How to Make Paintable Body Paint: High Quality, Smudge Proof, Vivid Colors and Metallics

About: I am a seed saver, graphic designer, artist, parrot rescuer, and bulldog lover. Project collaborations welcome; I do not hoard knowledge.

Hello, my name is Chelsea Lee Gilbert; and this is my very first Instructable.

Please enjoy it; and if you elaborate upon this idea please link here and comment so we can all learn from YOU!

If you do not understand something, ask in the comment section below and I will try my best to help you.

Today you will be learning how to make high quality and versatile body paint that will be resistant to light rubbing and that will display a high quality look with rich, vibrant colors, and sheen, glittery metallics.

The method is simple and due to variables- the sky is the limit!

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Step 1: The Story

The need for a body paint arose about year or so ago when I was preparing to go to Burning Man for the second time. I had this wild idea to paint my body blue- as in royal, cobalt, bluer-than-the-sky blue, but with much research and trial and error, I still had not found the correct method to make a long lasting, high quality looking body paint. Internet voices pushed the use of mixing pigments and dyes with Lotions and Creams, and oil which did not dry and whose color bled was a bad option as well. My trials always ended in a poor quality, paling, crumbled mess that rubbed off easily and just looked bad.

The best option, er sort of.

One day when disinfecting my mineral-makeup with rubbing alcohol it hit me, this was the answer. I grabbed my pigments and mica- low and behold, the addition of alcohol made the powder become the perfect consistency to be picked up by a paintbrush and painted on skin. The royal blue dried to its powder color and it was magnificent, I never saw anything so blue. The golds dried to a perfect shimmer and all in the world was right. Unfortunately, after research, the best option is not a good option- If you overexpose yourself to rubbing alcohol you subject yourself to organ failure, as it is absorbed through the skin! So, a better option was using water, which worked just as well- but had a much longer drying time. I still use a small amount of Rubbing alcohol to wet powders that wont wet easily with water due to surface tension.

Step 2: Perfection, Er- So I Thought.

So the method is set- and I tested it at Burning Man. [Pictured above by a friend I met at the time of the pic.] I had envisioned painting my whole body, but with the spirit of things, time ran short with all the activities and I only got to paint the top front of my leg using a brush dipped in a gold mica in a rather poor, improvised pattern. This is when the use of a pattern would be beneficial [more on this in 'The Design' step.]

About four or five hours later the strong thick lines of the brush had faded due to accidental touching and rubbing and bumping into things.

The Final Touch

The Final Touch; It wasn’t for another year that I figure the final portion to the puzzle. This time, I was going to the Rock and Roll Marathon in San Diego and wanted to dress up as my favorite Rock and Roll Icon: Space Ace Frehley [Fittingly so, as KISS had just been inducted in to the R&R Hall of Fame!]

So I grabbed my micas and black wig and started to test the painting method again. I was so worried that the sweat from running the half marathon would make the makeup run [hur hur], and I wanted to look good for a picture- so the thinking cap was on. I recalled something that a friend of mine, Angela Romeo told me about a photo shoot she did in a pool- the makeup artist sprayed hairspray on their faces and it made their makeup water proof. I rummaged through my closet and found some Sebastian Hairspray my friend and old boss, Dimitri gifted me.

Step 3: ​The Test

The morning of the R&R Marathon I poured a tiny amount of rubbing alcohol into a bottle cap and mixed the mica with a paint brush, then after the powder was wet- I added water and painted my face with silver then black outline [I wasn’t able to buy white talc powder in time for the race], and finally held my breath and gave myself a good spray of hairspray and then sunscreen.

After running 2 miles to the marathon, 13 miles during the marathon [enduring sweat, spray from misters, sun, and constantly stopping to eat citrus and treats, drink water, and Gatorade], I finished and kissed a guy I like [who also brought me flowers] and his face showed no effect of my black lips! I also drank a massive beer [through a straw] at the ballpark concert without the lip paint smudging or coming off. Anyway, SUCCESS!

Afterwards; back at the hotel I wanted to test the strength of the hair spray further- so in front of a mirror I vigorously rubbed my face and was very pleasantly surprised to see that the makeup only smudged slightly.

The hairspray is indispensable to setting the powder!

Step 4: ​Materials I Use

This gets messy, you might want to lay out a towel or napkin to ease cleanup.

  • Water (Small squeeze bottle would be useful)

  • Rubbing Alcohol [Optional- Use very little. I use for sterilization and because it wets powder faster than water,
    DANGER: Isopropyl Alcohol absorbed through the skin can cause poisoning.]

  • Raw Mica Powders or Pigment Powders [I purchased mine online, you can use powder eyeshadows which are simply pigment powder and a filler(sericite mica)]

  • Bottle Caps or mixing bottles

  • Spoon or tiny scoop (or just use your brush like I did)

  • Paint Brushes

  • Cotton Ear Sticks [to clean up mistakes]

  • Hair Spray [extra hold, moisture proof]

Step 5: ​The Method

  1. Gather materials. Cosmetic quality mica and pigment colors can be bought easily online. Most companies offer “Sample” sizes. I suggest buying samples first, testing the color on your skin and go from there buying more, also you get more colors for less.
  2. Set up a clean working station. It is probably a good idea to open a couple napkins or set down a large white towel to catch any spilt powder.
  3. Open the mica or pigment jars, set lids up to be used as mixing bowls.* *Its may be a good idea to get a bowl other than the lids to mix the water into powder- but i always use the lids to keep it simple, you just have to wait for the lid to dry before closing the powder container.
  4. With a brush or small scoop, place powder into each lid.* Do not cross-color contaminate! Wash and wipe your utensils between color uses!
  5. Drip a drop or so of rubbing alcohol into each lid. Mix to wet powder.
  6. Add water to thin. I usually find three part water to one part pigment is good, and four part water to one part mica is a good ratio- since pigments usually need to be thicker, bolder- and micas are usually sheen and more reflective. Test ratios, some times a one to one ratio may be needed or less! Its all about the look you want to create.
  7. Paint! Grab your paintbrushes, or go buy some from a Hobby Store or on eBay. The smoother the brush the sharper the lines will be. Try not to get brushes that are wiry, they tend to leave brush strokes and dont do a good job in addition to not feeling good. Then again- this may be a look you want.

Step 6: The Design

I just freehanded [hur hur hur] the design on my hand. I googled the face painting of Space Ace and had it on my phone as I did that. Its good to draw out your idea first if you want to have a specific look. Paint Light colors first, use larger brushes to cover larger areas, and then use dark colors. Micas are good for large areas [backgrounds to paint designs on top of] and you can water them down a bit more than most pigments without streaks.

Use ear cleaner sticks to sharpen lines and correct mistakes, its hard to correct a mistake with a background so be careful when applying detail.

Again I will bring this up because I consider it important: don't cross-contaminate your colors, wash your brush in-between color uses and scoop and mix colors in a separate bowl.

TEMPLATES, PATTERNS, AND TESSELLATIONS. To streamline the process of covering large portions of your body with a pattern, a template may be used. I am currently working on ideas to use patterns with, I am also testing the use of an airbrush to hasten the process and make it streak free. I will post results after a couple trials and template designs. If you make a cool pattern, please comment and share, I will link them below:

Pattern Links:
None so far!

Step 7: Spray It!

When you feel like you have finished and you are ready to set your powder work, go outside or near an open window [away from pets and birds], open your spray bottle and hold it about half of arms length away from the powdered-painted surface and spray lightly. Do not over-spray the surface or else it may distort all of your hard work! Coat in a couple layers depending on how much protection the area needs [example: spray more on hands and in between legs, armits, etc.], allowing each coat to dry before adding an addition.

Clean up! Close lids, if you used the lids to mix your paints, allow them to dry then close your cases. Throw away your cloth or wash your towel and wash out your brushes, you're done!

To remove, simply wash with warm water and soap; That’s it!

The possibilities are endless, You can paint yourself to be a black and white photo [got that idea from looking at my KISS photo], Light Blue and be Dr. Manhattan, Green and be Ivy, you can make patterns, crazy make up. The sky [er, your imagination] is the limit!

Thank you for reading, please follow, comment and share!

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    22 Discussions


    1 year ago

    I am a body paint artist who uses woad and pigments. I'll let you in on a little secret WHISKEY... Yup it is safe on the skin and when mixed with woad it pulls the colour to the brightest scale and for pigments the slight sugar content creates good adherence to the skin and the alcohol evaporates. It is 100% safe unless you drink the bottle so toss out rubbing alcohol and grab the whiskey. Other alcohol like vodka does not work. Have fun painting


    3 years ago

    Going to try this for my mystique cosply. As body paint is expensive n food coloring n lotions rub off. Let you know.

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    hey?!, I wasn't wondering what did you use for body paint then??.... comic-con is coming to my city in a couple months and would like to do a cosplay as jasper from Steven universe!, but I don't even know where to begin with body paint?.... I was making Christmas de creations now one time and got some acrylic paint on me and played with it and painted my whole hand for fun... it stayed pretty good but I've read it wasn't safe to use for long exposed to skin or face, although the bottle says non toxic I'm still not sure, I've emailed the company but they haven't replied back to me?..... what did you use for your costume?..


    2 years ago

    Is there a substitute for the powders? Could you use a natural food coloring(like turmeric which I saw suggested on another site for a different recipe) or dry out a cheap face paint and turn that into powder?


    3 years ago

    This came up for waterproof body paint. Does it come off easily or does it stay for a while

    Ben schiff

    3 years ago

    Curious if you have ever tried to hydro-dip tie die paint yourself with your homemade mixtures???
    I notice you have kept adding to your expirament sense burning man was wondering if you are willing to figure out the "great mystery" of how BL Visuals does it at other festivals???
    Great read instructions by the way!!!


    3 years ago

    can I use regular eyeshadow for the pigment instead of mica?

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    I'd say Yes. Raw pigments might be cheaper if you're covering large areas though and may cover/color your skin better. Worth a try. :)


    4 years ago

    How much lose pigment would i need for my whole body

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Good question; considering a single sample from would cover the whole area of an arm- I would say you would need 7-12 samples, but this is pure speculation; I wish I knew how large the samples were- i think they are a teaspoon. A little goes a long way- and it varies, wet vs. dry.

    I wish I had a better answer, but i just don't know.

    Here is a great set of images that show the colors of the micas that are available, hopes this helps. Sorry I couldn't answer your question.

    Not quite sure if i understand your question;

    I tried using lotion but it just just lumpy then dried weird and looked bad- with the pigment it just leaves a thin color layer and the hairspray covers it and keeps it on- and if you get a extra-hold or humidity proof spray you will need soap to remove it and you can get it a little wet or misted. :)

    Zero lotion, just buy some bulk pigment from somewhere like or ebay and use that with water and it looks spectacular. :)


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    I LOVE your experiment, very well done! :)

    Have you ever messed with patterns or stencils? I am trying to figure a way to cover larger areas at once.


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Hadn't even thought of stencils, but it should work just as with a normal stencil job. Go for it! I like how your brain works. You'll figure it out. :)

    Super cool! Didn't know you could get such good body paint so simply. I'd heard about the hairspray trick for regular everyday makeup, but never imagined that it would set it so well.

    1 reply

    It works super well, I attribute some of its success to the type of hairspray and how many layers it has on it.

    I only sprayed every other finger and rubbed them and compared and its night and day, one was a mess and the other nearly perfectly preserved.

    It might also be a good idea if you use powder to do nails then seal them with hairspray prior to a clear coat so the polish doesnt smear the powder. So many ways to use it :).