The art of war for face painters: Encountering craft paints

Posted by Elizabeth Mackinney on


Problem: You’ve just finished setting up for a festival when you realize that you’re not the only face painter in attendance. As the festival is large, you’re not concerned since there should be enough business to accommodate more than one face painter. When you stop by the other face painter’s booth to introduce yourself, however, you notice that she’s not using face paints, but instead has small bottles of acrylic craft paint at her table.

You take the use of FDA compliant face paints seriously in your business, but also as a parent, you’d never allow anyone to use acrylic paints on your own child. The manufacturers of craft paints, non-toxic or otherwise, state they should never be used on skin. If there is a reaction to the other painter’s supplies, will someone blame you, since you’re covering the same event? Will she be open to it if you suggest that she use safe, real face paint for her work? Should you say anything at all?

Solution: This is a tough one. While it’s common to run into volunteers using acrylic or tempura craft paints for face painting, primarily because the paints are readily available in local stores and are extremely cheap compared to costly professional face paints, every so often a face painter will encounter a professional artist who has chosen to use acrylic craft paints. When you are faced with this situation, there are several things you can do.

First, you can speak directly to the face painter and suggest that she invest in safe face paint to use on her customers. If you choose to do this, make sure that you do it kindly and privately. It’s quite likely you aren’t the first face painter who has approached her, so it may be she will become defensive and resent your voicing concerns about the paints she is using. She may see your input more as a competitor trying to shut her down rather than a fellow artist protecting the industry. It’s also possible that she knows craft paints aren’t made for skin and simply doesn’t care. They’re cheap. They’re easy to purchase. For some people, unfortunately, that’s all that matters.

If your direct request to the artist fails, the next thing you can do is to approach the organizers of the event. The truth is, it’s in their best interest to stop anyone from using craft paints for face painting because paints which are not FDA-compiant for use on skin create a liability hazard, especially when used on children. In addition to containing ingredients not made to be used on the skin, as craft paints dry, they crackle and chip off the skin, making them a danger around eyes. Since most face painting is on the face, you definitely don’t want craft paints there.

In some cases, the organizers either do not want to regulate the type of product being used for face painting or they don’t want the hassle of a direct confrontation. If this is the case and you’re concerned about the issues of two painters at an event with one of them using substandard product, you can refuse to participate in the event on the grounds of insurance liability. This may hurt you financially for the day, but some painters will not operate if any other artist at the event is using craft paint for face painting.

In the end, the best way to combat the use of craft paints is to educate artists, parents, and organizers so they do not tolerate their use for face painting. Using safe products for face painting is about more than the dangers of acrylic craft paints. It’s about protecting the face painting industry from the inside by self-regulating and being responsible professionals. It’s always in the best interest of the artist to operate with wisdom and integrity toward his or her clients, and using safe products is part of that professionalism.

Beth MacKinney is the owner of and primary face painter for Face Paint Pizzazz in the NW Chicago suburbs. She also writes for as the Chicago Face Painting Examiner.

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