Ancient Celtic "War Paint" Sunscreen




About: I am a year round outdoor educator traveling around the world taking youth into remote places to do cool stuff. I have been doing leather work since I was 8 at my parent's leather shop and love making thin...

Why I need war paint
I wanted to make war paint for use on sea kayaking expeditions that I guide. We literally live out of our kayaks for 5 days, camping on uninhabited beaches.There are days when I know the going is gonna get tough, and I want to ignite my participants' the inner warriors.  Some days we paddle long distances, some days the weather pushes our progress backward with every paddle stroke. Those days are not only physically but mentally brutal. I want my participants to find warrior qualities - courage, tenacity, confidence and strength, within themselves. War paint is a way for them to physically express a mental state of being. Also, I'm sure I'll get plenty of use out of it running in the Warrior Dash.  

Why you should use sunscreen
I wanted a paint that was safe for skin, wouldn't run and wouldn't hurt if it got in someone's eyes. I also wanted it to be functional. What better medium than sunscreen? I've been using Coppertone Water Babies Pure and Simple Tear Free Hypoallergenic Waterproof SPF 50 Sunscreen for several summers with success. It protects my skin, isn't greasy and doesn't sting if I get it in my eyes. So I'm suggesting that specific formula from Coppertone. 

Why Blue?
I chose blue for several reasons. It's my favorite color, its the color of the ocean, and its the color the Ancient Celts wore when they went into battle. Caesar thought they were pretty fierce riding into battle naked and painted blue. 

Here is what you need :
- Coppertone Water Babies Pure and Simple Tear Free SPF 50 Sunscreen
- a mineral pigment that is approved for make-up use. Err on the too dark side, as the sunscreen will lighten it dramatically. I got mine from a seller on etsy:
- a tub or bottle to put your paint in. I found mine lying around the house. 
- a small whisk, spoon, chopstick etc. 
-a jar of oil. baby, olive, veggie any of them will work

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Step 1: Squeeze Sunscreen Into Container

Squeeze your sunscreen into your chosen container, but leave room at the top. The paint will move around when you stir and you don't want to get it all over the place. 

Slowly sprinkle your pigment in and mix until you get the right shade. I added little amounts and mixed to get the color I wanted. 
I tested it on my skin to see how blue it looked once I applied it. The weird thing is, the pigment doesn't really blend with the sunscreen, so you don't know how strong the color is until you test it on your skin. Stir some in really well, test and add more if needed. 

What about the oil? Well pigment is a fine powder and tends to get everywhere. If you have white counters, it can stain the counter top. The best way to get it off is to hit it quickly with some oil and a paper towel. I spilled a good amount and it came out using olive oil and a paper towel. 

Step 2: Prepare for Battle!

Finally I got the color I wanted, and ended up using the whole little jar of pigment.  

Now you're ready for battle!

Apply anywhere except your lips (unless you bought pigment approved for use on lips)

** I put this on and it stung a little bit. After a few minutes it went away. Test a small area to make sure you don't react to the pigment before you put it on sensitive areas like your face or on large parts of your body. 

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    15 Discussions


    4 years ago

    Just use woad. You too can be naked, and fierce.


    6 years ago

    You can buy indigo body dye from as well. Not sure on the price and it is meant to stain your skin temporarily at least.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    when I saw "Ancient Celtic 'war paint'" I got excited thinking that this was going to be about how to extract indigo pigment from plants or metals - ah well.

    Don't know how I feel about 'war paint' in most contexts - and since you mention the 'warrior dash' I'm somewhat interested in how this sort of application would be interpreted.

    Personally, if I was out Kayaking and saw my guide wearing 'war paint', I probably would assume you were referencing some sort of Native stereotype. Considering the facts, the blue-paint thing plays more towards Celtic/Pict stereotypes - Thanks Mel Gibson! (The concept of 'woad' dye is the result of a mistranslation - the coloration most likely probably came from a pigment made from glass, based on the literal meanings from the original text that popularized the concept of Picts going into battle painted blue. Woad is in fact caustic - used either as paint or in tattoos, it results in painful chemical burns and doesn't actually leave any blue behind :/ )

    In any case, interesting idea, but I think I'm good just using regular sunscreen without adding colors I'd have to worry about staining things with :p

    4 replies

    I'm referencing the tenacity, toughness and strength of warriors than the actual violence of war. During the summer I take groups of teenagers out on 5 day long trips, where they camp on beaches on deserted islands. We literally live out of our kayaks for 5 days. Some days are REALLY difficult due to either the distance they have to paddle that day or the conditions we have to paddle in. The challenges are both physical and mental. I like to get my group to help each other, work together, support each other. When they have really tough days, its often useful to get them into a warrior mindset, to push through their pain to accomplish their goals. I'm using it as a tool for them to visually express a mental and emotional state. It also helps with the group dynamics, making everyone in the group an "insider."

    I didn't know that about woad. Someone has it for sale on Etsy (to be used as body paint!!!) and apparently doesn't know any of what you told me. I'm glad I didn't use it! It sounds like dangerous stuff. 

     Since you mentioned the Warrior Dash, I'll elaborate. Its an obstacle course race that is held all over the US. There are all kinds of interesting, challenging, and dirty obstacles and people race wearing all kinds of crazy and fun costumers. I'm hoping to race in it this fall. Here is a link:

    Sounds like you have an awesome job :)

    I think as long as any action is taken with sincerity and respect, it's fine - I'm just suggesting maybe dropping the 'celtic' from the title or something to that effect.

    The dried, powdered form people sell these days is typically fine, and it's meant to be mixed with a fixative which would allow one to spread it over their body. It's more a modern re-imagining of what might have been than anything historically accurate, and from what I've heard used in such a way it actually tends to flake or just rub off - not a very effective body paint xD

    My overall point is this - fantasy and role play are one thing, the historical cultures of different peoples are another. Symbolic body painting is used all over the place, in many contemporary events (such as what you describe) from festivals to show celebration to the lines that athletes paint beneath their eyes to protect from sun glare.

    However, many today have a tendency to sort of mix things up and confuse symbols with reality - complex, wide-spread cultures are often reduced and simplified or referenced off-hand to lend a a sense of power, depth and meaning to a modern event or practice which would otherwise probably be fine on it's own. For instance, one of the first things I saw at the website you linked to was the image of a typical fantasy-viking helmet, horns and all, when it's been proven a myth that vikings wore horned helms. The image for "accessories" in the "Warrior gear" section is a Stein, also with the helmet on it it, which calls up the image of warriors gathered in a drinking hall.

    I have no personal problem with such things, but I'm just pointing them out - it's fine and good to respect the ideas of what a culture stands for, but another to use the symbols and images (false or true) of real, living people's ancestors (or in many cases, living traditions) as a method of self-empowerment without at least some research to better understand the emblems one chooses to wear.


    do y'all know how you release the woad properly like the Celts did... they pissed in it to release it properly and had a great thickness with it


    Yep! It was the ammonia. This technique was used to achieve really vivid plant dyes around the world - the bright, lasting color dyes created were used for staining leather, silk, wool, and many other fabrics, in addition to coloring skin.

    Could you tell me the name/title of the pigment that you bought from the Etsy shop. I would like to have it for a color reference when I make my own. Thank you.

    I would just like to note that this is very much like a product called Zinka! which is a colored zinc based sunscreen. That's why i was so happy when i found this instructable. Its mostly marketed towards surfers so i don't kn know if you have heard of it. It goes on very thick and comes in a small tube but a little goes a long way. Have you worn your sunscreen while actually being in the water swimming, surfing, etc... I am wondering how well your sunscreen sticks and does it fade/run while being active in the water.

    1 reply

    The color I used from her shop was called "ferric dark blue"
    The sunscreen I used for this project is the sunscreen I use when I go sea kayaking, swimming, climbing, etc. I literally wear it every day all summer long. I also used it while working as an adventure guide in the middle east. Being fair skinned, it's so far the only sunscreen I can consistently buy in most big and little stores that actually works for me. I've had a hard time with sunscreens not working and this one i trust. It works really well for me.

    Could complicated-to-acquire-pigment not be replaced with a cake of 80's super blue eyeshadow?

    But I do love it. I'm SUPER fair, so sunblock is a must - I'd be super into woad sunblock, but only if it actually gets you high like the real stuff ;) (that's why the kelts all ran into battle screaming and naked - they were all toasted out of their trees!)

    2 replies

    oh, and I suggested the etsy seller because for me, (I already have an etsy account and a paypal account) buying and selling on etsy is something I do literally every day, so I didn't really think about people who don't have etsy accounts. oops.
    If you make it with eyeshadow let me know! If it works well I'll add that tip to my instructable.

    I'm pretty sure you could easily replace the pigment with "80s super blue eyeshadow"! You would probably need to pound it up really good with a large blunt object. But considering you're about to put on war paint, that should be an easy one.

    I would have loved to have used woad -which I found on Etsy here:

    But it was really expensive ($15 for 2mL!) and I was worried people might have allergic reactions to it. I might get some just for me to test out. Does it really get you high? If it does, I wonder how that girl can sell it on etsy.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    It was pretty easy to get off after I took this photo. I used soap and water on one half of my face, and moisturizer and a paper towel on the other half. Moisturizer is my #1 choice for removing makeup, and it happens to work better than soap to get this war paint off.

    I haven't worn it for an extended period of time yet, so I don't know how well it comes off after it's been sitting on skin for a while. The pigment I used is meant to be used as eyeshadow so I would assume it would still be easy to get off with moisturizer after prolonged wear.