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The 11 Best Substitutes for Face Paint (Several DIY Options)

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Painting faces for kids is one of the most fun things I ever did as an artist. I always found acrylics to be my favorite for face painting, but there are many other possibilities as well.

There are plenty of substitutes for face paint, including various makeup products, such as lipstick, eye shadow, and eyeliner; different foods, such as crushed berries and Kool-Aid; and even food coloring or acrylic paint. (Though there are some concerns with those last two.)

Making homemade face paint from these common, everyday items is usually a simple process, but it may require combining other ingredients. There are also some non-face painting alternatives that you can use instead. This article will talk about them all, and I’ll be sure to highlight the DIY options.

A woman painting the face of a young girl

1. Face Painting Crayons or Markers

If you aren’t handy with a paintbrush and need an easier way to paint faces, consider using face painting crayons or markers. With these, you can draw instead of using a brush. 

Another advantage is that they’re often less expensive than traditional face paints. Amazon sells packs of face-painting crayons like the ones I recommend found on Amazon. They are easy to use, non-toxic, and can last over a hundred face drawings. 

The markers are typically more expensive but are still more reasonable than face paints you’d use with a brush.

Unfortunately, if you’re looking for a face paint alternative because your child is allergic to face paint, these may not help. 

The active ingredient in most face paints is glycerin. Most face painting crayons and markers also include glycerin. So, while these may be easier to work with and more reasonably priced, they can still cause adverse skin reactions.

Don’t be fooled by paraffin wax- or Senegal gum-based face paints, either. Although they use other ingredients, they still include glycerin in their ingredients.

2. Makeup

Regular makeup can also be an excellent alternative to face paint. Today, lipsticks come in many colors – from white to black and everything in between. 

Eye shadows, eyeliners, and lip liners are also colorful, easy-to-use options. You can use many of these products as they are and get great results. However, some, like eye shadow, work best if you mix the powder with some face cream first. 

Remember that children’s skin is often more sensitive and prone to reactions than adults. Therefore, it’s best to use organic makeup or makeup designed for sensitive skin. Healthy Children recommends avoiding any makeup that contains heavy metals like lead or mercury. 

You may also want to test a small area of your child’s face for potential reactions before going wild with the makeup. 

A mother and daughter laughing while doing make-up

3. Kool-Aid (DIY Option)

Ever notice how people get Kool-Aid Mouth after drinking Kool-Aid? That’s because Kool-Aid stains, and anything that can stain can be a replacement for face paint. 

True, Kool-Aid stains aren’t as bright and visible as face paint. However, they are visible, so you could use them in a pinch. To make it even more visible and paint-like, mix it with the following ingredients:

  • Water
  • Flour
  • Vegetable oil

Your exact measurements will depend on how much of the “paint” you need. Try to keep your water and flour at an equal ratio, with about a third as much vegetable oil. If the mixture isn’t thick enough, add more flour until it reaches the correct consistency.

4. Fruit and Veggie Juice/Crushed Berries (DIY Option)

Fruits and veggies often contain brightly colored juices that stain your mouth and fingers for hours. (Ever eaten a pomegranate? That can look downright bloody!) 

Use these natural ingredients to your advantage. 

You usually won’t have to mix the mashed ingredients or juices with anything; you can use them as raw ingredients. (You can try adding any of them to face cream if you want a thicker consistency, though.)

Here are some examples of things you can use, but feel free to experiment with other foods from the produce section: 

  • Raspberries for pink or red.
  • Blackberries for black, dark blue, or violet.
  • Blueberries for purple or blue.
  • Beets for red.
  • Avocados for green.
  • Turmeric for yellow.
  • Carrots for orange.
  • Pomegranates for red.
  • Lemon for yellow.
  • Spinach for green.

As long as your child isn’t allergic to these foods, the chance of them having a reaction is very low.

5. Other Food-Based Items (DIY Option)

There are other non-produce food items you can use for natural dyes. Some examples are:

  • Flour or powdered sugar for white.
  • Chocolate sauce for black or brown.
  • Coffee or cocoa for brown.
  • Jello powder for various colors.

Some of these, like the flour and Jello powder, may require you to mix them with other ingredients. Typically, cornstarch is an excellent place to start. However, a quick Google search can also give you plenty of alternatives.

6. Thermal Tattoo Transfer Papers

You’re likely familiar with thermal tattoo transfer paper if you have tattoos. These are the papers tattoo artists use to transfer your tattoo’s outline onto your skin. 

First, they draw the design on regular paper. Then, they use thermal (or thermographic) paper to copy the design and transfer it onto your skin. Afterward, they use that stencil to guide their tattoo needles and ink. 

If you have access to thermal tattoo transfer paper, you can do the same thing (minus the tattoo needles and ink). Draw whatever designs your children want onto paper and then copy it onto their skin using thermal tattoo transfer papers. 

The potential for skin reactions is minimal. 

6. Temporary Tattoos

Although temporary tattoos take away the fun of getting drawn on, they’re still a colorful, exciting, and non-toxic way for your child to enjoy face painting day. For most children, temporary tattoos are unlikely to cause reactions. 

However, you shouldn’t overdo it. Studies have shown that excessive use of them can cause damage to the skin’s protective barrier. As long as your child doesn’t have overly sensitive skin, a few temporary tattoos a year shouldn’t hurt them, though.

7. DIY Option 1: Cornstarch, Lotion, & Vegetable Oil (DIY Option)

Popsugar has an excellent recipe for face paint. All you’ll need is the following:

  • Cornstarch
  • Face cream or lotion
  • Vegetable oil (1/4 teaspoon)

Mix the face cream and cornstarch in equal measure until you get a thick, pasty product. Then, drop in the vegetable oil. (It doesn’t add anything to the color or consistency, but it will help ensure the paint looks good on your face.)

Finally, add some of the natural dyes I mentioned earlier. (Carrots for orange; blueberries for blue; etc.)

8. DIY Option 2: Shortening, Cornstarch, Flour, & Glycerin (DIY Option)

If glycerin isn’t a problem for you or your child, you can make your own face paint just like the real thing. ThoughtCo. provides the best recipe for this. You’ll need the following ingredients: 

  • Solid white shortening (2 tablespoons)
  • Cornstarch (5 teaspoons)
  • White flour (1 teaspoon)
  • Glycerin (3 to 5 drops)

Start by combining the flour and cornstarch; then, work the shortening carefully. Finally, you’ll add the glycerin and work with the mixture until it’s smooth and creamy. (Add additional flour if it isn’t firm enough.) 

Once it’s ready, you can use it for white face paint or add some of the natural dyes mentioned above to add color.

9. DIY Option 3: Food Coloring & Face Cream (DIY Option)

Try mixing food coloring and face cream if you’re in a bind and need a quick, homemade face paint option. Choosing an organic face cream or one designed for sensitive skin is best for children. Then, you’ll add a few drops of food dye and mix it until it reaches a uniform color. 

One thing to remember: Food dye dyes things, so it may be harder to remove from the skin than you’d think. You may want to try it out on a hand, arm, or another less visible area of skin before covering your child’s face in it.

10. Washable Markers

Lots of schools, churches, and other places often go the cheaper route and pick up inexpensive washable markers instead of pricier face paints. You can do this for your face painting station, but it’s not without risks. 

First, not all washable markers are as washable as they claim. Furthermore, while Crayola markers are supposedly safe, some cheaper, less well-known brands could contain chemicals that aren’t entirely safe for prolonged skin contact. Be sure to weigh all the risks before using simple washable markers instead of face paint.

11. Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint is another option that many people use instead of face paint, and always the type we used at festivals and fairs. It’s cheaper, easier to buy in bulk, and more readily available. However, others insist it isn’t safe for face painting due to the presence of formaldehyde, lead, and other toxic chemicals in the ingredients. 

The chances for adverse skin reactions are higher when using acrylic paint, and acrylic paint can be challenging to get off once it dries and sets. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if acrylic paint is safe enough for your child. 

However, if you’re face painting at an event, you’ll want to let the parents know you’re using acrylics. That’ll ensure they have a say in whether or not they want you to go through with painting their children’s faces.

For more, check out Can You Use Acrylic Paints on Glass? | Washable vs Permanent.

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