Origin of Body Painting

Origin of Body Painting

1. The Beginning Of Body Paint

Although many may think that body paint is a more recent phenomenon starting in within the past century, its roots are actually much more ancient than that. Body paint in actuality dates back to prehistoric times and is recorded to have been utilized in many African, Asian, European, and Australian cultures for centuries now. We even see records of body painting in early American cultures such as the Native Americans in North America, and many Central and South American cultures. 
While the pigments and technology of modern day paints were not available during this time, they were able to utilize natural dyes from plants within their region to create the outcome they wanted. From fruits like blackberries to plants like the bright, beautiful saffron to clays and charcoals, they were able to develop yellows, reds, blues, and other hues to decorate their bodies. So they were able to create a wide range of color without the use of modern conveniences.
The reasons for their body décor could be for a multitude of events and ceremonies such as:
  • Weddings
  • Funerals
  • War
  • Rights of Passage (i.e., Puberty)
  • Hunting Camouflage
  • Status Symbols
Every stroke, image, and symbol that was painted on the body held a meaning behind it, which is one of the main differences between modern body painting and its early predecessors.

2. The Many Types of Body Paint

After learning all the rich history behind body painting, you may be eager to start dabbling in the art form yourself. Before you get started, let's review some of the different types of paint that can be used. It's essential to do this because while some paints will be excellent for all over body painting, others may be unsafe for more sensitive areas of the skin or general skin types. It’s also important to decipher which paints are specially made for the skin and which are not, so let’s get into some of the main types of paint and some basics about each one.

Water-Based Body Paints

​Water-based paints are one of the safest if not the most reliable, options for body painting. They are made to be non-toxic, usually non-allergenic, and are easily removed with soap and water. Although this particular type does need more frequent touch-ups and isn't known for being incredibly long-lasting, it is a great option when painting on more sensitive skin types or on pregnant women, as it is made under strict safety guidelines specific for body safety.

Alcohol-Based Body Paints

​Formerly used for small tattoos on parts of the body, alcohol-based pants have recently been used on the entire body. This particular paint is sweatproof and waterproof, so it stands the test of performances and summer music festivals. You will have to take care of removing this specific type of paint. If the brand does not provide or suggest a remover, rubbing alcohol will work best, just make sure to take your time in removing it.

Latex and Oil Based Body Paints

​Latex paints and many other oil-based paints are an incredible full-coverage option, especially when wanting to create an eye-catching and highly visual costume or piece of artwork. It's essential to read the details of the paint before applying and also take precaution to remove all body hair before applying latex paint. This is because it functions as a second layer that can cause a painful waxing effect if any hair is left on the body and had been painted over. 

Cream Based Paints

​Cream-based makeups have been a must-have in many makeup kits, as they create durable, avant-garde looks without the cracking and wear and tear that sometimes occur with lighter makeup products. A plus to this one is that this one is waterproof and sweat proof like alcohol based paints. Unfortunately, this type of paint never fully dries and often needs to be set with a finishing spray or powder to prevent the artwork from being ruined.


​Henna paints are actually created from the leaves of a flowering plant that grows in tropical regions within the continents of Africa and Asia. This particular paint has been used as hair dye, body paint, fabric dye, and more. It's most popular use now is to be used as a form of pigment for temporary tattoo designs.
While the more common brown henna mixes are natural and leave no harmful effects, black henna is not the same. Although plant-based like brown henna, its pre-made mixes have metal additives that can seep into the skin. This can cause damage if used continuously over a long period. So it’s smart to stay away from black henna. 

​It’s interesting to see the path that body paint has taken. From ancient societies using fruits and plants to paint symbols or ceremonies, to provocative and controversial art pieces, to modern commercial use, it’s an art form that spans many styles and techniques. So whether you are creating a couture work of art or just looking for a fun activity to add to your kid's birthday party, body and face painting is a great way to expand your horizons.

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