Cultural Face Painting

On Heritage Day we saw a lot of cultural celebrations that made us proud to be South African – including cultural face painting.

I noticed that quite a few African cultures make use of face paint for different patterns on their faces as part of their celebrations. For example, the Xhosas have a few reasons for painting their faces – some use it as protection from sunlight, the women would paint their faces completely white as a mark of beauty and young men paint their faces various colours throughout the manhood initiation rite. I decided to look up on different types of face paint that would look good, but not damage your skin in an event like this.

cultural face painting

  1. Water-based

This face paint dries quickly and comes off with merely soap and water. It is non-toxic and barely gives off a smell, plus you apply it with a brush or sponge. Make sure you store it out of direct sunlight.


  1. Petrolium-based

Many commercial and homemade face paints make use of petroleum as its base, but it is very harsh on the skin and can cause a rash or breakout. Try to avoid this type of paint or you might have to sacrifice your smooth complexion temporarily.


  1. Glycerin-based

Glycerin is sometimes added as a retarding agent which slows down the drying process and allows more time to blend the colours. This should not be used on children, as it could burn sensitive skin. There are no massive side effects to using this type of paint, but I would recommend doing a skin allergy test before applying and also to avoid your eyes, if possible.


  1. Henna

This is an orange-brown coloured dye made from a desert plant and is applied via brush or applicator bottle. Henna could unfortunately contain synthetic, coal-tar dye that can cause chemical burn or kidney damage, so if you’ve got the slightest reaction during an allergy test, I would recommend completely avoiding this option.


  1. Natural Types

My best recommendation would be one of the many natural types options available to you. By strict definition, these would probably not be classified as paint. Often ingredients such as rice-flour powder would be mixed with water to create a paste. This product’s target market would be children and adults with sensitive skin. Other natural ingredients could include roots, berries, tree-bark, earth and clay. You can even find commercial plant-based paint that is often combines with nut-based oils.


Did you use face paint as part of your Heritage Day celebrations? Do you have any skin blunders to deal with in the aftermath? Share with us in the comments below or on social media!


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