time on the convention floor.
Under the right circumstances, latex can be completely worth it.
(I swear to god, I didn't look for blue colored latex paint, it was just one of the first things that came up.)
Step 7: Grease Paint/tubs
It's only even in here because it's an available product.
These usually come in shallow plastic tubs for like, 2 bucks at Halloween stores, or on amazon. If anyone can tell me why I should give grease paint another chance, I'd love to hear it.
Step 8: Alcohol-based Spray on Paints
These are also sometimes referred to as inks. This is not something I would buy from anything but a very trustworthy company. Read reviews before purchasing any brand of alcohol based paints/inks.
Cons: PRICE. There's another Aayla in our Rebel Legion group who swears by this stuff, but she gets about 1-2 uses per bottle but your mileage may vary. - this covers stomach and back, one arm (see character) face, neck and chest. This stuff takes a very long time to apply - in the above example, it takes her around three or more hours to get this much done, with her husband helping. A full body would take longer. I also understand the fumes can be very bad, and you almost must have a friend to assist depending on how much you want to cover. You need an airbrush to apply, and a compressor is preferable. Air brushes can clog and have to be cleaned while applying. Only apply in a well ventilated space, with ready access to outdoors or a second room you can go to go catch your breath.
If you have no previous experience with an airbrush, I'd recommend against this route, unless you have a friend that knows how to use one and can show you how the first couple of times. Airbrushes spray only in a very narrow stream of paint, which is why it takes so long, and it requires a steady hand.
Additionally, you need a special cream cleanser to remove, and it takes a bit of scrubbing to do so.
Pros: This will. not. come. off. You can shake hands, smile, interact with people, grip props, eat, hold babies and the color will not transfer. My favorite thing about this look though is the fact that the paint seems to actually dye your skin - this is the one product you can use that really looks like it changes your skin color, and have it not look or at least less like paint or a layer of 'something' on top of your natural skin. There is very little cracking and no flaking, and it covers very well, if applied correctly. You can stipple on top for greater depth of color. I've heard you can even sleep in this stuff if you're planning on doing the same character more than one day in a row, but I wouldn't recommend it, because I haven't done it. To my best knowledge, it is safe to use around eyes and lips.
As always, test on a small area 24-48 hours before attempting for your costume. Since this stuff can be very long wearing, do 2-4 patches and wash each one after 1, 3, 5 and 8 hours, less if it starts to burn, obviously. Note if your skin remains red for an unusually long time after scrubbing off. Look for skin irritation. I already have sensitive skin myself, and probably will not try the inks on myself, or at least not my face.
This type of paint is ideal if you cannot change colors on site. You can put this on and drive 3 hours to your event and the color will still be perfect. It is easy to move around in without it wearing off on your costume and most importantly, taking a restroom break while in costume is not out of the question.
I have no experience mixing different colors of ink to make a new color, so I don't know if it's advisable or not, but I would assume not.
Step 9: And of Course, SAFETY!
Non-Toxic does not mean it's safe to put on your skin, it just means you won't die if you eat it.
Yes, you can use super glue to attach a latex application to your skin, but I don't think you'll like getting it back off.
Follow all instructions on paints and colors you do buy for your skin - always, always test a patch of skin at least 48 hours before using, and if the container says 'do not use around the eyes and/or lips' - follow those instructions. If you do have a reaction, take necessary steps by rinsing your skin with clean water and mild soap.