Cosmetics - Theatrical Makeup

cosmetics and theatrical makeup

Theatrical makeup enhances the features of the performers so the audience at the back of the house can connect with them, and it brings to life a world of fantasy created the playwright. 

The use of makeup in performing arts can also pose hazards for the performers and makeup artists if not safely selected, applied, removed, or stored. Preservatives, metals, solvents, dyes, waxes, and oils can be found in a variety of makeup and hair products. As an example, formaldehyde is a toxic chemical that can be found in artificial nail products. Chrome, aluminum, bronze, copper, and nickel can be found in eye makeup and powdered makeup applied to the body; these products can cause allergic reactions. Solvents, such as acetone and alcohol, are found in nail products, glue removal products, and hair spray; these products can cause the skin to dry and crack. Acetone and alcohol based solvent products may also pose fire hazards. Hair dyes may contain chemicals suspected to be human carcinogens. Waxes and oils can cause inflammatory skin reactions, such as acne and rashes.


Use only cosmetic products for skin application; never use paint or other non-cosmetic products. The actor Buddy Ebsen was hospitalized after the studio used silver paint on his skin rather than cosmetic products for his role as the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz. Only use face products for the face, eye products for the eyes, and body products for the body, and use the products only as directed.

Purchase makeup that is commercially manufactured. Ensure the product label lists the product’s ingredients. Maintain the informational sheets and Safety Data Sheets (SDS) that accompany the product in its original packaging and make that information available to the performers. Sharing the information can help performers avoid products that contain ingredients to which they know they are allergic. Have each user conduct a small patch test of the product before using it the first time to determine if the user has a reaction to the product. Visit the product manufacturer’s website to find out more about the product.

When selecting products that are sprayed, such as hair spray, select products that can be dispensed via a manual pump rather than pressurized gas. Replace spirit gum used as an adhesive with surgical adhesive where possible. When using glitter, only use glitter sized for makeup use.



Sharing makeup and makeup applicators may result in the transmission of diseases, such as conjunctivitis. A primary key to makeup application safety is keeping it clean. This is true whether the makeup supply is a personal supply or a communal/shared makeup supply; and whether the performer applies his or her own makeup or a makeup artist applies the makeup.

General Guidelines for Keeping Makeup Clean

  1. Wash your hands prior to handling the makeup 
  2. Ensure the performer’s face is washed prior to applying the makeup 
  3. Never smoke, eat, or drink while handling or applying the makeup 
  4. Replace makeup regularly 
  5. Never use old makeup 
  6. Keep makeup containers sealed when not in use 
  7. Use clean brushes to apply makeup 
  8. Never share makeup tools with others 
  9. Use tap or distilled water to moisten palettes, brushes, or pencils; never use saliva

 Guidelines for Shared Makeup

  1. Dispense makeup, whether cream or powder, from larger containers into smaller ones, and label the container to identify the performer using it 
  2. Slice cream stick makeup and lipstick using a clean palette knife and place the sliced portion in an individual labeled container or on a labeled paper 
  3. Use a palette knife or wooden craft stick to transfer cream makeup from its original jar into labeled individual containers 
  4. Never place an applicator back into a shared makeup container after the applicator has been used 
  5. Use disposable applicators, such as brushes and sponges 
  6. Ensure makeup artists wash their hands between performers 
  7. Clean and sanitize makeup pencil sharpeners between users 
  8. Clean and sanitize re-usable makeup brushes and sponges between users/performers 
  9. Use clean containers of clear water for each performer’s makeup application 


Hair products can pose skin absorption and inhalation hazards. Read the label prior to using any product and follow the listed safety precautions. Hair styling tools such as curling and flat irons and steam curlers can cause burns. Sharing brushes, combs, hair clips, as well as skullcaps, wigs, and facial hair can transmit lice and nits.

Hair Product Guidelines 

  1. Wear gloves when applying hair dyes and lightening products 
  2. Avoid dispensing large amounts of sprayed products in closed or unventilated areas 
  3. Use a hairspray face shield to protect the performer’s breathing zone and eyes during the application of hair spray 

 Hair Styling Tools and Prop Guidelines

  1. Use thermo-shields or pads to protect surfaces and performers from contact with hot curling and flat irons 
  2. Remove combustible and flammable materials from areas where hot irons will be placed 
  3. Clean and sanitize facial hair pieces, skullcaps, and wigs between users 
  4. Clean and sanitize combs, hairbrushes, curlers, and other styling tools between users 

Removal of Makeup 

The proper removal of the makeup is as important to the performers’ health as is the proper application. Avoid the use of solvents for the removal of makeup, nail treatments, as well as latex and spirit gum removal. Never pull spirit gum or latex off, as this action can also remove healthy skin cells. Instead slowly peel off the gum or latex. Promptly remove makeup after each performance using cold cream followed by warm water and an exfoliating cleansing product. Be sure to moisturize after the cleansing with a hypoallergenic moisturizing lotion or cream.

Storage Practices

Adopt makeup storage practices that reduce the likelihood of shared use and unauthorized access and that also promote cleanliness.


  1. Clean and sanitize reusable brushes and sponges and then place them in sealed labeled bags to keep them clean. 
  2. Ensure all containers are closed. 
  3. Store the makeup in a secure location to prohibit unauthorized access. 
  4. Store makeup in a cool dry location. 
  5. Replace mascara every three months. 
  6. Replace other makeup every six months. 
  7. Keep disposable applicators in sealed containers. 


  1. Clean and sanitize brushes, combs, and curlers and place them in sealed labeled bags to keep them clean. 
  2. Inspect the power cords on curling and flat irons, as well as hair dryers, prior to putting them away. 
  3. Report any damaged styling equipment and take it out of service. 

 General Safety Guidelines 

Know where the first aid kit and emergency eyewash station are located. If the performer experiences any of the following seek immediate medical attention:

  1. Serious skin reaction to any makeup application
  2. Symptoms of pink eye/conjunctivitis, such as redness in the white of the eye, swelling of the eyelids, itching or burning of the eyelids, a lot of tearing, eye discharge 
  3. Scratched cornea 

Provide the physician with a copy of the product information sheet for each product the performer was using.

Chemical Handling

Hair dyes, hair and wig treatments, hair sprays, nail polish, and nail polish remover are just some of the hazardous materials used in performing arts cosmetics. These chemicals should be treated with the same respect as those hazardous materials used in set construction and props. As stated in the Set Construction chapter, follow the specific manufacturer’s instructions for each product, as well as the following safety guidelines:

  1. Read the product labels and the SDS to help you identify the potential hazards of the product you are using. 
  2. Know the ventilation requirements of the products you are using. 
  3. Avoid ingestion of materials by not eating or drinking in your work area, and wash your hands before eating or drinking. 
  4. Keep containers closed except when you are using them. 
  5. Control ignition sources in areas where flammable liquids are used. 
  6. Never puncture aerosol cans or expose them to high heat. 
  7. Dispose of the product as required by the manufacturer. 
  8. Know and understand the chemical spill procedures for each of the products you are handling. 

 For more information, read the Set Construction chapter and consult your Campus Hazard Communication Program and the Code of Safe Practices regarding hazard communication. The use of chemicals often results in the generation of hazardous waste. Dispose of waste as directed by the product manufacturer and in accordance with your Campus Hazardous Waste Management Program. You can contact the EH&S Department for more information and guidance regarding hazardous waste management. They will provide guidance regarding:

  • Proper storage of the waste until it is collected 
  • Proper labeling of the waste containers 
  • Special handling requirements based on the hazard characteristics of the waste