Theatrical Makeup: Using Makeup And Prosthetics Effectively

Hollywood-style appliances and theatrical makeup are commonly found on store shelves now. Here's how to make these professional items more effective.

Back in the Dark Ages of our own childhood Halloweens, many of us had to choose between a thin plastic mask held on with a few staples and a prayer, or a latex rubber mask that took the idea of 'one size fits all' very seriously. Few of us could afford professional makeup, and none of us could ever hope to duplicate those special effects we saw in horror movies. What little makeup and prosthetic devices did show up on the store shelves were cheaply made and nearly impossible to apply correctly.

How times have changed. Complicated latex appliances that were once the exclusive domain of Hollywood special effects teams can now be found on the shelves of your local department store. Professional quality theatrical makeup is finding its way onto store shelves as well, making it much easier to create some astounding costumes for Halloween. But how exactly do you apply these prosthetics, and how can professional makeup really help my costume stand out in a crowd? Here are some suggestions for using professional makeup and prosthetics to improve your Halloween look.

1. Prosthetics and appliances should be attached before applying any makeup. To attach your false nose or fake scar tissue properly, you must first decide precisely where to place the appliance on your skin. The false nose extension will obviously be placed at the end of your nose, but where should the scar go? Once an appliance is fully mounted, it is very difficult and time-consuming to make major changes.

Now that you settled on the proper location for your prosthetic, you'll need to prep the area. Spirit gum, a professional adhesive found in costume shops, works best on clean and dry skin. You shouldn't have to shave off your eyebrows as long as you anchor the piece to the skin surrounding the eyebrown. Once the skin is prepped, it's time for the adhesive. Spirit gum needs time to become tacky, so plan out your costuming far in advance. You don't want to apply spirit gum at the very last minute. Spread a thin layer of spirit gum on the appliance/prosthetic and on your selected area of skin. Wait until the gum feels very tacky before attaching the appliance to your skin. Once you have found the right place and have put the prosthetic on your skin, press down firmly and hold the piece steady.

Smooth out the edges to insure a good wrinkle-free bond. Allow for a little more curing to occur before attempting to use makeup around the area of the appliance.

2. Use the highest grade makeup for the best results. Theatrical makeup is specially designed for this sort of heavy usage. It will hold up under heat very well and will allow for sweating. Lower priced Halloween makeup tends to dry out over time, leaving a very cracked and uneven appearance. If your budget for makeup is very limited, you might be able to get better results by mixing the cheaper makeup with a little baby oil to get a smoother blend that will hold up longer. If you are using a flesh-toned prosthetic, match the makeup to the appliance, not necessarily your own skin tone. Once the appliance has fully cured, you should be able to blend your makeup right into the latex. This will help make the prosthetic look more natural, as if it were an extension of your own skin. If you try to match the makeup to your own skin, the prosthetic may look decidedly artificial.

3. If you are going to be a clown, use Clown White as a base. Anything less than Clown White may not stand up to the rigors of clowning. Apply the creme makeup first, then powder it down with talcum or other white makeup powder. Once the base is on, then you can use whatever grade of makeup you wish, but the base needs to be professional grade for best results later. Clown White can usually be obtained at a good costume supply store or theatrical makeup outlet.

4. You can use pieces of latex masks as appliances. One of the chief complaints about the standard latex mask is the lack of natural movement and expression. No matter how skilled the actor inside the costume, it still looks like a person wearing a rubber mask. But you can still use prosthetic techniques to make your mask more effective. Some have found success by applying a liberal coating of spirit gum to their entire face and then pressing the mask on, but this method is not recommended at all. Instead, try cutting out portions of the mask and attaching them to your face in strategic areas, such as the nose or brow area. Fill in the remainder of the facial area with matching makeup and pieces of hair or fake scars. You may be able to attach most of the mask to your face in sections, and use makeup to fill in the gaps. Spirit gum requires a special remover once cured, so you'll want to use some restraint when it comes to how many appliances you attach.

5. Be prepared for emergencies. Makeup will eventually rub off or be removed by eating or drinking. Carry an extra supply of makeup so you can make any repairs necessary. Don't forget sponges or any other special application tools. Expect that some appliances will fall off due to sweating or poor adhesion. Keep extra appliances handy, along with spirit gum and cleansers. You may need to clean off any residual gum before trying to reapply a fallen prosthetic. Have a backup plan ready, such as a mechanical attachment or makeup to cover a missing appliance. Keep a supply of powder ready, to reduce the effects of sweat. Make sure to have the proper makeup and spirit gum removers handy, in case you have to get out of your makeup in a hurry. If you use any materials to enhance your makeup, such as vaseline or fake blood, you may have to replenish your supply from time to time. Keep a small mirror in your emergency case for quick touch-ups.

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