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What is Liquid Latex?
When it comes to creating special effects with makeup, liquid latex can be your very best friend. You can change your skin texture, create fake wounds, mold prosthetics, and do pretty much anything else your artistic, monster-making brain can dream up. Liquid latex can be a totally customizable layer of flesh, but it can also be a total hassle if you don’t really know how to use it properly. Before just grabbing a bottle and jumping in, there are a few tips, tricks, and tutorials that might give you a little insight into this strange and wonderful product. A little upfront knowledge could save you a lot of time, money, headaches, and sticky messes.
Liquid latex is a substance that is thick and milky in its liquid state, then slowly dries into a rubbery, somewhat sticky skin. A bottle of liquid latex will contain about one-third latex, two-thirds water, and less than 1% ammonia, which keeps the latex from spoiling or solidifying before being used. The latex component itself is a natural, non-toxic ingredient that can be found in rubber trees. Latex can be used to make products such as balloons, rubber bands, surgical gloves, and, of course, liquid latex.
How Do You Apply Liquid Latex?
There’s no one way to apply liquid latex. You can do a ton of different things with it and every project is going to have its own application process. You can dab it, brush it, pour it, roll it, and everyone is going to have their own personal preference. There are, however, a few tips that make the general use of liquid latex a little easier overall.
You’ll first need to decide what tools you’ll be using to work with your liquid latex. You can use disposable sponges, disposable brushes, cotton balls, cotton pads, or you can even use your hands. It’s important to note that when liquid latex dries it’s going to be very difficult to remove from any tools you use, which is why using something disposable is generally easiest. It can also dry fairly quickly, especially when it’s applied in thin layers, and it absolutely loves to stick to itself when it’s semi-dry. If you’re using your hands be careful you aren’t allowing some of the latex to dry and become sticky on your hands, potentially sticking to and ruining the project you’re working on.
Shake Well and Let Breathe
Shake your bottle of liquid latex well before you use it to ensure the water, latex, and ammonia are completely mixed. The ammonia can create a strong odor that some people are very sensitive to. If you’ll be applying the liquid latex on the face, especially around the eyes, it’s a good idea to let your liquid latex breathe for a couple mins before applying it so the ammonia has a chance to dissipate. You can do this by pouring a little bit into a plastic bowl or cup and working out of that. Don’t leave your big bottle or jug open though, as it will reduce the shelf life of your liquid latex, possibly making it chunky and hard to work with.
When applying liquid latex, you may need to build it up with a few layers. As I mentioned previously, putting more latex over partially dried latex can sometimes create a sticky problem. When creating layers, it’s important to let the first layer dry completely, then add a new layer with fresh, wet liquid latex. Adding a sponge full of partially setting liquid latex to your semi-dry work can create pulling between your work and your sponge, potentially tearing the liquid latex off your skin. Liquid latex can take about 5-10 minute to become completely dry but you can use a hair dryer to speed up the process.
Wash Your Tools
You can wash your sponges or brushes in between applications with warm soapy water if you want to keep using them, just be sure to get them clean before the liquid latex starts to dry. You can rinse disposable sponges a few times but if you’re applying a lot of layers you’ll probably need to grab a fresh new sponge every so often to avoid creating a gunky, sticky mess.
Depending on the effect you’re going for, you may want to add tissue or cotton, create some rips and tears, or paint over top of your work. There are tons of different effects and looks you can create with liquid latex. Check out the section below, “What Can You Do With Liquid Latex?”, for some tips and ideas.
Setting the Latex
Liquid latex is very sticky when it’s drying and it can still stick to itself once it’s completely dry if it fold over on itself. You can set your latex with a setting powder once it’s dry to remove the stickiness and be able to work with your effect much more easily. Or, you can apply a castor sealer or setting spray to set the latex, allowing you to paint over it with cream makeups. Shimmer powders can also be dusted over dried latex if you’re attempting a shiny, sparkly, or metallic effect.
How Do You Remove Liquid Latex?
Removing liquid latex can be very easy, you simply peel it off. However, if you’ve used a lot of it over a large surface, peeling it off can be a little painful. Water isn’t going to wash the latex away but scrubbing it with a soft face cloth and some warm, soapy water can help to loosen it, allowing you to peel it off much less painfully.
Liquid latex will definitely pull at any little hairs on your body while you’re peeling it off so if you’re applying it to a hairy spot it’s definitely a good idea to shave first. If you can’t shave that area, your eyebrows for example, coat them with a tiny bit of vegetable oil or petroleum jelly to help the latex slide off more easily when removed. Using a barrier spray or a skin cream on your skin before applying the liquid latex is another great way to protect you skin from too much pulling. Keep in mind that liquid latex will adhere best to clean, dry skin so don’t overdo it too much on the skin prepping products.
Liquid latex will peel off smooth surfaces like metal, glass, and plastic, but if you use any sponges, brushes, or fabric with liquid latex it’s going to seep into the porous material, dry, and become quite difficult to remove. If you get liquid latex on any of these materials you may be able to wash it out with warm, soapy water while it’s still yet. If it has started to dry you can usually break it down with some ammonia or rubbing alcohol. When you’re dealing with a good deal of dried liquid latex you may need to let the rubbing alcohol sit for awhile to give it a chance to break down the latex. You can use a scrub brush to help remove the residue but be aware that rubbing alcohol is both flammable and can be damaging to certain materials or surfaces.
What Can You Do with Liquid Latex?
There are so many uses for liquid latex in SFX makeup. You can create pretty much any kind of skin effect, texturing, or abrasion. It can be used as an adhesive or you can make prosthetics and bald caps with it. With a little bit of patience and creativity, the options are endless. You can try some of these ideas to get you started and let your imagination do the rest. If you need even more inspiration there are countless liquid latex makeup tutorials on YouTube that can act as a guide and also help you to come up with your own amazing creations.
Liquid latex is incredibly popular for creating fake wounds. You can apply a few layers to create a fake skin, tear a slice into it, and create any type of laceration you’d like. To make the fake skin a little thicker, without needing to apply layer after layer of liquid latex, use a few sheets of tissue paper. You can simply apply the first layer of liquid latex, cover the area with a sheet or two of tissue paper, and dab another layer of liquid latex over the tissue. When that layer dries pat the whole thing down with some liquid foundation so it matches your skin tone, then rip a hole or a jagged line in the tissue and paint the inside of the wound with a nice, bloody red.
Old Age Makeup
Liquid latex is awesome for creating wrinkles and old age makeups. You can dab a little bit of liquid latex over one area then pull, tighten, or stretch your skin out while it dries. You can use a hair dryer to speed up the process because you’ll need to work in small sections and may need to add multiple layers.
Once dry, when your skin is allowed to settle back into place, you’ll see some nice little wrinkles starting to form. Add a few more layers to get those wrinkles really deep and to add an extra decade or two to your face. For even deeper crevices, prepaint some dark brown shadows into the areas where you want the deepest creases to show and then apply your liquid latex over the paint.
Liquid latex is so perfect for zombie skin that you can actually buy bottles in zombie flesh tones, giving you that gorgeously putrid green glow. The best part about doing a zombie makeup with liquid latex is that because you want to create chaotic rips, holes, and tears in the latex you don’t have to really worry too much about accidentally making a rip, hole, or tear while applying the latex.
You can apply a few layers all over your face, being sure to add a decent amount under your eyes and over your cheeks, and then just use you fingernail or cotton swab to pull little sections away to create a hanging, drooping flesh look. Paint inside of these holes with black or dark greens with slightly lighter shades on the rest of your flesh for a putrid, rotten flesh tone.
Scalds and Burns
Using the same idea as the zombie skin, liquid latex makes for excellent scalds or burns. Apply a few layers, letting each layer dry before adding the next, then pull back some sections to make it look like the skin has peeled away in places. You can paint inside the open sections with a light or bright red for fresh scalds or add some blacks and dark reds for a more charred, burnt look. Rubbing some petroleum jelly into these sections creates a glossy, raw effect which can create a grotesquely painful appearance.
The Chelsea Smile uses pretty much the same techniques as any other liquid latex fake wound makeup, but it’s such a popular SFX makeup look that it kind of needs its own explanation. To start off, dab a little bit of liquid latex over one side of your cheek, from your lips up to about an inch away from your ear. Lay a couple thin strips of tissue paper over the liquid latex and dab another layer of liquid latex over that.
Once the second layer of liquid latex has dried, blend the tissue and latex into your skin with some liquid foundation then carefully rip a cut through the tissue paper from your mouth to about halfway up your cheek. You can just apply the tissue and latex in two separate strips and skip the cutting step but I personally like the extra bit of hanging flesh you get when you cut through one larger strip. You can use tiny cuticle scissors for this but be very careful you don’t give yourself a real Chelsea Smile with them. Darken the inside of the fresh wound with black in the deepest edges of the cut and fill the rest of the cut in with a dark red. Now, add fake blood until your heart’s content and go show off that beautiful smile.
There are a few different ways to make prosthetics with liquid latex. You can mix the liquid latex with some flour until it’s a thick enough consistency to work with, blend it so it’s as smooth as possible, and then mold the mixture into any shape you want. I find the flour mix tends to dry pretty quickly so work as fast as possible so it doesn’t harden up before you’re done.
You can also build prosthetics up using cotton pads or cotton balls soaked with liquid latex. In my opinion this technique is a little easier to work with, but you’ll probably need to leave your prosthetic overnight for it to dry completely.
A third option, which can sometimes be a little tricky, is to sculpt your prosthetic with clay then paint layer after layer of liquid latex over the sculpt, allowing each layer to dry completely before adding the next. Once you’ve added enough layers to create a decently thick skin, which can usually be quite a few layers, you’ll need to powder the latex to prevent it from sticking and slowly peel it away from your sculpt, powdering the underside as well as you peel it away. This latex skin can then be filled with cotton or tissue and adhered to your skin as needed.
Liquid latex is a popular choice for body paint because you can basically create a rubber suit out of it. You can buy pre-colored liquid latex, or color your own by mixing acrylic paints into the liquid latex. To apply the paint you can use foam brushes for smaller areas and foam paint rollers for large areas. To create a thick, opaque suit you’ll probably need about 3-5 generous coats. For easier application, premake your accents by painting them onto a flat, non-porous surface, peel them off when dry, and affix them to your completed body paint. Seal your body with a setting spray or other liquid latex sealant to prevent it from sticking or tearing.
Bald caps can be pretty expensive but you can actually make your own by using a plastic mannequin head and many layers of liquid latex. You simply paint a layer over the mannequin head, let it dry completely, and continue painting layer after layer until you have a moderately thick rubber cap to work with. Pat a setting powder over the entire bald cap when your last layer is dry then slowly peel it off the mannequin head while powdering the underside as you peel. For a colored bald cap you can mix acrylic paints into your liquid latex before you begin or you can add a layer of acrylic paint as your second to last layer when painting latex over your mannequin head.
Liquid latex can make a fairly decent adhesive. You can use it to glue down the edges of a bald cap or affix light accents and prosthetics onto your skin. Liquid latex won’t hold as strongly as Pros-Aide, but it’s certainly sticky enough to secure thin edges and small gems. You can also apply a few layers of liquid latex over the edges of your bald caps and prosthetics to help blend your edges in.
Is Liquid Latex Safe to Use?
Latex is a safe and non-toxic substance, but some people can have an allergic reaction to it. It’s a good idea to do a small patch test to see if your skin can tolerate contact with latex. Liquid latex also has a very strong odor, thanks to the ammonia that’s used in it to preserve it. The ammonia can irritate your eyes when using liquid latex on your face or in a confined area. Pour a little liquid latex out into a plastic bowl or cup and allow it to breathe for a few minutes so the ammonia can dissipate before applying it to your face. You can also try Ammonia Free Liquid Latex if you’re too sensitive to the strong ammonia smell.
Where Can You Buy Liquid Latex?
You can buy liquid latex from any special effects makeup store. It comes in any size, from small 2 oz jars all the way up to huge gallon jugs. It can sometimes be a little difficult to find an SFX makeup shop in every city but shopping for special effect products online is super convenient and many suppliers ship worldwide. You can buy online from Amazon, from sfx makeup retailers, like Camera Ready Cosmetics or FX Warehouse, or directly from your favorite brands, like Mehron or Kryolan. Party City is another great place to grab some liquid latex and you can find their stores across North America or you can order from them online.
Patience and Practice
Liquid latex is one of the most versatile special effects makeup products there is. Many products simply serve one specific purpose but liquid latex can create so many amazing effects. There can be a little bit of a learning curve with the drying time, the patience required, and how sticky it can be but with a little practice you’ll find you can work wonders with just a dab of this stuff. The best things to remember are to let your layers dry completely and to set your dry latex with a powder or a spray. There’s nothing worse than putting a bunch of time and effort into an effect only for the latex to stick to itself and tear a big hole in your work. Be patient, don’t get frustrated, and you’ll find you can create almost anything with a bottle of liquid latex.