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This information is provided in good faith and is based on my experience as a face painter. It is general in nature and does not constitute medical advice or expert opinion.
Safe and hygienic face painting starts with the right equipment:
* Any products used on the skin must specifically designed for use on human skin. “Non-toxic” on the labels does not necessarily mean that it is safe to put on the skin. Use only professional quality face paints and cosmetic glitters and glues. Avoid those typically found in craft stores. Recommended brands include: Wolfe, Mehron (AKA Paradise), Cameleon, Global (cake makeup), Tag Body Art, Diamond FX. Craft glitters can damage eyes.
Some individuals may have an allergic reaction to even the most pure and nontoxic colours. If the client shows any type of allergic reaction during the painting procedure (e.g. paleness, shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing, undue swelling, puffiness around the eyes) the painting session should be discontinued and emergency medical attention should be obtained.
* Ensure the kit is clean before you begin. Brand new brushes should be gently washed before first use. Between face painting sessions, face paint should be stored dry and away from heat. (see “Caring for Your Products” for more information).
* It is recommended to use a fresh, clean sponge for each person. Sponges should be washed with soap and cold or luke-warm water. I always follow this with a short soak in boiling hot water. I don’t recommend washing in hot water as the heat can set the paint. Ideally dry your sponges in the sun – use a delicates washing bag to hang them on the line. The sunshine further sterilizes the sponges. Packing away damp sponges can lead to mould growth.
* If you’re using someone else’s table, be sure to cover it with a cloth to protect the table from stains.
* Start with clean hands and fingernails and keep plenty of wet wipes on hand for frequent cleaning. It’s a good idea to use hand sanitiser after wiping your own or a child’s nose. Do not do face painting if you are unwell or contagious.
* Have a container (bin, tub or bag) for used sponges and another for dirty wipes & tissues and keep them under your table but in easy reach. Keep your table tidy and clean.
* The kids that are waiting and watching will get in the way and into your stuff if don’t manage them. There’s always a kid or several who’ll try to stick their finger in your paint. And undirected, they’ll crowd around the table and chairs, leaning on them and bumping them. When possible set up your table in a corner to limit the kids’ access to your table and equipment. I have a large plastic sign on one side of my table which has advertising and info for parents, but most importantly forms a barrier to stop kids getting to my paint. If there’s going to be a queue, get them to queue on your other side – away from your table and chairs. A few chairs for the start of the queue is ideal, but not always practical.
* Do not paint anyone with skin allergies. If the client or child has sensitive skin, food allergies or reactions to soaps, creams, dyes, you should do a small patch test (or not paint them). To do a patch test, paint a small area (about the size of a 10 cent piece) on the inside of the elbow and wait 20 minutes, then check for any reaction, including redness or itching. Some individuals may have an allergic reaction to even the most pure and non-toxic colours. If the client shows any type of allergic reaction during the painting procedure (e.g. paleness, shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing, undue swelling, puffiness around the eyes) the painting session should be discontinued and emergency medical attention should be obtained.
* Painting children under 3 years old is not recommended as their immune systems are still developing. What this means is, the more exposure babies and toddlers have to anything, the more chance there is, that they might develop an allergy to one of those things.
* Please do not paint any child who doesn’t want to be painted. This sounds obvious, but parents often want it done more than the child and will sometimes hold down a crying child and tell you to “just do it”. It can be hard sometimes (if you’re not a very assertive person) to repeated refuse the parent’s request (or demand), especially if they are the one who hire you. They seem to think that once it’s done the child will be happy, but it’s only going to turn the child off face painting even more.
* Only paint clean, unbroken skin. Don’t paint over: cuts, scabs, cold sores, a rash, flaky skin, eczema, acne, runny noses or any other sign of infection, etc. If their face is unsuitable to paint, you may be able to painting their hand or arm instead. Do not paint anyone with conjunctivitis, lice, cold or flu, chicken pox or any other infection.
* The area of skin to be painted should be cleaned with soap and warm water or a wet wipe before being painted, taking care around eyes, and wiping runny noses.
* Don’t apply paint or glitter close to the eyes, especially on young children. The risks of painting close to the eyes include: irritating the extra sensitive skin around the eye; poking the eye when the child suddenly moves; the child rubbing the paint or glitter into their eyes later on, paint or soap going into the eye when the mother is washing the paint off.
* Ask the client to close their eyes when painting near the eyes or applying glitter. It’s also a good idea to shield their eyes with your hand while puffing glitter on, especially little kids who may open them at any moment.
* It’s best to avoid painting the lips. If you do paint the lips, it would be best to use a cotton bud (AKA Q-tip) that you discard after one use, or you use a brush, put it aside until it can be sterilised before reuse.
* Face paint has no SPF value and cannot replace sunscreen. In fact some dark colors can even amplify UV rays. Please apply sunscreen, before painting, if you plan to be out doors for a long period of time. But note: Sunscreen will effect the properties of the makeup – allow enough time for sunscreen to absorb.
* By FDA standards, no neon face paint should be used near the eyes!
Additional recommendations often given:
* Singe use applicators to be used, otherwise paint brushes should be washed thoroughly in warm water and soap and then soaked in 70% isopropyl alcohol for at least two minutes, and dried before being used on a new client.
* The water used for cleaning the brushes should be changed for every client.
* Sufficient paint should be mixed in a container sufficient for just each child and the container then immediately washed using clean water after each child.
To wash and sterilize brushes between painting each person you will need a Brush Basin with the ridges in the bottom to help get the paint out of the brushes. After rinsing the colour out, blot the brush dry and rinse it in Brush Cleaner to disinfect it. Then you need to rinse it clean water. You will need a large bottle of clean water to frequently replace your dirty water, and a bucket or something for the dirty water. You will need yet another water container for wetting your brush while painting.
Be very careful when using brush sanitiser, if not rinsed out properly, it can cause a reaction.
Why I don’t do this:
A lot of face painters diligently sterilise their brushes between clients, but I’ve never heard of anyone taking a bit of paint into a separate container for each person. When you reload your brush with paint, mid-design, any germs theoretically picked up by the brush would be transmitted to the pot of paint, only to be picked up by your clean brush anyway. So sterilising your brush but reloading from the same paint seems to me to be as pointless as closing the gate after the horse has bolted.
I believe you can sufficiently minimize the risks of spreading contamination simply by following the guidelines given above regarding who & where you should and shouldn’t paint, and by applying any base-coats with a clean sponge.
The idea then is to have 1 (#6 or #4) brush just for black for you line-work, another for white, and any number of other brushes for other colours or groups of colours ( a brush can be used for pink, purple and blue without requiring thorough washing between changes of colour).
The benefits of this system are many:
* The time spent washing brushes and changing water is saved, so you can paint more kids per hour.
* You also save time loading your brush as it’s already half-loaded.
* You don’t need to carry much water (lightening your load considerably).
* You save paint because you’re not washing it away.
Some face painters would consider this to be unhygienic, but I’ve never had any complaints from parents or clients and I always have a long queue.
Positioning and seating arrangements are important for your health and comfort. Face painting can be torture on your back with the wrong chairs or positioning. When a child sits down to have their face painted they always lean or slump back in the chair, and often look down. You will find yourself leaning forward and literally bending your back to paint their face. You won’t notice at first, but after an hour or two of that your back will be aching, and believe me, after 6 hours, you can barely walk for the pain. The key things to avoid this are:
* Aim to have their face at, or just below your eye level. (Higher will give you aching shoulders instead.)
* Bring their face close to you, so you don’t have to lean towards them.
* Keep your back straight, and if you have to lean forwards, tilt at the hips instead of bending your back. You have to consciously and repeatedly remind yourself of this.
* Keep their face looking at your face, not down at their lap.
* Avoid a lot of twisting and turning, but don’t stay in the same position for long periods either.
Ok, so this is much easier said than done! So here are some tips to help you achieve this. There are different set-ups which suit different face painters and different situations, so you’ll need to experiment a little to see what is most comfortable for you.
* You can both sit. Ideally you’d have a somewhat taller chair or booster cushion for little kids to sit on. My favourite set-up is to have two office chairs so I can change the height of either to suit each person and I can turn the chair instead of asking the child to turn his/her head. But of course you can’t usually lug two office chairs around with you. You need to choose your chairs carefully or the children will always slump back and you’ll wreck your back leaning over to reach them, or be constantly asking them to sit up. To avoid this the seat of the chair needs to be horizontal (or close to), not tilted back, and not deep; the back should be fairly upright or use a stool, so they nothing to slump against. Otherwise a thick, solid cushion attached to the front of the seat back to keep them seated upright at the front of the chair.
* They sit and you stand. You’ll need a higher than normal chair, like a tall director’s chair or bar stool. Many people find this the most comfortable; it’s easier to access everything on your table and to move around the client. It allows you to working from the side of the client which reduces body contact and invasion, which is appreciated by the teens and adults. It also gives you a better view of the queue etc. It can be tiring to be on your feet for long periods. A rubber or foam mat under to stand on can help. Small kids will have problems getting in and out of the tall chair. Ideally their parents would lift them up and down but in reality, it will mostly be up to you to lift or at least help them. You can provide a step stool for them to use to climb up and down but make sure it isn’t one that tips if you stand on the edge. Tall chairs are typically heavy and expensive equipment too. What I said about chairs in the previous paragraph also applies here.
* The best thing with really little kids is for them to sit on mum or dad’s lap. Mum or dad acts as a booster seat as well as making them less nervous about the stranger (you).
When you paint teens or adults, you’ll have to modify your set-up. I find I need to stand up because they sit back further.
* Sometimes you can sit and have the child stand in front of you. It brings them closer to you and eliminates the time they take sitting down and standing up. So it works well when the kids are the right height for you, and you’re in a rush. Get them to stand in front of or between your knees. Getting them to put their hands on your knees keeps them close. This won’t work for you if you don’t like people in your personal space, but face painting is kind of intimate.
* Ask them to look at you but close their eyes. If they scrunch their face, tell them to relax like they are going to sleep. Sometimes gently stroking their forehead helps, and be sure to keep your voice gentle and relaxed! You will need to keep their head steady with your non-painting hand, either on the top of their head or by the chin. The chin works best with the kids that want to keep looking down, although some relax so much you end up taking all the weight of their head! And some kids hate have a hand on the top of their head. They won’t say anything, but if you’re paying attention, you can tell by their body language, and this should be respected.
* To paint on the side of their face, ask them to turn their head and/or use your non-painting hand to guide them, rather than twisting your body around to reach. It helps a lot to have something you can ask them to look at – e.g. a poster on the wall, rather than just “turn your head” or “look left”. It’s easier for the little ones to understand and gives them something to focus on, so they’ll keep their head in that position for longer. For wriggly ones, ask their mum to stand where you want the child to look.
* To avoid twisting and turning, have your table on your right if you are right-handed.
Remember to look after your own needs, especially if you’re painting for more than two hours: take drinking water. Take breaks to stretch, change position, eat and go to the toilet. If you’re like me and many face painters, while painting you’ll get into the ‘zone’ and not notice hunger, thirst or pain until you stop, and then it will hit you like a brick!