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When you’re transforming yourself into your favorite character, it’s easy to spend most of your time (and money) on getting your costume just right. But using the right cosplay makeup can bring the look together, ensuring you’re fully in character and making you unrecognizable from your everyday self.

Whether you’re still new to cosplay or a pro looking for a few new ideas, we’re here to walk you through the dos and don’ts of applying your cosplay nails and makeup.

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How to Apply Cosplay Makeup

blue lady and green lady
Source: Edward Mitchell via Flickr
Whether subtle or all-over, cosplay makeup can transform your character. 

Step 1: Start With Great Skincare

When you’re adding several layers of cosplay makeup to your face, having a good base to work from is key. A high-quality moisturizer will keep your skin hydrated and provide a soothing barrier between your face and additional product—an essential step when applying any kind of makeup.

Step 2: Do Your Research

girl talking about cosplay
Look online for tutorials or inspiration before deciding on your cosplay costume and makeup.

It may not look like a Hollywood makeup artist crafted your look, especially if you’re still new to cosplay. But spending some time doing research on your character and planning out your design will give you a more polished and accurate final look compared to something you might throw together for a Halloween costume.

Watch a few tutorials specific to your character, and take notes on the different aspects of their look so you can start building a list of makeup products you might need to buy.

Step 3: Use the Right Primer and Foundation

Source: instagram
Choose a base that works for your skin type.

Ideally, your cosplay makeup should last all day, so choose a heavier, long-wear base that will keep everything in place without the need to make touch-ups every hour.

Start with a primer to cover any problem areas your skincare isn’t taking care of. A green-based primer will hide redness, while others can smooth out pores to give you the porcelain-like skin many cosplay characters have. 

For a more natural look, pick a foundation that’s tailored to your skin color and type. You can also make choices based around your character’s features. For example, a matte foundation over dry skin will make lines and wrinkles look more pronounced, which can look great if you’re creating an older character. Either way, the foundation you choose will be the base for all other colors, contours, and highlights.

To finish, add a light dusting of setting powder over the top of your base to hold everything in place—even if you sweat or accidentally rub your face. 

Step 4: Create Definition With Contour and Highlight

blue person
Source: instagram
Change your whole face using contouring and highlighting. (Via @manniface)

What do you do if a character has completely different facial features than you do? Enter: contouring! Contouring is essentially the makeup world’s version of sculpting, which means you can completely alter your face shape with just a few tools.

Run a contour stick along the tops of your brow bone and cheekbones to make your face appear slimmer, or underneath the jawline to give a more pronounced look to your chin. Just be sure to blend everything together with a brush or beauty sponge to avoid harsh lines.

Highlighting is the opposite of contouring. Use a lighter, or sparkly, color to make certain features stand out more. This is perfect if you’re creating a fantasy or magical cosplay character. Powder highlighters are ideal for a lightly luminous finish, or go full glimmer with a cream highlighter stick. 

Step 5: Add Detail to the Eyes

fun eyeliner
Source: instagram
Use eyeliner and eyeshadow to create bold and memorable cosplay eyes! (Via @candylensdotcom)

Like contouring, you can use eyeshadow and liner to change the shape of your eye to better suit the character you’re cosplaying.

Start with your brows and use an eyebrow pencil matching your character’s hair color to fill them in to your desired fullness and shape.

You can also use pencil liners on your eyes to create small, delicate details or a smokey smudge. If you’re going for a bold or dramatic look with precise detailing, a liner pen is going to be a better option. Adding a small touch of white eyeliner along your waterline will instantly make your eyes appear bigger, which is perfect for anime or Disney cosplayers who want cartoon-like eyes.

For eyeshadow, choose colors that enhance your natural eyes, or go with a bright and bold color palette inspired by the character you’re trying to recreate. Start gradually building layers from light to dark across your eyelid until you’re happy with the coverage.

Finally, mascara can give your eyes a dramatic flourish or simply enhance the makeup you already have on. If a few coats of mascara aren’t cutting it, use false lashes to add volume or drama.

Step 6: Add Finishing Touches

Does your character have freckles? Add a few with a light brown eyebrow pencil. Going for a feminine finish? Brush some blush across your cheeks for a rosy glow or complete your character’s makeup with some lipstick. 

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How to Remove Cosplay Makeup

Step 1: Go for the Double Cleanse

Since cosplay makeup is much thicker than everyday makeup, it could take a while to get off. By double cleansing, you can make sure every last ounce of product is removed from your skin.

Start with makeup remover wipes or an oil-based balm cleanser, then rinse with warm water to melt away the layers of makeup, including glitter or any glue from jewels or other embellishments. After you’ve washed your face, go back in with a gel or light cream cleanser to catch anything you missed on the first go around and rinse clean.

Step 2: Concentrate on Your Eyes

If you still have some lingering mascara or eyeliner after your double cleanse, use an eye makeup remover on a cotton pad and hold it to each eye for about five seconds. Then, gently wipe away any remaining product.

Step 3: Rehydrate Your Skin

After a full day under layers of heavy makeup, your skin will likely be quite dry. When you’re finished cleansing, leave your face to air dry before putting a creamy moisturizer on your face. 

What to Use If You Have Sensitive Skin

nars makeup
Source: instagram
Try lighter alternatives to heavy makeup, like tinted moisturizer, if your skin is sensitive.

While heavy makeup can be a skin aggravator, choosing the right products can significantly cut down on any post-cosplay issues you may experience. Finding lighter alternatives like tinted moisturizer instead of foundation can work wonders for your sensitive skin.

The pigmentation and fillers used in cheap makeup are typically the cause of breakouts, so it’s worth investing in better ingredients. Mineral makeup usually works well, but as with anything, test it on your skin (like the back of your hand) before making a purchase.

Cosplay Nails

green nails
Source: instagram
Use your cosplay nails to enhance your overall costume and look. (Via

How to Create Cosplay Nails

There are plenty of options for creating cosplay nails to fit your character’s personality or complete their look. Fake nails that stick on top of your own are easy to find at party shops or pharmacies. They also save time and money compared to getting a manicure, which means more hours and budget left for your costume and makeup! 

If you want a truly DIY look, work on your own nail art to bring your character to life. If you’ve never done nail art before, start with a beginner pattern, like dots or stripes, or choose a solid color for most of your hand and create art on one statement nail.

Bring Your Cosplay Character to Life!

Recreating the features of your favorite character through makeup can take your cosplay from good to great. With some practice ahead of your convention or gathering, you’ll soon find you won’t even recognize yourself as anything other than your character!

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