If you’ve been reading through my trove of SFX Basics blogs, you probably saw this one coming. Latex is a typical product you’ll find in any special effect makeup artist’s toolbox, whether you’re a beginner or an expert. There’s a lot you can create with latex such as burns, wounds, and even full cosplays!
Liquid latex, in particular, is famous amongst cosplayers and has given imaginative minds the freedom to generate brand new character looks (i.e. my Attacked Debbie Thornberry look). It’s been used in theatre, film, and now cosplay for decades, so I hope this little bit of insight can help you in your latex makeup creations!
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Hazards of Latex
I’m putting this here first because the hazards of using latex are more serious than other types of SFX basic equipment.
Latex allergies are common, however, most people won’t know this until they’ve been exposed to the material. When using latex for special FX makeup, apply a small amount to your skin first to determine its effects. If your skin starts turning red, becomes itchy, or burns, remove it immediately.
Liquid latex is usually made of 33% latex, 66% water, and less than 1% ammonia. Some latex (i.e. the cheap stuff you see around Halloween) contains more ammonium, giving it a potent smell. This can cause itching or irritation (especially around the eyes) so try letting the latex air out before applying it to your face.
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Different Types of Latex
From liquid latex to latex prosthetics, this white or translucent material presents a bevy of opportunities for fantastical looks. I’m going to dive into the four common latex materials just to give you an idea of what they’re all about.
Liquid prosthetics are seen a lot during the Halloween season. They’re usually on a shelf somewhere near the costumes at Wal-Mart or Target. They’re also available on Amazon, but I don’t recommend these products. They smell horrific, they don’t last long, and it can cause a slight burn. Mehron’s (est. 1927) liquid latex, however, comes in skin color so it’s easy to blend and just as simple to remove. There’s no smell and it tends to have a longer shelf life. This one is also Vegan and cruelty-free.
Latex prosthetics give novice FX artists the chance to procure mind-blowing and accurate looks without having to build up the latex themselves. These ready-made prosthetics can be used all over the body, but are primarily used on the face. They’re easy to apply and can be painted over for a more dramatic effect.
This is what prosthetics are generally made out of. Foam latex isn’t really considered SFX basics, but it’s a great tool to be familiar with. This is used heavily in film to create monster, alien, and full-body latex looks.
Yes, believe it or not, you can apply full latex to your entire body. This is a great alternative to water-activated paints because it doesn’t rub off on clothing and can last an entire convention day. I recommend the one linked here because it’s Ammonia-Free and comes in different colors.
From gloves to full body suits, latex material is a staple in some cosplay closets. These clothes are generally tight-fitting and give off a shine effect for a more prominent display.
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How To Apply Latex
Depending on which type of latex you’re using, there are different methods of application. However, removal is generally the same. To remove liquid latex or bodypaint, all you have to do is peel it off or use soap and water. For prosthetics or any other latex applied with something like Spirit Gum or Pros-Aide, you’ll need to remove the latex with Spirit Gum Remover or an oil-based adhesive remover.
Applying Liquid Latex or Bodypaint: Some people like to use brushes or sponges to apply their latex. However, because this material sticks to everything as it dries, I just use my fingers. The latex is usually built on with cotton balls or tissue paper for prominent scars or textures. Because of this, any time I’ve tried to use a sponge to apply the latex over the tissue, I find that the latex absorbs quickly into both the sponge and the tissue so you lose a lot of product. And it’s just a sticky mess.
Applying Prosthetics or Foam Latex: Prosthetics can be applied with adhesives such as Pros-Aide or Spirit Gum. Sometimes you’ll need to use 99% alcohol to rub away the edges of the prothetic to give is a cleaner blend into the rest of your face. Then all that’s left to do is add some color and maybe some gore!
Latex should definitely be in your cosplay toolkit, even if you’re not experienced with it. It can be used to apply elf ears, beards, and can help escalate your character’s persona to a whole new level.