Hi everyone! By the time you read this you are probably in the midst of the Halloween madness, knee deep in latex and fake blood! I hope it’s a lucrative period for you all, and look forward to seeing the amazing faces that you have all created!
This week I am going to talk hygiene. Everyone has their own ideas about what best practice means for them, and as there is no actual official rule on what we should and should not be doing when it comes to working, it is ultimately up to each individual painter what way they choose to do things. I will freely admit that it’s a bug bear of mine, and as such, my practices may seem extreme to others, but for me, it is about taking all reasonable steps to minimise the risk of cross contamination, and reduce the chances of being the reason that someone becomes unwell or suffers a reaction from work that I have carried out. People are covered in germs and bacteria, none more so than children, so it’s not possible to completely eliminate this from face painting, and that’s not the aim here. The aim is to reduce any risk as much as is practically possible, while still being able to work fast, and efficiently, and doing what you feel is right for your business.
Let’s start with your kit in general. I deep clean my kit after every day’s work. For me, this involves wiping over every paint surface, container, cup, stencils and poofer etc, giving my brushes a good clean and machine washing my sponges. I use a fresh towel and tablecloth for each job. It really doesn’t take that long... maybe 30 minutes on average, and for me, it’s crucial that I arrive at every job with a clean kit. I have had many parents / clients comment that they are pleased to see that my kit is clean, and this is one of the things that sticks in client’s minds and makes them remember you when it comes to booking entertainment for their next event. We have all seen photos of horror-kits online, or in real life, and it genuinely baffles me that any parent would allow their child to be painted by products that look so unsanitary. It’s also about taking pride in your work, your working environment and your tools. I love my kit. I invest heavily in it, and I want to look after it – my livelihood depends on it after all!
Did you know that all of the paint products that we use have a limited shelf life once opened? For most paints, this is 12 months. After this time, they should not be used. You can find this information on the label as shown below. While our paints do contain antibacterial agents, these are designed to delay any mould growth in damp paint, and do not kill viruses / prevent cross contamination. After 12 months, these agents will not be providing the protection from mould growth that they previously would have, and therefore the paint is likely to be less sanitary than before. I’ve talked about repotting before, and mentioned that I keep a note of all batch numbers and expiry dates. If you repot your paints, it’s a really good idea to do this, so that you can keep track of what expires and when.
Jane posted a fab blog post recently about how to clean your brushes between gigs, so I’m not going to talk much about that, and will instead focus on on the job hygiene practices. Face painting water gets mucky. There is really nothing that we can do to eliminate that due to the amazing array of pigments in our paints, but there are easy steps that can be taken to ensure that your brushes stay as clean as possible during a job. Rule one… never leave your brushes standing in water. It damages the bristles, the ferrule, and it leads to cracking flaky paint on the handles... never a good look, and a perfect breeding ground for nasties. Personally, I operate a 3 cup system, and while it took a little getting used to at first, it works well for me now, and doesn’t slow me down at all. The first cup contains water, and is used as a first rinse. The aim here is to get as much paint as possible out of the brush. The second cup contains water, and a brush sanitiser. I use Brush Bath by Silly Farm, which is 100% organic and smells divine. You only need to add a few drops to the water, so it lasts for ages and it will not damage your brushes. My third cup contains only water, and is only used to rinse after the second cup, or to load a fresh brush. I can work a long and busy job, and the water in this cup stays clean throughout as it is never used for a painty brush.
So...the great sponge debate! There are two very different schools of thought on this. Lots of painters use a ‘one sponge per colour’ system, where the same sponge is used to apply paint to lots of faces, before being washed. Alternatively, others use a ‘one sponge per face’ system meaning that sponges are not used on more than one face before being washed. Personally, the idea of sponge sharing doesn’t sit well with me. While I am sure that no one is painting over open gaping wounds, or visible infections, it is important to remember that the majority of infections are contagious before they are symptomatic, so there is usually no way of spotting that someone is brewing up something you don’t want to share! Also, just because it hasn’t happened, doesn’t mean that it never will, and if you are ever in a situation where a client has raised concerns about infection or reactions, you need to be able to prove that you work as safely as you possibly can. I want to minimise any risk of cross contamination and therefore I can’t get past the knowledge that I could be passing cold sores, conjunctivitis, impetigo, chicken pox or God knows what else, along a line of little people. Also, I don’t want those things in my paint, or on my hands if I can avoid it! I have loads of sponges, (I tend to cut regular face painting sponges in half which instantly doubles my stock!) and I have 2 mesh bags – one for clean, one for dirty. My sponges come out of one, are used, and go into the other, where they stay until I wash them after the job along with my towels and tablecloth. I add a laundry disinfectant to the load to ensure that they are squeaky clean before being reused. Interestingly, I have noticed that reusing sponges seems to be more common in the US than the UK, and can only assume that this is because there are a number of high profile American painters who do so. Again… this is a decision that only you can make, but it is important that you research both techniques before deciding what you are happy with. I have had parents comment that they are pleased to see that I do not reuse sponges, and that alone is a good enough reason for me to have a single use policy. Clients notice more than just the end result of our work! Any professional face and body painting organisation that I could find all have a ‘clean sponge per face’ criterion in their working guidelines, including FACE – The International Face Painting Association. There are also some regions within the UK where individual councils have constructed a policy on safe face painting practices and again, any that I could find online all stated that sponges should not be used on multiple faces. Some countries like Canada have super strict rules on face painting that mean that even brushes cannot be reused without being ‘properly’ cleaned.
It’s not just the kids who are walking buckets of bacteria… we are too! Our own personal hygiene is important also, and where possible, I always wash my hands before setting up my kit. I carry antibacterial hand gel to use between faces, and (now that I’ve mostly ditched my baby wipes thanks to Nat’s campaign) I have a clean cloth for my hands. I can be a kind of messy painter, especially on long and busy jobs and I think it looks bad to be painting and handling face, brushes and sponges with painty hands, so a quick wipe between faces really helps.
People see messy and think dirty. While your table itself is unlikely to get dirty during a job, it may (if you are anything like me) become untidy during a busy gig. Don’t be afraid to take a few minutes to do a quick tidy. I usually allow the next person into the chair and tell them that I am just going to have a quick tidy up. I’ve never had anyone complain about that, and it’s good that your clients see that you are making sure that everything is clean for them.
So there you have it. It’s pretty simple! Start with a clean kit, take steps to keep it clean and safe on the job, and clean properly when you are done, and you shouldn’t go too wrong. If you wouldn’t accept it from a MUA working on your face, then it’s not ok to expect your clients to accept it from you! If you are interested in reading some more opinions and experience about hygiene, I posted a poll in the Face Painting Shop Tips & Tricks group on Facebook which has had over 200 inputs from other painters on how they manage cross contamination risks. It always good to see what other painters are doing and why, so feel free to have a read and add your own comments!