Monday, 26 January 2015

The One Sponge Debate

Comment from:  
Mikuru Asahina22 January 2015 at 10:10
Hi Ilea! Love your blog! I am a total newbie to face painting and your blog has helped me so much =). I have one question. Do you use one sponge per color or one sponge per child? I've been researching about face painting and I am getting so many conflicting answers. Gary Cole with Ruby Red face paint as well as the Wolfe Brothers say that they use one sponge per color ( thus same sponge on multiple children), while other people say that they use one sponge per child. Another person was saying that they wipe off all of the kids' faces, before they paint,with baby wipes( I know not to use them =) ) that way they can use the same sponge on multiple faces. I already have most of supplies needed to start painting kids at events, but I can't decide what option would be better. It would be great if an experienced painter, such as yourself, could give me some advice on which would be better.
One sponge per child sounds more hygienic, but would waste a lot of paint. One sponge per color would waste less paint, but might be a turn off to some parents.
I know that the decision is mine, but I want to do what's best for my customers as well as my wallet.
Thanks so much and keep on blogging!
Such an interesting question I decided to make a blog post about it!

My Reply:
Thank you for your comment and for enjoying my blog. ^.^ Sorry for the late reply, I was working a trade show all weekend.
To answer your questions; yes, I use only one sponge per child for the base of a design.

This is something that is a bit of a debate among face painters, as a matter of Hygiene VS Product Waste, as one can argue that we are already double dipping our paint brushes, so how is this any different? Well it is, and here is why.
There are many reasons to use one sponge per child at a gig, here I present my argument as to why I think it's better then reusing sponges.*

*Note that we aren't talking about throwing away sponges, merely setting them aside after use, to be properly cleaned at home. 'Reuse' refers to using the sponge again for the same color for more then one persons face during the same gig, with out cleaning it first.


Unlike with brushes, reusing sponges means you are not even washing off the paint between uses of the tool. Both the paint and the potential bacteria will build up on the sponge and be passed from person to person. Also it's called a sponge of a reason; all those tiny little holes are GREAT for holding on to bacteria and dirt. To properly clean a sponge it takes more time then a paint brush because of this.

Believe it or not the face is actually on average the dirtiest place on the outside of the human body (otherwise your mouth is the dirtiest). One would think it's our hands, but think about it; how many times do we touch our face with our hands each day, then how often to we wash our hands each day compared to washing our faces?
Food for thought. 
Cleaning the face before painting is always a option, but it has it's drawbacks
  • For starters in order to really clean the face you have you do a thorough job. You aren't going to be able to do that without an abrasive wash cloth, soap, water and a rinse. Not exactly practical for a face painting kit.
  • For those who read my post on wet wipes you know my feelings about them. They don't really have soap in them, they have alcohol, which is bad for the skin as it dries it out and strips the skin of it's natural PH. The wipes also aren't as abrasive or as absorbent as say a wash cloth would be in order to effectively clean the skin.
  • Even if you clean the face you are missing the MOST important areas. Eyes, Nose, and mouth. Even if you remove the snot around the nose, the leftover lunch from the face, and the 'eye boogers' from the eyes, those areas will still be prone to spreading bacteria simply because they are 'holes'. When sponging on paint, that sponge will get into all the nooks and crannies WAY better then any implement you used to clean around them.
    Example: When you sponge someones face for a butterfly, you are going over the eyes. SOOO many germs are present in this area, and it's a great way to pass eye infections around if you reuse that sponge. Want to paint a tiger? You got all 3 areas to deal with now - eyes, nose and mouth (depending on how you lay down your base layer). Face it, that sponge is going to pick up something; that's why it's called a sponge.


As you read on my post about Messy VS Dirty, you know that I'm personally not a fan of a cluttered work space. The issue is when you reuse a sponge you have to set it aside somewhere. If you toss it in a bag with others, then you'll have to dig for it, and you risk it coming into contact with other colors you might not want on it. So it has to sit on your table, or you have to make space for it when you are already strapped for space. Some people put them on top of the cakes they used them on; I'm not a fan of this. 
  1. Makes your table look more cluttered, with 'stacking'. (I wrote about this in my Messy VS Dirty Post.)
  2. The Sponges now hide your colorful paints! Now instead replaced by often stained dirty sponges. (Your colorful paint is part of an attractive inviting setup, don't hide them)
  3. Now it's harder to get at certain colors with a brush, because the sponge is in the way. Sure it only takes being a little more careful, but that's time you could be using to paint.
  4. Doing this doesn't allow your paints to fully dry. A wet sponge sitting on your rainbow cakes is a perfect way to turn paint into goop!
  5. You'll have to keep the lids off your rainbow cakes it order for the sponge to sit in the cake, which now exposes your paints to curious fingers. As you see in my regular setup how close the paints are to the edge of the table, this scenario would not be desirable. Also what is one of the lidless paints falls off the table? Or curious fingers want to explore tactile sensations with your squishy sponge?
  6. Parents LOVE it when they see you reaching for a fresh sponge for their child! This puts you a cut above other face paint artists in their minds because it shows you value the clients safety above all else.
That's a lot of little reasons that tend to add up for me.

I too used to think that I was wasting paint by using a different sponge each time. But it wasn't really true. Have you ever tried to reactivate a used sponge by giving it a little spritz of water? It just doesn't work the same right? And you end up having to reload the sponge any way. After realizing this I came to the conclusion that any paint still left on the sponge is wasted anyway regardless, simply by letting it dry out on the sponge. When you reuse a sponge the amount of paint you save per sponge is about 8% I would guess. Which isn't really that much. Sure over time it adds up, but there are other ways to waste less paint.

Other Ways To Save On paint!

  • The best way is to have the right tools. Opt for sponges that get the job done the first time with out having to reload.
  • Practice. Knowing juuuuust the right amount to load the sponge with takes some time, but eventually you find the right balance
  • Load with just the edge of your sponge. Most people plunge the sponge face first into the paint and full up the entire flat side, and this is where most paint is wasted. Instead, try to concentrate your paint load to the long edge of the sponge only. You get more paint in one area of the sponge, not only do you have more control with this finer area, but less paint is wasted too!

Tips and Tricks:

Here are some handy 'sponge hacks' that will help save on paint, and also make your life easier.
  1. I deliberately cut some sponges on the smaller side. So instead of cutting a round sponge straight down the middle, I'll cut it off center so one side is a bit smaller. This way these sponges fit better on smaller faces, which allows you more control, and a bonus is they don't require as much paint!
  2. I keep some quarter cut sponges in my kit to use for stencil work. When using a stencil these tiny sponges are a huge paint saver! Also I can re use them a few times for certain designs. Since half the paint is usually going on the stencil, and what paint is getting through is going on top of an existing base coast of paint that isn't usually over the eyes, nose or mouth; the likelihood of germs goes down substantially.
  3. Carry LOTS of sponges. Not every design calls for a sponge, but I keep a bag of 30 or so in my kit at all times, and have about 2-3 extra bags of 30 or more at home.
  4. Dye your sponges BLACK! When I saw this trick, I jumped for joy. I always a HATED having ugly stained sponges, as over time the stains just don't wash out. :( I hated the 'dirty' image this gave my setup. Even though I knew they were clean, they didn't 'look' clean, and thus some one might think I was using a gross dirty sponge on their kid.
    But now they all look sooooo professional, and since they are all the same color now and stain free, I can more clearly tell how much paint is on each sponge, which means less wasted paint! (I will be doing a blog post on how to dye sponges soon. I bought more sponges and I need to redye my old ones. Stay Tuned!)

Over all, while there is some some paint waste, using one sponge per child has WAY more pro's then re-using sponges. For your kits hygiene, image, and considering the wasted paint is more or less a negligible amount.

If taking care of your paints is important to you, then you don't want wet sponges sitting on them turning them into goop and you don't want them to become Petri Dishes for contagious viruses. You want to keep them clean and nice so you don't have to throw them away, because THAT will waste more paint then using one sponge per face.

The best way to keep your paints clean is to keep your brushes and sponges clean. Avoid 'double dipping' when painting over the eyes, nose and mouth with a brush or with a sponge. I usually try to save these area's for last if i can - for example when painting a spider man and filling in the red, I'll paint the mouth and nose red last just in case I need to go back for more paint, I don't have to worry as much about my brush or sponge being contaminated.

To me, just because some big names are reusing sponges, doesn't present as good of an argument for the case for reusing. I trust my own judgement of 15 years experience and education as a professional trained makeup artist.
But most importantly I put the safety of the client first. If I didn't I would be using latex based skin glue because it's cheaper then latex-free and dollar store craft glitter because cosmetic glitter is much more expensive. If the safety of the client was second to my personal convenience I would have started painting people with Acrylic paint, instead of learning how to paint with cosmetic face paint.
Put the safety of the client first, and you never lose. :)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for this post! =) I tried to comment earlier but for some reason my comment didn't go through. Your article really helped me out. I decided to use one sponge per face, as I had never thought of the wet sponges getting the paint all goopy and not having enough space to load my brushes. Also hygiene-wise it's much better that way, especially with so many kids having nut allergies. I am really looking forward to more of your posts and I can't wait for the one on how to dye sponges black. =) I haven't used my sponges enough yet to get them badly stained, but I will be soon. ;)