Introduction: Fiber Optic Makeup

About: Costume and experimental fashion designer and artist. Maker of clothing and accessories for time traveling cyborg superheroes, and lucid dreamers. Interested in fusing couture design and leatherwork with weara…

The thing I Iove most about the holidays is all the pretty lights. I'm constantly trying to make things glow, but once a year my obsession actually lines up with cultural tradition, and everything gets covered in sparkles and twinkles! Yay! In my perpetual mission to add illumination to the human body in ever more elaborate ways, making your skin itself actually glow and sparkle is an ever elusive goal, but it shouldn't be impossible... I mean, If firefly squid can have photophors, why can't I?! I want them!

Anyway... instead of volunteering myself for a genetic experiment in gene splicing this holiday season, I decided to see if it was possible to create a festive illuminated makeup look using my new favorite toy, fiber optics. Fiber optics are a great choice for this kind of technique because the points of light created by the fibers are far away from any source of electricity, so there is no chance of shorting out your lights or shocking yourself.

I hid the light source for a bundle of end glow fibers in my friend Natalie's hair, and glued each fiber down to her face under a clear plastic crystal using silicone special effects adhesive. Adding the crystals magnified and diffused the points of light at the ends of the fibers, and helped hold them down. The result is a sparkly magical look which definitely gives the illusion that her skin is dappled with stars. I used white light in my fiber optics and paired them with blue, white, and silver toned frosty makeup that I thought would work well for a holiday or New Years costume party.

For your next holiday party you don't need genetic engineering, or even electronics skills, to turn yourself into a dazzling bioluminescent creature, just a few supplies and a bit of patience with small objects and glue.

*many thanks to audreyobscura for invaluable photo and video help, and to Natalina for amazing modeling and image re-touching.

Step 1: Supplies

To Create the Lighting Effects

  • Create Your Own Fiber Optic Hairpiece:
    • Small fiber optic strands .25 - .75mm in diameter - 1 strand about 12" long for each point of light you want to create on the face. You can order these from The Fiber Optic Store
    • LEDs to light the fibers - I used two simple white floralights, one for each side of my head
    • Heatshrink tubing - to attach the lights to the fibers
    • Hot glue and superglue
    • A comb or headband for attaching the light to your hair - the best way to do this depends on what hairstyle or headpiece you are planning to wear. If you are wearing a headpiece you could just attach the lights and fiber optics to that
    • A heat gun
    • Xacto knife
    • Scissors
  • Or You Can: Use a Glowby or other pre-made fiber optic product if you don't want to create your own fiber optic hair piece
  • Either Way, You Will Also Need:
    • Clear plastic crystals or flat crystal beads in a few sizes. I have tried a few different kinds of crystals and beads to test for the best adhesion and nicest lighting effects. I found that crystals or cabochons with flat backs were much easier to use than beads, and that using something with faceting, frosting or slight opacity created a more interesting diffused lighting effect than something completely clear. Also plastic will usually adhere better than glass. Most flat-back crystals or rhinestones have a foil backing which won't allow light to shine through, but you can often remove it as I will show you in step 2.
    • Isopropyl alcohol (91%) to remove the foil backing from the rhinestones
    • Silicone special effects makeup adhesive - This is one of the most important components of this project, make sure you have a very strong adhesive and test it beforehand. I used this one from Kryolan
    • Silicone adhesive solvent
    • Small paintbrushes
    • A small glass dish for solvent

To Create the Rest of the Makeup Look

  • Foundation
  • White foundation base
  • Powder
  • Silver eyeshadow or body powder
  • Black eyeliner
  • White water based facepaint
  • Light or bright blue eyeshadow
  • Blue lipstick or lip liner
  • Fake eyelashes
  • Eyelash glue
  • White or silver glitter
  • Gel for adhering glitter
  • Small blue rhinestones
  • Makeup sponges and brushes

Step 2: Prepare the Rhinestones

If you are using crystals or rhinestones with a foil backing, the first thing you need to do is soak them in 91% Isopropyl Alcohol to remove the foil so light from your fiber optics can shine through. It takes at least 8-10 hours of soaking for the alcohol to remove the foil, so you need to do this ahead of time.

I decided to used some small oval plastic "crystals" from Fire Mountain Gems, and they worked well. I simply poured alcohol over the gems in small plastic containers and let them sit overnight. I found that it helped to agitate them once or twice during the soaking process to loosen the foil. After about 8-10 hours, all the foil should peel off and float to the surface when they are agitated roughly or rubbed between your fingers. Pour off the foil and water then rinse and dry the stones before using them.

You also might want to test your rhinestones before committing to one kind. I tried taking the foil off some smaller green plastic ones in the same way, and it never budged, even after hours of soaking.

Step 3: Make the Fiber Optic Hair Pieces

I chose to make my own fiber optic hair combs rather than use a pre-made glowby, but either would work. Making your own allows to to better control the size of your fibers, how many fibers you are using and how long they are. I tried .75mm, .5mm and .25mm fibers and found that the .5mm worked the best. The .75mm fibers were a bit too springy and big to stick well, and the .25mm fibers were a little too thin to be bright enough. The fibers on the glowbys I've seen were closer to .25mm, also the glowby had the fibers pre cut to a variety of lengths which would be a little annoying when you are trying to design your light placement.

To make my own fiber optic bundle. I used .5mm fibers from an end glow fiber optic cable I had ordered from Weidamark. I removed the fibers from their PVC casing, then created two 12" long bundles of about 15 fibers each. I temporarily zip tied the bundle together, then shrunk a clear piece of heat shrink tubing over the end, and used a sharp xacto knife to trim the bundle so the fibers had clean even ends.

Then I used a second, larger piece of heat shrink tubing to marry the ends of each bundle to the LEDs on my floralights. I dropped a little superglue on the connection between the tubing and LED, and the tubing and fibers to keep everything held together firmly.

Last I used my hot glue gun to attach the floralight to a plastic hair comb. I also made a version for another occasion where I attached the floralights to an elastic headband with hot glue. That worked well also, it really just depends on what hairstyle or headpiece you are planning to wear.

Step 4: Hide the LEDs

For this version of the look, I hid the lights inside an up-do in Natalie's hair. We pulled her hair up partially, then attached the combs and strategically pinned up the rest of her hair to hide the lights, but still give access to the on/off tabs. You should also make sure to attach the lights so that the fiber bundles curve naturally toward the area of the face where they will be attached. If there is tension on them, they will be much more likely to unstick from your face.

In another experiment with this technique I tried placing an LED hairpiece on top of my head with the fibers coming forward and gluing onto my forehead. This turned out to be a bad idea because when I raised my eyebrows or made expressions that moved my forehead, the crystals wanted to unstick. So keep this kind of placement in regards to facial movement in mind when you are planning your look.

Step 5: Create the Base Makeup Look

I'm not a makeup artist, but I love playing with makeup. There are probably more professional ways to do this, but here's how I began creating this somewhat frosty makeup look on Natalie.

First I applied an eyeshadow base to her lids up to the browline, out a little towards the sides of her face and along the bottom outside edge of her eyes. then I used an eyeshadow brush to apply blue shadow to the outside of her lids, up to the browline and fading out towards her hairline. I faded this blue shadow into silver towards the center of her lids close to the nose. I added a little black eyeliner along the top and bottom of the eye for emphasis smudging it with my finger.

Then I applied foundation being sure to avoid the areas of her face that I wanted to apply the fibers and crystals to. These areas should be kept as clean and oil-fee as possible. Do not even apply moisturizer or any makeup base to these areas, the skin here should be freshly washed and clean.

After applying a base, I mixed white water based body paint with some white foundation base and used a large brush to "frost" the areas around her hairline, cheekbones, jawline, and nose, blending it into the natural tone foundation on the edges.

With this preliminary base applied, it was time to move on to gluing the crystals and save finishing makeup touches for later.

Step 6: Glue on the Fiber Optics

Before beginning to glue on my fiber optics, I first set up my adhesive and solvent. I poured a small amount of solvent into a glass dish and opened the adhesive. This adhesive dries so fast, and gets so sticky, that it is a bit of a challenge to work with. I used my own small brush, so I made sure to also keep the brush from the adhesive jar sitting in the solvent as I worked so it wouldn't dry out. I also put my own brush back in the solvent whenever I wasn't using it.

To position the fibers I measured each one by eye against Natalie's face and trimmed it with scissors in the place I wanted it to be adhered. Then I quickly applied glue to both the underside of a crystal and the small area of the face where I was going to stick it, waited about 5 seconds, then used the crystal to press the end of the fiber down onto the face, holding it there for a few seconds until it was dry and secure. After a while, my fingers got a bit sticky so I tried using tweezers to stick the gems down. This worked fairly well too, but I think just making sure to wipe your hands with a solvent-saturated rag after every few crystals is easier.

I noticed that positioning the point of light from the fiber in the exact center of the crystal refracted the light to create the best glow.

I glued 8 crystals and fibers down around each of Natalie's eyes and two more down on her jawline and behind her ear. I pinned the rest of the fiber optics up into her up-do. The crystals glued around her eyes stayed on so well that they were still there the next day, but the ones on her jawline and neck didn't adhere as well because their position was effected when she moved her head.

Step 7: Add the Finishing Touches

Next I added a few smaller rhinestones around her eyes and brows for extra sparkle. Then I went back in with some foundation and touch up the foundation and highlighting around the crystals as best I could without paiting over them. I added a bit more blue around the eyes and then brushed a little around her shoulders and jawline with a large brush for some extra dramatic contouring. I also highlighted on her cheeks, jawline and ears with silver shadow.

I dabbed gel around the rhinestones by the eye and then sprinkled it with silver and iridescent glitter.

On her lips I used a blue eyeshadow pencil from MAC and frosted it with some white foundation base and iridescent glitter.

Last I applied some large pale grey fake eyelashes to finish the frosty look. I was actually not in love with these lashes in the end, and Natalie changed them later to a smaller rhinestone studded pair when she went out for the night.

Step 8: Light Up the Room

Now put on your favorite sparkly outfit and go have a magical night (or, if you're Natalie Walsh, just put on the amazing fiber optic dress you created). Make a grand entrance with your impossibly glowing face, or surprise people by leaving the lights off at first, then turning them on at an opportune moment.

For this version of the technique I chose to create a frosty sparkle look that would work well for New Years or an ice princess type costume, but I think this fiber optic trick could be a great addition to a lot of different makeup looks. By using different colored lights and styles of gems you could create all sorts of moods and characters with different kids of glow. I'm especially eager to try a space costume where the lights of the fibers act as the stars in a galaxy.

Halloween Costume Contest 2016

Participated in the
Halloween Costume Contest 2016

Sci-Fi Contest

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Sci-Fi Contest

Make It Glow! Contest

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Make It Glow! Contest