The Art of War For Face Painters: The Dreaded Call

Problem: You're doing some final cleaning on your equipment on Monday after a busy weekend when your phone rings. You pick it up only to find a concerned mom on the other end. Her daughter's face seemed to be overly red after they removed the face paint. Is it an allergic reaction? What should she do? As a face painter, you feel immediate concern for the child and also for your business. This is the call you have hoped you will never receive. 

Solution: There is no easy answer for this type of situation, because children and even adults can experience an allergic reaction to virtually any substance, whether natural or synthetic. It depends on the sensitivity of the individual. 

Your first step in dealing with this type of call happens long before you receive it. You hope to be able to prevent the call by using professional products and taking proper hygiene precautions, but if an individual is truly sensitive or allergic to an ingredient in your face paint, you should be prepared to assist him or her as much as you can.

• Make sure you have performance liability insurance. Some face painters consider themselves more hobbyists than professionals, but if you're charging for what you do, you are a professional, and you should run your business accordingly. Take responsibility by having sufficient liability insurance coverage when you perform at events.

• Contact your insurance so you are aware of their protocol for potential allergic reactions. What information will they need you to obtain if a client contacts you for this type of situation? What procedure should you follow? 

• Educate each hostess so she knows how and when face paint should be removed and can pass that information on to her guests. Face paint should be removed before bed by lathering with a mild soap and rinsing with water or wiping away from the eyes with a wet washcloth. Put these instructions on the back of your business cards so they are easily accessible to guests. It's not uncommon for parents to allow children to leave face paint on overnight, even though you've recommended it be removed before bed. It's also not uncommon for parents to remove face paint with wet wipes, some of which have ingredients which can irritate sensitive skin. 

• Realize there is a difference between a sensitivity to a substance and a severe allergic reaction. An example of a sensitivity might be if the skin just becomes red, but redness can also be caused by energetic scrubbing during removal. Over time, it's possible for a sensitivity to develop into an allergic reaction with repeated exposure. A true allergic reaction is anaphylaxis, which results in severe reactions which require immediate medical intervention. For example, I have a friend and fellow face painter who is severely allergic to one brand of face paint but no others. If it is put on her skin, her airways begin to close and she has to wash it off immediately. That's a severe reaction. 

• If a person mentions she has ever had a reaction to face paint, do NOT face paint her. In most cases, you will have no way of knowing which brand she was painted with or what ingredient actually caused the reaction, so it's best to be safe rather than sorry and avoid face painting her altogether. For those who are uncertain about whether they might be sensitive, do a small skin test on the arm and wait about thirty minutes to an hour to make sure it's okay for them to be painted. Advise that they may prefer to be painted on the arm or on the shoulder rather than on the face, just in case.

• Carry a list of ingredients for all of your face paints. If a parent asks what's in the face paint, you need to be able to share that information with her. File a copy in your kit so it's always with you.

• Watch out for other substances on the skin, such as sun screens or lotions, which could potentially cause a reaction if combined with your face paint makeup. 

• Ask yourself (or your insurance carrier) some basic questions. Do you use good hygiene in cleaning your brushes, sponges, and kit during and after events? Are you only using professional quality face paint (which is in reality makeup)? Have you contacted your insurance to find out if you're covered for independently tested neon pigments which have not been tested by the FDA for use on skin? Are you covered if you use multiple brands of face paint? Are you covered if you repot your face paint? If you repot your face paint, do you know how old it is? Is it beyond the recommended shelf-life, and should it be replaced? Do you restrict the age of whom you face paint per your insurance? Do you use cosmetic-grade glitters only? 

Fortunately, reactions to face paint are extremely rare. Most face painters use good quality products made for skin, keep their kits clean, and educate parents as to how to remove face paint safely. In addition, many face painters are parents themselves, so of course they want children to find face painting to be a fun and safe activity. 

I hope you never receive "the call" mentioned in today's scenario, but if you do, I believe the suggestions above will help you prepare in advance so you can assist your clients professionally and bring a happy ending to a potentially upsetting problem. 

Beth MacKinney is the owner of and primary face painter for Face Paint Pizzazz in Elgin, Illinois, and her artwork has appeared in The Colored Palette and SkinMarkz magazines. She services the western and northwestern Chicago suburbs, Chicago’s north side, and the eastern and southeastern suburbs of Rockford. Stop by to enjoy more of Beth’s face painting tutorials.