Body Paint

Fire and Water

Body paint transforms the human canvas. Whereas tattoos are permanent, body paint allows you to experiment with different designs on your body. These designs will wash away with soap and water, or in the case of some latex-based paints, peel off, allowing you to change designs quickly. If you are interested in body painting, learn more about the history of the art and the mediums available today.

Body Paint Then and Now

From its ancient tribal roots to face painting at carnivals and fairs, body painting has long been part of the human experience. It has been practiced in ceremonies and rituals for thousands of years to the present day to symbolize coming of age, fertility, beauty and much more. Nearly every tribal culture had some form of body painting with natural pigments or dyed clay. Body paint has also been used by actors and other performers for centuries.

The modern body painting revival arguably kicked off in 1933 when legendary artist Max Factor and a model were arrested at the world's fair for causing a public disturbance. The art increased in popularity in the 1960s among the hippie community. Today, the practice of body painting is used in modern society more as a means of artistic expression, although it can still be filled with symbolism, if that is what an artist wishes to convey. It's less permanent than a tattoo or scarification, but it provides the creative outlet both artist and model seek.

An artist may choose to create intricate designs, faux clothing, masks, and anything else the imagination can inspire. Models may be painted partially or fully undressed, depending on the artist's goal.


Sun face paint design

Many products can be used to paint on skin, each yielding various levels of success. It's always best to begin with a clean "canvas" for best adherence, and shaving/waxing body hair may be necessary for some projects.

  • Markers work well, but only those marked non-toxic. Markers may be easier to use for those who find it hard to hold the paint brush steady.
  • Water-color paint sticks and crayons are the medium of choice for children's face painting. Dip the tip of the crayon in water or rub a wet brush on the paint stick; you are ready to paint.
  • Non-toxic Acrylic paint is another medium used by some body paint artists, but be aware that it's not approved for use on human skin. It's safer to stick with cosmetic grade body paints.
  • Tempera paints may be used, but tend to flake when dry, so they are less desirable than fabric acrylics.
  • Airbrush makeup is perhaps the best (and most expensive) body paint medium to use and brings terrific results. If you'd like to see a very fine example of airbrush makeup, check out Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats.
  • Henna, a natural reddish-brown plant dye can painted on to create a temporary tattoo.
  • Liquid latex has also been used with success, as it has some durability once dry.
  • Edible body paints are also available for those with a certain sense of adventure.


The type of tools used to apply body paint vary with the medium being used, but can include:

  • Paint brushes in all sizes can create the desired images and designs.
  • Sponges and sponge brushes are terrific for creating textures and covering larger spaces quickly.
  • Air brushes are another favorite tool used to create fantastic works of art in a very short time.

Allergic Reactions

Be aware, that body paints can cause allergic reactions in some individuals when they come in contact with the skin. If you have a latex allergy, make sure that you get a body paint without latex. With so many body paint products available, it's very possible that someone who has been painted before without any problem could have a severe reaction when a different product is used. In the same vein, a particular type of paint may cause no reaction on some people, but can cause rashes or worse on others.

How can you be sure which painting products are right for your "human canvas"? Test them first. Apply a small amount of the medium you will be using on the skin, and wait at least thirty minutes to see if any reactions develop. If you plan to use more than one medium, test each one separately so you can identify the specific allergen.

Symptoms may include, but are not limited to:

  • Redness/irritation
  • Burning sensation
  • Hives
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Any other unusual or obvious changes

Wash the paint off if any symptoms are noted and seek medical attention, if the problem doesn't begin clearing up soon after.

Dispelling a Myth

Contrary to popular urban myths, you cannot suffocate from being totally covered with body paint. As long as you can breath through your mouth and nostrils, and you're displaying no signs of an allergic reaction all should be well.

However, you can die from a severe allergic reaction, so if you suddenly have difficulty breathing wash off the paint and seek immediate medical help. Better to be safe than sorry.

Find Paints

A number of websites make it easy to find and purchase body paints online. Use a search engine to research products, before you buy them and look for customer reviews. These are perhaps more important than reviews by professionals, as they will let you hear how other people like yourself found the products.

While any brand of body paint is a good place for beginners to start, if you need long lasting results, check out Ben Nye Magicake and Kryolan. Purchase a stencil or set of stencils to help you apply designs properly if you're just starting out.

Learn More

Heart design body paint

There are a variety of books on the art of body painting, from Mehndi to more contemporary works; check them to learn a bit more about the history of the art. They will inspire you by showing you all the designs you can make with body paint. Soon you'll be painting yourself, and your friends will be coming to you when they want to test out future tattoo designs or just spruce up their skin for a bit.

Body Paint