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To transform into the shade of cobalt blue essential to playing the character of Mystique in the last three X-Men films, Jennifer Lawrence reportedly underwent seven hours of body-paint application each time she was made up into her Marvel persona, most of which she was standing still or perched on a bicycle seat.
If the process sounds grueling, the subsequent hours the actress had to spend wearing the body paint to shoot her scenes may have been no cakewalk either, and she has expressed her concerns about the contents of the paint, telling EW that when she signed on for the role at age 20, she didn’t care about the “fumes and toxins.” But at 25, she is more aware of what she is breathing in.
Blindspot star Jaimie Alexander has had similar issues with the body paint “tattoos” that cover her entire body for the show, and she is worried that the product painted onto her skin during the seven-and-a-half-hour session may be making her sick.
TATTOOS FOR DAYS: Jaimie Alexander as Jane Doe in Blindspot. (Photo: NBC)
So what is it about body makeup that has actresses alarmed? According to several skin and makeup experts, it has a lot to do with potentially harmful ingredients like preservatives, dye and even lead, plus the extended amount of time talent is generally required to wear it.
“Body makeup is in the special effects category. Generally, special effects cosmetics are loaded with chemicals,” says celebrity makeup artist Melissa Rogers.
These can include dye, preservative or fragrance in the paint, says Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, founder and director of Capital Laser and Skin Care and assistant clinical professor, department of dermatology at the George Washington University Medical Center, adding, “The fact is any body paint can cause an allergic reaction if an actor’s immune system has become ‘sensitive’ to a particular ingredient.”
Dr. Tanzi specifically cites red dyes as often being the culprit for an allergic reaction and symptoms showing up as itchy, red, irritated skin. Sometimes welts and even blisters occur. “If used on the face, the eyes can swell shut,” she adds.
Body paint used for on-camera purposes is designed to not only retain its look on the skin over many hours but to withstand lights, heat, cold and sweat. This, says Evan Liss, a set medic for film and television, can prohibit the skin from being able to function properly.
“Your skin is a regulator, and if it can’t breathe and sweat, it can’t cool off properly,” says Liss.
Alcohol-based body paints are generally used for longevity as opposed to water-based paints, which can also irritate the skin and senses.
“Alcohol-based paints are recommended to use for longevity because they are sweat- and water-resistant,” says film and TV makeup artist Levi Vieira, whose credits include The Purge: Anarchy and RuPaul’s Drag Race. “However some people don’t like the scent of the alcohol-based paints, particularly when it’s being airbrushed on.”
A solution of 99 percent alcohol is used to remove the paint, thus exacerbating any existing sensitivities.
“The longer the exposure, the higher the risk of sensitization to the ingredients in the body paint,” says Dr. Tanzi. “However, an allergy can develop even as soon as it’s applied.”
Celebrity esthetician Sonya Dakar, who counts Lawrence as a client, says she often sees a diaper-rash-like side effect on the skin after exposure to body paint.
To treat her clients with this type of irritation, Dakar soaks the body with her porcelain or hoya oil, slowly removing the paint with a cloth of warm water — a process she says takes about two hours to remove the makeup completely. She then applies more oil and wraps the body in a soft, pure cotton cloth and a layer of her sculpting mask for hydration and subjects the client to blue LED lights, which are antibacterial and calming on the skin. “They must then shower at home in warm to cold water, because any hot water will irritate the skin even more,” says Dakar.
She advises her clients to wear the makeup for as short a time as possible. “They say the paint color is food coloring, and that’s nonsense,” says Dakar. “It has to remain on the skin for hours and not melt or crack, and they have to reapply and make it look fresh. It’s basically suffocating the skin. I tell my clients to try not to stretch the scene out for a week or two wearing this makeup. When the damage is more, it takes longer to heal it.”
If an actor must wear body paint, the experts offer several ways to offset the potential side effects.
“Actors must try to keep these toxins from penetrating into their pores and keeping their skin and lungs free from these chemicals and be able to breath,” says Rogers. “Keeping hydrated is extremely important. Drinking and smoking is not recommended either.”
Viera adds, “If the actor drinks too much the night before, the paint won’t last as long on their body.” The makeup artist uses Derma Shield skin protectant on actors before applying body paint in order to form a barrier on the skin’s surface.
“If body paint is mandatory, make sure it comes from a reputable source,” says Dr. Tanzi. “Some body paints from China have been known to have lead in them. Second, don’t apply body paint to irritated or inflamed skin because it may get absorbed through abraded skin. Lastly, limit the exposure to the shortest amount of time that is needed.”
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