Embarking on the journey of cosplay can transform you into any character you adore, but to get that authentic look, mastering the art of makeup is crucial. As a beginner cosplayer, you might be wondering where to start with your makeup toolkit. It’s the foundation (pun intended) of bringing your character to life, and with the right essentials, you’ll not only look the part, but you’ll feel it too.
Cosplay makeup is not just about using what you have in your daily routine; it’s a whole different level of detail and creativity. You’ll need to step into the shoes—or rather, the face—of somebody else entirely. From getting a flawless base to accentuating features you didn’t even know you had, the transformation is remarkable. Whether you’re looking to throw on a wig and a set of elf ears or going full-throttle into a body paint adventure, it all starts with your makeup kit.
Do remember, your toolkit isn’t just a one-size-fits-all. Different characters might require a unique set of products. But don’t worry, building up your arsenal with some cosplay makeup essentials will have you ready for just about anything. Consider this the starting point to express your creative self and become the characters you’ve always wanted to portray.
- Related reading: Easy makeup tips to improve your cosplay!
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Foundation is used to smooth out the color on your face so it doesn’t look red or splotchy. If you have never used makeup before, this is the product that will make the most difference in leveling up your cosplay. Everyone’s face (including and especially my own) has some amount of uneven color that can be improved using a little bit of foundation.
Foundation also serves the purpose of smoothing out the texture of your skin and making it appear more finished. I recommend using a foundation with a matte finish. This will look better in photographs because it won’t have a glimmering or greasy shine to it. In photography, almost any kind of shine is going to make you look sweaty in photos, so the goal of cosplay makeup is to make your face as matte as possible.
Translucent powder is a matte, transparent powder that you use as a final layer over the rest of your makeup. This is a multi-purpose powder that works as a fixing element, keeping your makeup in place all day long. It also helps to prevent too much shine on your face, which will keep you from looking sweaty in photos.
To apply a translucent powder, you’ll want to use a big fluffy brush. Dip the brush in the powder and gently pat it all over your face after you’ve finished applying your makeup. Then simply brush off the excess powder. This simple step will immediately give you a more finished and long-lasting makeup look for your cosplay.
If you are ever cosplaying in the summer or are prone to greasy skin, I cannot recommend blotting paper enough. This is a thin tissue paper that you can pat against your skin to absorb excess oil and sweat without ruining your makeup.
I recommend carrying a small packet with you so that you can quickly blot your face right before a photoshoot. This way, if you had grease build-up during the day at the convention, it won’t make you look too sweaty in your photos.
Before applying any makeup, it’s good practice to use a face primer. In general, a primer works to help seal a surface and keep it from absorbing the paints and products that are put onto it. It does the same thing for your face, preparing it as a canvas for the rest of your makeup. When you use primer, wait for it to dry on your face before doing the rest of your makeup.
Using a primer at the start of your makeup routine will help to smooth out the surface of your face, make it easier to apply makeup, and help your makeup last longer. All of these are great pluses when applying makeup for cosplay, especially because you’re usually using many layers of makeup for long periods of time.
Bodypaint won’t be necessary for all cosplays, but it’s quite common to find characters that have unnatural, brightly colored skin. Learning how to use body paint is an essential skill for pulling off these characters.
If you are a beginner to face or body paint, I recommend using a water-based paint, such as Mehron’s Paradise AQ. This is easiest to learn how to apply and if it’s sealed with a fixing spray, it will last all day long. To learn more about body paint and how to apply it, check out my tutorial.
If you are using any kind of body paint, a fixing spray is an absolute must. It’s also incredibly useful if you have oily skin that makeup tends to slide off of. Fixing spray works to hold your makeup in place for long periods of time without any risk of smudging.
This is the final step of a makeup routine. Simply hold your spray at arm’s length, close your eyes and mist your face with the spray. Wait a minute and then gently dab any excess moisture with a towel or tissue. With that, your makeup should stay in place all day long even if you accidentally touch your face.
White eyeliner has been a surprisingly useful tool for me when cosplaying. It can be used to make your eyes look wider and brighter. All of which can be useful when cosplaying an anime character or any character that’s younger than you.
When cosplaying an anime character, I will apply white eyeliner to the waterline underneath my eyes. This creates the appearance of slightly larger eyes. I will also apply white eyeliner to the inner corner of both eyes. This works to brighten your eyes a little since there tends to be a lot of shadows in this area of the face.
While it’s possible to apply makeup using only your fingers, it’s not something I typically recommend. Investing in a decent set of brushes will give you the tools you need for more detailed, delicate makeup and they will help you blend your makeup.
The brushes that every cosplayer want to have in their kit include:
- 2-3 small eye makeup brushes: One fluffy for blending eyeshadow and one skinny and angled for detailed shapes
- 1-2 large blending brushes: for applying blush and blending contours
- A brow brush: to comb any unruly eyebrows, it looks like a mascara brush
- A fluffy brush: to use for translucent powder
You can also include other sizes and shapes for more variety, but as long as you have these you’ll have all the basics. You can also choose to use a large brush for applying concealer and foundation, but I’ll mention later that I prefer using a makeup sponge for these products.
Many anime characters have almost non-existent lips. To try to match this style in a real-life costume, you will want to try to deemphasize your lips on your face. Instead of using a brightly colored lipstick, you’ll want to find colors that are nude or neutral. Something that will work with your skin tone to give your lips a slightly pink color without really standing out on your face.
10. Contour makeup
Photographs also have the unfortunate side effect of making people’s faces look flatter than they are in real life. The saying that the camera adds 10 pounds is not entirely inaccurate. To counteract this, you’ll want to learn how to contour your face to add dimension back into it.
Personally, I use a darker shade of eyeshadow to contour my skin color, but you can use a bronzer or a powdered foundation that’s a couple of shades darker than your skin tone. Use a big blending brush to add your contour color along the sides of your face, below your chin, and on the sides of your nose. You don’t need to go too dark, just add enough color to bring some definition to your face.
11. Special effects makeup
While not essential for every cosplay, you can also have some fun playing around with special effects makeup. This could be useful for zombie characters, or anyone who has a scar on their skin (check out my tutorial for making different types of scars for cosplay).
Some products that you can play around with to learn some effects are:
- Rigid collodion: This is used for making indents and puckers on your skin. You can use it to make a scar or a brand on your skin depending on your character.
- Liquid latex: This is an extremely versatile tool. You can make all kinds of shapes, bumps, and textures on your skin. Always test a small amount of this product on your arm first. Many people are allergic to latex without knowing it.
12. Blending sponges
In addition to makeup brushes, it’s a good idea to use some blending sponges in your makeup routine. I use these for blending in concealer and foundation because sponges do a better job at mimicking skin texture than brushes do. You’ll end up with more natural-looking coverage than using your fingers or brushes. Sponges are also easier to clean, so they tend to be my go-to when using these creamier and liquid products.
Eye makeup can make or break a cosplay, so make sure to invest in smudge-proof, waterproof products that will hold up for the entire day. Mainly, I’m talking about eyeliner and mascara, since these types of eye makeup are more likely to smudge.
You don’t necessarily need to go for an expensive high-end brand. There are many relatively cheap brands that have a very good reputation. E.l.f. makeup, for example, is pretty good quality and will last a long time. I recommend them if you’re looking for good products to get started with makeup.
It is never a bad idea to have an eyeshadow palette with a lot of different shades and colors. The powdered makeup can be used for so many different purposes beyond just eyeshadow. You can use them to color your eyebrows to match your wig, or to create special effects with makeup.
As you cosplay more, you will undoubtedly end up collected many palettes as you find the perfect colors to work for your costumes. To start with, however, I recommend finding one with neutral and matte colors. Unless you know what you’re doing, stay away from any shimmering and glimmering colors. It’s very easy to overuse these to the point where they look tacky on your skin.
When getting all of your makeup supplies, do not forget about what you need for taking it all off at the end of the day. You’re using products that were designed to resist water and be difficult to remove, so relying on simple soap and water doesn’t always do the trick. You also want to be as thorough as possible when removing your makeup since leaving it on overnight can easily lead to acne or skin irritation.
I prefer to use remover wipes when taking off my makeup. These are easiest to bring to a convention and use even if the bathroom is occupied by all your cosplayer friends. However, there are also sprays and other products you can use that will work just as easily.
How often should you replace your makeup?
Makeup products will eventually expire. If you don’t use them regularly, you’ll still want to replace the products occasionally so that they don’t have bacterial growth or turn rancid because of the oil used in the formula.
Most containers of makeup will let you know how long you should be keeping the product. If you look on the label you’ll see a little number (usually 3, 6, 12, or 24) letting you know how long to keep the product after you’ve opened it.
In general, liquid and cream products have shorter lifespans than wax and powdered products. Liquid eye products, like mascara and eyeliner, should be replaced every 3-6 months, while foundation and concealer should be replaced every 6-12 months. Wax lipstick will usually last quite a bit longer, up to two years. And powdered products are generally okay to use until they get chalky instead of powdery.