Cosplay: Make Me Up

Hey, lately it seems like all the posts on here are all games, games, games. That's good and all, but what happened to the other stuff?

That's a very good question. There are two reasons why games have been dominating the Care and Feeding of Nerds as of late. Reason #1 is that it just so happened a bunch of game developers we've been working with had projects reaching the fundraising/publication phase all around the same time and we wanted to help make those efforts successful (related aside: there needs to be a fun term for a group of game developers, like a cadre of devs or a raiding party of devs). Reason #2 is decidedly less nice and has been mentioned a few times in the lead-ins of other posts. This winter, quite frankly, was a drawn out boss fight for the GIR and I. There were weeks of nightmare commutes, consecutive storms, and lots of damage to our home. Add to that the fact that I've been dealing with some decidedly unpleasant health stuff for the past five weeks or so. While we walked away victorious, the battle took up almost every minute of free time that wasn't otherwise spent at work or sleep. Consequently, all the crafty, bookish, cinematic, or culinary things got shunted aside in the face of relentless snow and projects with firm deadlines attached to them.

We're aiming to shine some light on those poor, neglected parts of the site ASAP beginning with this very post. As we get back to something akin to normalcy, production on Steampunk Hawkgirl is ramping up (less than 100 days remaining until Gen Con! Gah!). Between this and participating in the 30 Days of Cosplay Challenge over on our Instagram account, we've had a few cosplay-related questions come in, one of which was the following:

What makeup do you use when you cosplay and how do I get nice makeup without spending a ton of money?

I'll be perfectly honest here: were it not for cosplay, I would still be absolutely clueless about cosmetics. Growing up, makeup was enigmatic at best and, when the occasion called for its application, wearing it was something that was endured. My mother and other female relatives weren’t big on wearing it and the vast majority of my friends were either boys or girls whose stances on makeup mirrored my own.

All this cosmetic nonchalance came to a screeching halt when cosplay became my obsession hobby. The need to transform my own face and body into that of characters with sometimes very different features necessitated a certain level of familiarity with the products that would produce those results. Well, that and the fact that wearing a costume often translates to your picture being scattered into the wilds of the internets, which would prompt many people into wanting to put their best face forward, so to speak. 

I’ll present recommendations for each category of makeup in the order in which I normally apply them to my face (applying body makeup merits its own post). Each category will also include a few options representing a handful of price points for each type of cosmetic. Generally cosplayers fall into the “I’ll reuse as many of these products as I can outside the convention halls” or the “I don’t use these products for anything else” camps, so I wanted to provide options that will work for either mentality. Lastly, all the stuff I recommend here is either what I use personally or garnered high praise from fellow cosplayers/highly cosmetically literate friends.

Eye Shadow/Primer

I’m a big fan of doing all your eye painting before beginning work on any other part of your face. Not only do your eyes tend to take a long time to apply, but they can also smear/flake/otherwise ruin things like foundation if that application doesn’t go according to plan (or does, but your mascara feels like being uncooperative and snowing down ashy flakes onto your fresh foundation anyway).

Anyhow, the very first step of my eye painting process involves an application of primer (usually with my fingers). I was extremely skeptical of primer as a concept until Sephora got me hooked with a free sample of the stuff. Let me tell you, if your eye makeup plays a big role in your cosplay, you should definitely consider investing in a quality primer. Not only does the primer make all the colors in your shadows stand out, it ensures that those colors will last you the entire day without creasing, flaking, or wrinkling. It’s for this reason that I recommend Urban Decay’s Original Primer Potion. The Potion comes in a handful of varieties, but I tend to stick to the Original for cosplaying as it provides an excellent blank canvas for your shadows (the tinted versions of the Potion, like Sin, are really fun for everyday use, especially if you’re running short on time or just don’t feel like putting on shadow).

Speaking of shadows, this tends to be one place where you don’t have to fork over a ton of cash, especially if you’re not a person who uses their makeup in their non-convention life. Even if you are a regular cosmetics user, many of the colors you’d use for a costume don’t translate easily for wear beyond the dealer hall. Because of this, I tend to go with drug store eye shadows for any bold or especially bright colors, but invest a bit more in neutrals and hues that can pull double-duty.

My reigning favorite drug store eye shadows are from Revlon. Not only do their shadows stay put for extremely long periods of time (16+ hours), but they offer both individual colors and high utility sets. I’ve become a fan of their Photoready sets, as these always have at least two distinct, complete ‘looks’ within them (a ‘look’ here being primer, highlight, and accent shades). For one-off colors, the Revlon Colorstay Shadowlinks are solid shadows that apply easily and remain true to form all day long.

If you’re going to invest in a palette of shadows, I highly recommend picking up one of the Nakeds by Urban Decay (there are three versions of this line, some which suit particular eye colors better than others) or, if you’re really up to splurge, one of the core sets from Dior.

Image by Urban Decay

Eye Liner

This is, by far, my least favorite cosmetic item and I avoid applying it unless it’s absolutely necessary. However, if you need to reshape/define your eyes at all for your costume or if you’re planning on wearing false lashes then eye liner needs to come into play.

Given that, I tend to buy drug store brands, specifically Revlon, any time that an outfit calls for a liner that isn’t black. Revlon’s Colorstay line not only has a wide range of hues that will last you all day without a problem, but the liners are available in pencil, liquid, and gel form (if you have a strong preference on your liner format).

Black liner, on the other hand, is so versatile that it tends to be worth investing in (especially if you wear false lashes frequently). If you’re up for a splurge, the Diorshow Art Pen is not only long super long-lasting, but applies easily and meshes well with nearly all brands of false lashes.

False Lashes/Mascara

Speaking of false lashes, they may have a learning curve associated with them, but there’s really no duplicating the effect they give (the application process may get its own post). There are approximately a bajillion brands of lashes out there, so selecting a pair may induce a bit of analysis paralysis. 

Basically you're looking for lashes that give you your desired shape (i.e. angled for cat eyes, very wide for anime characters, etc) in at least a semi-realistically looking way. One way to ensure this is to look to see if the tips of the falsies cut off abruptly or taper to a point (like real eyelashes do). There's much ado about lashes made with real vs fake hair bristles, but there are plenty of quality brands made with each type. Just because a set of lashes is made with synthetic hair doesn't mean that they're of poor quality, particularly if you only wear them for conventions and don't need them to look hyper realistic.
Image by Kiss Lashes

I've become a big fan of Kiss brand lashes, as they're extremely easy to apply and come in a huge variety of styles. If you wear falsies very frequently (more than a few times a month) or are just up for a splurge you may want to look into a pair of Velour lashes.

When dealing with your own lashes, however, you generally want to add color and volume. I often layer mascara on (beginning with colored products and ending with dark brown or black), especially if I'm not wearing fake lashes. To get the look of fake lashes without actually using them, I start with Diorshow Lash Maximizing Plumping Serum on just the tips of my lashes. This stuff acts like a primer while also adding length to your lashes. Depending on the look I'm going for, I'll either use Almay's Intense i-color or Maybelline's Lash Sensational mascaras. If I need to be especially fancy or dramatic, then Diorshow Extase will get to take center stage.


Foundation is one of those products that definitely lives up to nearly all interpretations of its name. Since it's what holds the majority of your look together, it's worth taking the time to experiment and figure out what types of foundations/concealers work for your skin type. Regardless of whether you end up using my recommendations here or if you find something else that works brilliantly, there are two basic qualities that you're looking for in a convention-ready foundation: something that gives a matte finish and a product that does not contain any sunscreen. Why? It all comes down to how you'll look in pictures. Foundations with a shiny/dewy finish or that contain sunscreen will reflect light, leaving you washed out and featureless in any pictures where a flash was used.

For drug store foundations/concealers, there's really no match for Loreal's True Match. The product line is not only widely available, but it comes in a mind-blowing array of shades so you're almost guaranteed to find the perfect compliment for your skin tone. Loreal offers both liquid and powder versions of their True Match foundations/concealers. They are long-lasting and can easily pull double duty as your base makeup outside of the dealer hall.

Bare Minerals is an excellent choice if you have oily or very sensitive skin. Their foundations and concealers may take a bit longer to apply than most liquid products, but they tend to stay in place, never oxidize, and don't migrate into any creases you may have. The only downside with Bare Minerals is that it's tough to find a version without sunscreen (but it is possible and well worth the effort!). 

Dior Airflash is my absolute favorite foundation. It never oxidizes, applies very quickly, layers beautifully, and requires no retouching regardless of what you put it through during the day. The downside is that it is on the pricey side (and if you are considering buying this, you should give thought to also purchasing the application brush). However, if you do decide to bring Airflash home it will last you at least a year, as you use only a tiny amount with each use. 


Bare Minerals is my go-to brand for bronzer or highlighter. They produce a wide variety of colors that all look extremely natural, but can be easily layered to provide dramatic effects as needed. It's also very gentle on your skin and can be used with just about any brushes.

My last recommendation isn't technically a cosmetic, but may end up as a staple in your makeup bag. Model in a Bottle setting spray is practically sorcery. Spray it gently over your finished look and it will lock everything in place for the rest of the day. Bonus: it will ensure that you have a matte finish on all of your makeup which, as we talked about in the Foundation section, is critical to making sure your hard work translates well into a camera.

Hope you guys found this helpful! Feel free to let me know if you have any questions.

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