Create a REALISTIC BURN Using Makeup




Introduction: Create a REALISTIC BURN Using Makeup

About: I create and teach makeup effects and prosthetics for a living. I love The B52's, good sarcasm and boring things like history, science and Radio 4.

Although an extensive burn makeup can be achieved with prosthetics, there is a great deal which can be done with directly applied effects materials and colour, removing the need to sculpt and make moulds.

This is great if you are doing it for a one-off such as for a low budget movie, a makeup test, building a portfolio or simply to create effective makeups without using a lot of expensive kit. This tutorial covers a simple approach to creating a burn injury using silk, gelatine and colour.

As always, getting the right reference material will always be the most important first step to creating realism.  There are books on burn injuries and wound care, but try the internet for free images. Add words such as 'care of..', 'treatment of..' or 'types of..' before 'burn injury', and you will be more likely to get pictures and articles of the real thing rather than reams of makeup attempts on photo share sites such asflickr-although there are also good images of the real thing there too!

Incidentally, if you like this kind of thing why not check out the free mini ecourse on my site-sign up quick and easy at!

Step 1: A Note About Burns for Makeup

From a makeup point of view, burns are a huge area as there are so many variables. Consider the extent of the burn as well as the type, whether clothing was involved, the age of the burn and whether healing has begun, or was complicated by infection.

If the burn is serious enough, might it have been treated surgically with skin grafts-and what would that look like? Also the burn may cause other complications such as shock and swelling, which in turn can affect circulation and offer further opportunity to enhance your makeup design.
There are many different kinds of burn. Exposure to heat is what most people think of but burns can result also from extreme cold, sunlight, chemicals, friction, radiation and scalds from hot liquids.

Here I have chosen to create a thermal burn on the side of the face. What often happens as the tissues of the body are subjected to extreme heat is that it contracts and distorts the undamaged skin around it. If you’ve ever seen a thin piece of meat in a hot pan, you’ll know what I mean. This is an interesting aspect from a makeup point of view, and one which we will use in the design.

Remember that heat rises, and fire loves to climb. Because of this, it is likely that the hair will have been affected along with the eyebrow, going up like a tinder box. I wanted to use this in the makeup, as the absence of hair on one side and the resulting asymmetry will enhance the effect.

Step 2: Get Your Kit Together

You will need:
• Gelatine (pre made or make your own)
• Gafquat (a thick, water soluble hair product which is used to flatten hair down. It is often used as a holding ingredient in many hair products) or similar strong hair gel-type product.
• China Silk nail strips or silk mouseline (from a nail/salon supplier or silk fabric stockist)
• Hairpins/section clips
• Spatula or wooden tongue depressor
• Strong silicone based or medical adhesive such as Telesis, Medical Spirit Gum or Snappy-G
• Charcoal powder
• Makeup colours (cream or alcohol based)
• Messed up brushes
• Orange stipple sponge and orangestick
• KY Jelly

Step 3: Prepare the Skin and Hair

Clean and prepare the skin. Prepare the hair, and section off an area creating a parting where the burn is to stop. I use gafquat to keep hair up, smoothing it down firmly using the spatula.

Dry this with a hairdryer to achieve a flattened patch of hair. If it keeps springing up, use a section of wig lace or stocking net stretched over the hair to hold it down while you dry it.

Step 4: Cut the Silk Strips

Cut silk strips from the nail silk or mouseline. I used three strips for this makeup, each approx 1 cm x 3cm (½ inch x 1½ inch). It doesn’t matter if the edges are neat, as everything will be glued flat.

What is important is that you follow the fabric direction, and avoid cutting across the silk at an angle. When you hold each end of the tab and pull, you should find the silk does not stretch. (see illustration)

Step 5: Prep Brushes Etc, Ready to Paint

Once you have finished building up your three dimensional aspect, it’s time for the paint party. The key with burns is to choose the right colours and apply them in a fairly random fashion. It’s all too easy to place colour neatly and symmetrically, so in order to loosen up, there are a couple of things we can use to help.

The first thing is to get a cheap bristle brush from a hardware store, sometimes known as a chipwood or ‘chip’ brushes.

Cut the bristles shorter by about a third, and this will give you a stiffer brush which is excellent for flicking washes of colour on.

The density of colour can be affected by adding more solvent to the pigment (water for water based makeup, 99% alcohol (aka 'IPA') for oil, crème or Skin Illustrator colours).

Round artists brushes can be bashed and curled to form these bushy brushes which apply colour in random specks. Stamping the brush down onto a hard surface helps fan the bristles out.

Backcomb the bristles using a pet-hair or wire brush. Scraping the hairs on a hard surface using a sharp blade such as a scalpel or razor blade will cause them to curl back on themselves. No need to use the finest or expensive brushes such as sable-any bristle material will work such as synthetic/acrylic brushes.

Step 6: Glue the Silk Tabs in Place

Apply glue behind the ear lobe, allowing it to dry thoroughly. Then add a little to the silk tab, allowing that to dry too. Press the dried, glued parts together firmly and stretch the ear across as far as is comfortable, ensuring there is plenty of silk available for both the ear and the cheek.

Apply glue through the silk and onto the cheek. Peel the silk away from the cheek, and allow it to dry fully, before stretching the ear again and pressing the silk firmly into place. The ear should hold in place.

Silk is good for this process because it does not stretch, making the skin do all the stretching. This gives you a distortion onto which we can build. If glued correctly, the silk appears quite translucent, making it easy to hide.

Then do the same to the lip and the eye. Be careful when using adhesive around the eyes and lips. It’s always worth doing a small patch test to check sensitivity with adhesives, especially as you will be stressing the skin surface by pulling on it.

Step 7: Apply the Gelatine

Be extremely careful when using molten gelatine! It is possible to cause serious (real) burns to skin if you apply hot, molten gelatine.

Melt the gelatine and add a little water to the mixture to help lower the melting temperature. Heat up the gelatine again now mixed with the water, and allow it to cool sufficiently before applying to your model.

Try a small sample on the back of your own hand to test the gelatine for heat and usability. If it cools too much, it may need a little reheating.

Start to build up gelatine on the area where you want your burn to be, going over your flattened hair and covering your silk tabs. Create smooth and rough areas, stretching and stringing the gelatine as it cools to create a variety of textures.

Blend some areas into the skin by dragging the gelatine firmly onto the face. In other areas, create ridges and hard edges where the texture suddenly stops. This variety of textures on the surface will help create a natural, random look.

Keep building slowly, taking your time to ensure that the gelatine is always at a safe temperature

Step 8: Keep the Colouring Random

Apply little washes of colour using brush and sponge to help the gelatine blend with the skin tones if the colour is too different. In places, pick out pinks and reds in little islands here and there. I also created a coastline of red on the neck, and mottled it with pinks and reds. I have included the neck where the heat could creep up under the under the jaw.

Flicking colours allows for gradual build up of translucent colours without disturbing the previous layers. You can of course use an airbrush for this instead, but I like the ease and cleanup of the brush method.

If you wanted, you could stop at this point for an older, healing burn. Keep the colours muted and semi-matte in places. I want to crank it up another notch, and turn it into a fresh burn.

Step 9: Get Reddy...

Beef up the reds in places, and add specks of red here and there around the face to reinforce the burn. The looser you are, the more natural it will appear.

Occasionally, you may create a funky little patch of colour unintentionally. When this happens, I like to go in and add detail, hardening up the edges and creating some real contrast for maximum effect.

Step 10: ...add Some Charcoal Powder...

Using a large brush and your fingers, add some charcoal powder around the perimeter of the reddened burn area to give a matt, dry and powdery finish you would get from extreme heat.

Go all over, but ensure that there are still some reds and paler flesh tones visible, as if the surface has cracked and exposed the meaty surface underneath.

Step 11: ...and You're Done!

Create a wet look on the exposed red areas by using KY jelly to simulate the serous fluid that often occurs on burns. You’re there!

The wetness makes the colours really show up, and create a stark contrast with the surrounding dry, powdery carbon look of the charcoal.

You could add to the effect by adding charcoal around the nostrils and mouth to create the appearance of inhaled smoke, as well as a little tooth enamel to stain the teeth.

Also, black food dye mixed with a little mouthwash can be used to darken the tongue to a suitably unhealthy shade to match. Finally, maybe finish off with a blow-torched costume (making sure that you do the scorching whilst it is not being worn, of course).

Happy sticking!

If you liked this tutorial, why not check out the free mini ecourse on my site-sign up quick and easy at!

Many thanks to the ever patient Jessie Hope-Weston for modelling.
Photo credits: © Viesturs Gross

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    30 Discussions


    6 years ago on Introduction

    AS one WITH an actual gen-u-wine severed limb---lower leg---and a severed piece of a limb--partial foot--I say---ROCK ON!

    If those sissies can't take it---they should stay home.

    And you will find MOST amp's to have a somewhat ghoulish sense of humor about being a member of our small club. Actually---NOT such a a small club---something like one in NINE---gee does that stat sound familiar???---people in the USA has an amputation. Farm work; industrial accidents; sports; shark bites; health related forced amputations; hit by a bus---if we did not have a sense of humor about it we would probably spend our days crying our eyes out.

    When mine happened my husband and kids wanted me to LIE DOWN in the hospital elevator doorway and they were gonna spread a bunch of blood around--HELP!!!! My wife caught her leg in the DOOR!!!!!

    These injuries are not for sissies.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Great job! Thanks for making this Instructable! I plan to incorporate this into my zombie costume. What was the cost for all of the supply's needed?


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    The cost of whatever latex you can get and acrylic paints. I buy latex in 5 litre containers, so that amount used is little.... but it depends on what existing materials you may already be able to lay your hands on.

    This cost me maybe £2 of my existing materials.

    is there a substitute for the gelatine because i dont like using anythingg that is made using any sort of animal body parts or fluids or whatever it is thats in gelatine:P


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Look up agar-agar it should be available wherever plant eaters shop for groceries. It's derived from seaweed and used extensively in both cooking and biological lab work. VERY similar to animal based gelatins in texture and properties, but the taste is a little different...though easy to cover up if you're making a jello like substance for dessert.

    Bryan "carnivore but I understand" Paschke


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Hi! This looks fantastic and will be using it on Saturday. Just curious.. what actually happens when you put the gelatin in your hair? I'm terrified that I'm going to rip out half of my hair in the process of removing it.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Warm water will melt gelatine, so hit the showers to clean out any that gets in hair.

    Thanks for the tutorial. I cut some corners (didn't use the silk strips) and I used different materials, but I think it still looks good. For those who are curious, I used:
    Mehron 3-D Gelatin Effects
    Bottle of Blood
    Trauma stack makeup
    KY jelly
    Foundation to make the gelatin look more like my own skin

    I plan to use real charcoal instead of cream makeup for the smoky part when I go out for Halloween, this was just a test run.

    Here's how mine came out.


    9 years ago on Step 7

    Is it just regular gelatin, like Jello but without the flavoring? Or is it special gelatin that you have to get at a specialty store?


    Reply 9 years ago on Step 7

    Gelatine is graded by a 'bloom' rating. The higher the number, the more substantial the grade. The gelatine for fx work is 230-300 bloom, and is bought from FX suppliers.

    Knox gelatine or similar is not really strong enough to do this kind of work. It melts very easily and would fall off and split easily if you used that kind of food gelatine.

    You can buy premade blocks or mix it up yourself with glycerine, sorbitol and zinc oxide powder to raise the melting temperature. Melt it all in a microwave and mix it up, ensuring everything is well mixed and pour it into ice cube trays to cool. Then, you can pull chunks out and melt them as you need them.

    Unless you are going to do this a lot, it may be cheaper to simply buy some premade blocks or something such as 'Gelefex' which is a precoloured gelatine makeup.

    Here is some great information which goes into more depth:



    Reply 9 years ago on Step 7

    K thank you!


    Reply 9 years ago on Step 7

    I also forgot to ask, but does it dry and stick on its own or would i need to purchase spirit gum?


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Hi Kelsey

    It will stick to skin and solidify while remaining flexible as it cools. It will inevitably lift and peel at the edges and areas of most movement eventually.

    To maintain this, you can either use more gelatine or an adhesive such as Pros Aide. Spirit gum is not great, and tends to be less flexible than both the skin and gelatine.

    Saline (sweat, tears and snot) will break down the gelatine, so prep the skin with astringent and clean off any makeup and natural skin oils prior to application to help the gelatine stick. 

    You can also use an antiperspirant to help reduce sweat getting the the all depends on how long the makeup is going to be on, the environment you are in and how sweaty the person will get (are they jumping around outside in a Texan July, for example?). 

    The context in which you are doing all this will naturally dictate how much time and cost you can justify for it.



    9 years ago on Step 11

    So I thought I'd post some pics of my first attempt at the burn makeup. I did it for my Halloween party this last weekend and everyone loved it. Thank you so much.


    Reply 9 years ago on Step 11

    That looks awesome! Great job.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    This is great! Gonna use this technique for Halloween this year. To all those who think it's wrong to do this kind of makeup, um hello, it's Halloween or used for films, it's fake. If a burn victim didn't want to see it, I am sure they wouldn't go out and run the risk of seeing something like this on Halloween, if it's too painful for them. Halloween to me, is about taking something that normally is one way, and altering it just enough to make it scary, spooky, or gory. Why not? It's Halloween! I am a makeup artist, and seeing these things helps me learn new techniques that are cheap and easy, so I can use them in the films I work on, if needed. This is a job well done.