Face Painters Health and Safety Guide to COVID-19

by Lenore Koppelman COVID-19 blog for health

Times they are a changin’. It seems like only yesterday our primary focus was on how many kids we could paint with amazing designs within an hour, (and the more kids the better!). But lately we are more focused on something else: coronavirus.  Many clients are considering forgoing face painting at their events altogether, due to fears over the new coronavirus strain known as COVID-19.

Some might say “This is ridiculous! The public is overreacting!  I’m not going to change how I do things. I refuse. This is all going to just blow over, anyway. I’m not buying into the hype.”  But at the end of the day, whether the public is overreacting or not, we as an industry need to adapt to what the public wants. And right now, what they want are extra precautions.

The reality is that people are scared. They are scared for various reasons we may not all understand, and it is not our job to tell them how to feel about it.  It is our job to entertain them and their children.  It is our job to calm their fears,  make them feel more at ease, and to help them to thoroughly enjoy their party. It is not our job to tell them that they shouldn’t feel afraid. Especially since they might have elderly parents that their little ones frequently visit, or a close friend or relative with an autoimmune deficiency of some kind. A newborn baby at home who is too little for vaccines. A loved one with cancer. A pregnant spouse. Whatever the reason for their abundance of worry, they shouldn’t need to justify their fears to us.

Are we going to be able to guarantee that we can prevent anyone we paint from contracting COVID-19, or any other virus for that matter? No. Absolutely not.The reality is that they are just as if not more likely to catch it while playing with each other at a party. Getting sneezed on or coughed on, sharing a juice box when nobody’s looking, or from that toddler over there who just wrote her name in her boogers all along the bouncy castle walls. We as experienced party entertainers know this. But that hardly means that we should refuse to show the public that we are putting in our very best efforts to keep them, their children, and their loved ones their children frequently visit and carry their germs home to, safe.

Knowledge is power. So let’s take a deep breath and start with a few basics. 

What IS coronavirus?: According to the World Health Organization, Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans.  In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The most recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease COVID-19. This is the strain that people are concerned about right now.

WHY are people so scared?:  In a very short amount of time, COVID-19 appears to be taking over the globe. Unlike conventional viruses we are already used to, we don’t actually know what to expect. We humans, when it boils down to it, are terrible at interpreting risk. We become terrified when something new comes along that we cannot predict the outcome of. There is comfort in knowing how things will most likely turn out. But when entire countries are in a state of emergency over a virus the vast majority of the public had never previously heard of until now? It can feel like a lot to take in. Families are being quarantined. Schools are closing overseas. People are frantically stockpiling toilet paper and hand sanitizer at Costco. Not to mention all of the other bits of news that the media outlets get paid extra for sensationalizing. Let’s just say it’s no big surprise that people are understandably under a lot of stress.

As any psychologist will tell you, we fear what we do not understand. And what we fear, we seek to control. However, it’s hard to feel in control when the majority of what will keep you safe are things that OTHER people have to do. Think about it. Things like washing their hands before they touch you or those you love (such as your child’s face). Covering their mouth when they cough and sneeze. Wearing a mask if they don’t feel well. (Wearing one yourself if you are not the one sick won’t really do a damn thing). Relying on people to stay home and to keep their kids home when symptoms arise. When people have to rely so heavily on the actions of OTHERS to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, it places them in the vulnerable position of having to put a lot of trust in people they don’t even know. (Including their local face painters.) Combine this with the horror stories they are being continuously fed by the media, they are bound to feel helpless and out of control. This leads to a completely understandable sense of panic.
How is COVID-19 spread?: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through contact with respiratory droplets. The disease spreads through droplets from the nose and mouth when a person coughs, sneezes or exhales. These droplets land on surfaces that go on to be touched by others, who will then touch their own mucus membranes. (Eyes, nose, and mouth). Depending on the material and conditions, human coronavirus can remain infectious from 2 hours to 9 days. In cold temperatures (39 degrees F) it is viable for up to 28 days. In hot temperatures, it is viable for a shorter time. At room temperature, COVID-19 can survive up to 9 days.

Who is at risk?: According to the CDC, the general American public is at low risk of contracting COVID-19. Those at higher risk of exposure include people who are aged over 60 years, health care workers and family members caring for COVID-19 patients, people with conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, cancer, immune deficiency disorders, and infants who have yet to build their immune system. It is currently still unclear how the coronavirus affects pregnant women.  In general, pregnant women may experience changes to their body that could make them more susceptible to viral respiratory infections, according to the CDC. Coronavirus in children appears to be rare, with about 2% of cases reported among people under 19 years old, according to the WHO study performed in China. However, new research is currently being done to find out if children are still contracting coronavirus, but due to having stronger immune systems, show far less symptoms. This puts them in the perfect position to be carriers for the disease, since they feel well enough to still go out and play, spread their respiratory droplets around, and share them with immunocompromised family members such as grandma and grandpa during those weekend family visits.

What can we use to kill COVID-19 on surfaces?: It seems to depend on who you ask. Because it is a relatively new strain, a lot of research is still being done. But experts seem to agree on a few things, at least: The virus is protected by a shell, called an “envelope glycoprotein,” which ingredients in some products can scramble. When you take away the protective part of the virus, it dies relatively quickly.

Hydrogen peroxide was found to be effective with a concentration of .5%. Sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl or NaClO), is a chemical found in bleach. This is found to be effective in breaking up that nasty shell. Surface disinfection with 0.1% sodium hypochlorite, or with good ol’ C2H5OH (ethanol, better known to most as rubbing alcohol), is also a safe bet. A potency of 62% to 71% is proving to be most effective because it evaporates less quickly than 99% ethanol does due to the addition of water. The more time it is allowed to remain on the surface and work its magic, the better.  All of these options require an incubation time of 1 minute to do their job to break down the envelope glycoprotein that protects this sensationalized virus.

UV light also works quite well at breaking down the envelope glycoprotein. But there is a catch: they can be pricey. Due to user error, far more affordable handheld UV light sanitizer wands really won’t do much to kill COVID-19. Since it takes time for the UV to do its job, most people’s arms get tired of waving that thing around, which leads them to give up far before they should. A UV sanitizing box is by far superior. You can toss in whatever you would like to sanitize (be it brushes, or stencils, your makeup, or even your cell phone), set it to the length of time you would like, and simply walk away. Usually 15-20 minutes is enough. It’s a relaxing way to “set it and forget it!”. Go sip on some chardonnay and catch up on that latest episode of The Bachelor while the device does the sanitizing for you. Make sure if you decide to go this route, you are using a bulb that is a clear UV C bulb. There are different kinds of ultraviolet light. They are commonly classified as UV A, UV B, UV C, and UV X. Each classification looks and behaves quite differently, because their wavelengths have different penetrating capabilities. The UV blacklight we are most accustomed to seeing which is commonly available in party supply stores and used for SFX purposes is classified as UV A. Ultraviolet A, while easy to find and inexpensive to purchase, will not do anything to sanitize your tools or your makeup. It must be classified as UV C in order to be considered germicidal. The bulb looks clear, and its light should stay away from living tissue. The wavelength the light emits can very quickly cause burns. Used within the safety of a sanitizing box, it is extremely effective at sterilizing instruments and makeup on the surfaces wherever the light is able to reach. UV sterilizing boxes don’t come cheap, however. So if you’re looking for a more affordable solution that’s still equally as effective, wiping things down with 62% to 71% ethanol and waiting for at least one minute before using them again should work just as well.
Popular cleaners that will serve you well for tasks like wiping down your station and the outside of your kits would be Lysol or Clorox wipes/sprays, Enviro Care Neutral Disinfectant (diluted at 8 oz per gallon), and Quat Plus TB. Quat Plus TB is worshiped and revered in most hospitals as being the easiest and most effective product to use to kill viruses on contact. Practically zero waiting time required.
A complete list of products approved by the CDC for killing COVID-19 can be found here. https://www.americanchemistry.com/Novel-Coronavirus-Fighting-Products-List.pdf?mod=article_inline

Now that we have reviewed the basics, let’s get down to the nitty gritty of why we’re here. What can we, as the professional face painting industry, do to help reduce the risk of infection to others and to ourselves? And what can we do to help soothe the general public’s state of mind, as far as face painting is concerned? Here are just a few steps we can choose to take to help.


12 tips for putting your clients at ease (and hopefully landing some new ones!): 

1.) When you arrive at your gig, wave hello and do not shake your client’s hand. This is a tough one for some. I always look for my client and open with a huge smile and a friendly, firm hand shake. It will take some getting used to, but we’re all making changes for the greater good.

2.) Announce to your client that you would like to go wash your hands right away. Open with something like “Hi! I’m so happy to be here! This is going to be a lot of fun. But before we get started, I would like to make sure I disinfect my hands. Do you have a sink and some soap I might use?” Sing the Happy Birthday song out loud twice while you suds up for a minimum of 20 full seconds before rinsing. Add the birthday kiddo’s name to your little tune with a wink and a smile. It will delight them all.

3.) Stay calm. Be as sanitary as possible, but don’t be an alarmist about it. Your clients and their guests are already anxious enough about this virus as it is. The best way to not feed into it is to remain composed, positive, and professional. Be confident about how clean your kit is, and how sanitary your practices are. If they have questions or raise any concerns, educate them on what products you use to keep your clients and their loved ones safe. Avoid conversation about the virus itself, especially using alarmist phrases like “Yeah, I just read that the latest death tolls are now up to…” Please don’t go there. Consequently, do not act nonchalant about their concerns either. Don’t appear so blasé that you appear to be shaming them for being so worried. They might have good reason to worry. Phrases like “Well… only really old people and people with immune deficiencies are dying. It’s not really affecting kids at all, and most healthy people. So it’s really not that serious.” You don’t know anything about their own personal health. They or a party guest overhearing you may be battling an auto-immune disorder. Cancer. A heart defect. Anything. Not to mention that some of the children attending may have medical issues you don’t know about. This will only make you sound insensitive and cruel. I recommend being compassionate and politely respecting their fears. But without feeding into them.

Clean Kit by Lenore the CHeeky Chipmunk

3.) Arrive with the cleanest kit possible. Wipe down every color in your kit. Wipe every crevice. Every divider that separates every color. Wipe down your stencils, too. Make sure your brushes are clean when you get there. Perception is everything in our field. We might know that it’s just pigment, but they will see these things as mess. And mess equals unsanitary. And right now? Unsanitary equals scary. Like it or not, that’s simply a fact.
Clean water with Brush Bath
4.) Keep your brush water clean. The last thing people want to see is a paint-splattered plastic cup filled with thick, murky grey rinse water teetering on the edge of your table. Especially at a time like this… but honestly, always. There are multiple ways to look like an absolute rockstar when it comes to keeping your brushes clean. Some good ideas I’ve observed over the years are using a Rinse-Well, which will allow parents to see that each kid is getting their own little dose of fresh clean water to work with. Another great method I’ve seen some local New Yorkers use is to take a tiny aluminum cup and fill it with a very small amount of water. Use that small amount of water for that child, and then wipe up the water out of the vessel with a paper towel. That way, there is always fresh clean water for each face, and thus a reduced risk of cross-contamination. Painters in Canada use something called a “Three Wash System”. According to Canadian face painter Liz Mortlock, “In Canada we are legally required to use 3 water baths.  Fresh water, bleach and water in the middle and fresh water to finish.” A small bleach tablet placed into the water in the second rinse is diluted enough to be completely safe, especially when you follow it up with a final rinse in the third clean water bath. That tiny bleach tablet can go a really long way in killing any nasties that linger on brushes! And of course, yet another fantastic method involves the tried and true method of simply using very soapy water. Brush Bath (created by Silly Farm) is incredible for this. If your water container is always filled with lucious clean soapy bubbles, and you take a minute to get up and change out your water when it starts to look too murky, that’s going to bring a lot of relief to many onlooking adults. In the past, they were too busy gossiping with each other about the latest tea they overheard at the playground. They were too distracted to care about how dark and murky your water was getting. But now that the tea being served is of a different flavor and COVID-19 is the gossip of the day, party guests are going to be much more apt to notice such details.
5.) Keep your station as clean as possible throughout your event. Between every few kids, take a minute to wipe things down. Spritz your brushes with some Brush Bath spray. Add a little more soap to your water if it needs it. Add a light mist of Beauty So Clean to your kit should you feel so inclined. Not just to protect yourself, but to reassure the client and all of their guests that you are truly doing all you can.  If the guests all perceive face painters as being calmly hyper-vigilant about such details, they will internalize the message that face painting does not need to be a risky addition to their party plans. They will see that we’ve got this. (So come on. Make us look good, people!).
keep your hands clean

6.) Keep your hands clean. This is a tough one for me, because I tend to get paint everywhere. Paint itself isn’t dangerous. But it implies that our hands haven’t been cleaned recently enough for most people’s liking. Especially during a time like this. The ideal solution would be to get up and wash our hands between kids. But most wouldn’t be able to do that unless they happen to be working inches away from a sink. Most of us aren’t. So what else can we do?

Easy recommendations include using hand sanitizer between children (followed up with a kiss of lotion to keep your skin from drying out), or gloves. If you do choose to go the gloves route, avoid buying the latex kind. Some kids have an allergy to latex, and you don’t want to put them in that position. Look for any brand of vinyl or nitrile gloves. Nitrile, also known as NBR, is a form of synthetic rubber with an unusually high resistance to oil, fuel and other chemicals. It is popular in both the health as well as the food industry, as a way to protect people from germs and viruses without endangering those who have latex allergies.

Should you decide that a pair of gloves per kid isn’t for you, you can always buy or make your own hand sanitizer. (Just remember that if you choose to make your own, you must get the ratios of the ingredients right for it to actually work. It’s a ratio of 60% alcohol and 40% aloe.  (A good guideline to follow is ⅔ of a cup of rubbing alcohol to ⅓ of a cup of aloe vera gel.) Add a little drop or two of essential oil for fragrance if you want to smell like you bought this stuff at Bath and Body Works instead of making it at home. Put it in a super cute pump bottle, and let them think you paid an absolute fortune.  I won’t tell anyone. Promise.

7.) Display your sanitizing products. In our pre-coronavirus days, I would keep my travel-sized can of lysol, my hand sanitizer, clorox wipes for wiping down my station, and other sanitizing products underneath the table. I considered them an eyesore, and only wanted “cute” items on display. But now, I believe that full transparency is far more comforting than cuteness. I have started placing these items near my business cards, and it has made a massive difference in how happy and comforted the party guests feel. I show off my bottle of makeup sanitizing spray, Brush Bath spray and liquid soap formulas, travel-sized can of Lysol, hand sanitizing wipes, and Clorox wipes. I don’t even bother hiding the bottle of rubbing alcohol anymore. Out it all goes, for everyone to see.  I actually overhear them while I’m painting, talking to each other about how incredibly comforting it is to witness. Even after this coronavirus scare sorts itself out, I may never go back to keeping those products hidden underneath my station ever again. I used to think they looked ugly. But after seeing how relaxed and happy it makes everyone? Now I think those items look beautiful.

8.) Do not share sponges between people. Not everyone loves the idea of one sponge per kiddo. It’s more to carry, more to buy, etc. Look… I get it. But if there’s ever a time to get over it, it’s now. Sponges are incredibly porous, filled with nooks and crannies for viruses to hide. They are frequently used around the eyes, nose, and mouth. These mucus membranes are the most dangerous places for spreading diseases like COVID-19.  Sponges are not that expensive to buy in bulk. Think you cannot afford more? Then charge your clients more. Consider it an investment for your company. If you use kabuki brushes for sweeping vast swatches of color across the face, just keep in mind that if you are using them over eyelids, nostrils, or lips, you risk the same problem as sharing sponges between children. So make sure you use a brush cleaner between children on those kabukis if you do. Ask any of your friends who are beauty makeup artists how they disinfect their kabuki brushes between clientele. There are plenty of products and methods out there for beauty supply items such as these.

On a similar note to not sharing sponges (especially during our current COVID-19 adventure),  I would also recommend sticking to disposable lipstick applicators such as cotton swabs for any color that goes on the lips, and then tossing them out when you’re done. Always avoid tapping glitter onto the lips with your finger. Instead, simply use the other end of your Q-tip to tap on that glitter and you’re good to go).

9.) Keep your makeup clean. Spraying them with pure alcohol can be a little bit tricky, So there are a few things you’ll first need to know:

When you buy rubbing alcohol, it is diluted with water. (70% alcohol means that 30% of it is distilled water. 91% alcohol means that 9% of it is distilled water. And so on.) Water-sensitive products like  pigmented powders can become ruined when wet. Alcohol that is 91% or higher is best for powders, because the evaporation rate is far more rapid by comparison. This will protect the makeup. However, (and here’s where things get tricky), alcohol at a higher concentration doesn’t work well alone for disinfecting. Again, this is because it evaporates too quickly. The alcohol hasn’t had enough time to get the job done before its gone. A popular trick that many makeup artists use is to take a tissue and gently wipe away the top layer of your shadow, to remove as much contamination as possible. Then give it a light mist with 99% to try to kill off anything that remains.

Face and body paint is manufactured to be antimicrobial, and wiping them down thoroughly should be enough. But if you want to do something extra to ensure discontamiation, a makeup sanitizing spray is the best way to go. Avoid spraying alcohol directly on your face paints. Pure alcohol can dry out cream cosmetics, and may actually alter the pigments. Makeup sanitizing sprays cause the makeup to behave differently than pure alcohol would, because they are formulated with the perfect balance of alcohol and emollients. This ensures that your face paint stays creamy instead of dry and cracked. It also keeps your pigments true to form.  Having a bottle of cosmetic sanitizer spray near your station will always make the mommies swoon. I’ve gotten so many gigs out of letting them see me give things a quick spritz. It’s made specifically for makeup, and face paint IS makeup. But again, this step is really just a back-up precaution,  since your face paints are already antimicrobial to begin with.  Antimicrobial products kill or slow the spread of microorganisms. Microorganisms include bacteria, viruses, protozoans, and fungi such as mold and mildew. If you decide you would rather forgo using any make-up sanitizing spray for whatever reason, you can still have a beautifully disinfected kit. All you really have to do is to remember to frequently wipe them down thoroughly whenever you can.

10.) Communicate with your followers. Heather Green made me throw my hands up in a loud “HALLELUJAH!” when I saw her latest video that she posted to her potential clientele. It was a video for her company, All Star Events. In it, her employees are cheerfully scrubbing down massive bouncy castles with cleaners that have been proven to be effective in destroying the virus. She put out a statement that is compassionate and brief, reassuring the public that they are taking the public’s concerns seriously. She outlines the extra steps they are taking, and ensures that they will do their very best in light of this current situation to try to keep their loved ones safe. Now imagine a similar video of a face painter wiping down the outside of her kit with a Clorox wipe before opening it? Washing his hands before he begins greeting the children and painting them? Even a simple photograph of your set-up with a can of lysol nearby while you give a thumbs up and a great big smile is a wonderful visual. A short statement outlining a few of the ways that you and your artists (if you work as part of a team) are taking extra precautions in light of the public’s current concerns would be amazing. You don’t have to get too detailed. Don’t overwhelm them with information regarding an industry that they don’t really know much about. They want to feel less overwhelmed, not more overwhelmed. Something as simple as “We at Jane Smith’s Face Painting” hear your concerns about the recent coronavirus activity. We would like to comfort you by educating you about our artist’s updated standard sanitation practices.” Keep it short and simple, honest, and upbeat. If you want to, you can even put out a flyer or a poster near your station for people to look over at the event. Just make sure that you keep it as positive as possible. Don’t make it sound alarmist in any way. Again, our job is to keep them safe and calm them down, not to make them worry about new things they might not even have considered in the first place.

11.) Don’t paint kids with symptoms. Just don’t do it. If there is any surefire way to get a parent freaked out about the face painting, it’s to see you painting a sick kid while they’re standing in line waiting for her kid to go next. This is a recipe for disaster, and a danger to the little ones you are there to care for. It’s also a danger to you! So stop doing it. Always carry a few stickers and temporary tattoos with you to offer to the kid with the runny eyes, the cough or the sniffles. Sure, sometimes you will get parents who say “He’s fine. It’s just allergies”. But if you have a sign that explains that due to the current COVID-19 concerns it is now against company policy for you to paint any kids with any of the following symptoms,” you can usually get out of it. I guarantee you that for every annoyed parent you will have 10 other parents in line profusely thanking you and taking your card for their own events when you’re done. Blame it on the company rules. They don’t need to know that you’re the only one really making them. And then smile and move on to the next kid.

12.) Don’t overdo it. It’s one thing to cheerfully be a sanitation rockstar in front of your clients and their friends (who are hopefully your future clients. You’re basically auditioning for them!). It’s another thing to walk into a gig wearing a gas mask, covered in saran wrap from head to toe, wearing 3 pairs of gloves on your two hands, and drenching everything in a gallon of lysol and bleach before you begin. Your goal shouldn’t be to scare the ever-living daylights out of the children and their parents. That would be just as frightening to some as if you showed up with a dirty kit and unwashed hands. (Scary in a different way, but scary just the same!). There is a balance that needs to be reached, where people are made to feel that you are putting in the utmost effort while still reminding them that things aren’t really as bad as things might currently seem. So take a few deep breaths, and walk in with a smile. Be as bubbly with your personality as you are with the bubbles in your water bath. Scaring the public in either direction is not only unhealthy for their state of mind, but dangerous for our entire industry as well.
(A quick side-note about wearing facial masks: Obviously, like everything else listed above, you ultimately have to make the call on whether or not you want to “go there”. But science shows that they only help if you are the one who is sick. And if you are sick, why are you at that gig? Besides the fact that they can look rather scary to little ones, they aren’t helping you not catch COVID-19 from somebody else. So if you’re well enough to be at the gig, you’re not sick enough to need a mask. Personally, I think the world is better off if you just leave those masks on the store shelves where doctors and nurses and other medical caretakers who are feeling the shortage can actually use them.)

Whew! So much to think about. So much to consider. Why should we bother?  Because our clients put our faith and trust in us to, that’s why. If that isn’t enough to convince you, then consider this: When one or more of the party guests come down with something, whether it be coronavirus or something else, would you rather have people say “Well it was obviously the face painter. S/he was using dirty contaminated supplies, using the same sponges on everyone’s faces, their water was never cleaned out… So it had to be their fault, obviously!”. Or would you rather they say “Well… I saw the face painter at that party, and s/he was taking lots of precautions to be really sanitary. So it probably wasn’t their fault. The kids probably just got it from playing with each other.” (Which we already know is usually the case). Sure, it might mean that you end up painting fewer kids per hour than you are currently used to, because now you have to get used to a brand new routine. But I GUARANTEE you, if you cheerfully tell the families waiting in line “I’m sorry. It’s our company policy that we have to take regularly scheduled sanitation breaks. I just need to give things a quick spritz of disinfectant, clean out my rinse water, and wash my hands. We’ll resume the line again shortly!”, and then take a minute to quickly tidy up and disinfect before beginning again? Trust me. Nobody is going to complain.  The exact opposite is true. Just earlier today I walked out of the nearest bathroom after one of those “sanitation breaks” to a line filled of parents applauding and cheering. Just bring lots of extra business cards with you if you do decide to go the extra mile this flu season. Because I can almost guarantee you’ll be handing out extras. 😉

~Lenore Koppelman is the owner and lead artist at The Cheeky Chipmunk in NYC. She lives in Astoria, Queens with her husband Steve, their human son Ralphie, and their fur-daughter Annie The Dog. You can find her on Face And Body Art Television  (FABATV),  teaching at various industry conventions, and at her website: www.thecheekychipmunk.com .

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