“Silicone vs. Foam vs. Gelatin: What Should I Use?” at Wondercon 2018

During Wondercon Anaheim 2018, San Diego-based makeup effects artist Jeff Barkley (Frost: Portrait of a Vampire, Monster Manor, Reading Rainbow) did a makeup demo with each product and discussed the pros and cons of each together with pro cosplayers Trey Barkley (Sparrows Flight) and Desiree Preston (Enasni) to talk about what they find useful and share their experiences.

According to Jeff, a lot of times when you want to cosplay a character [that requires special effects makeup], you’d go online or to YouTube videos, and as you go through them you’d see that there’s silicone, there’s foam, there’s gelatin, there’s prosthetic transfers… Everyone has their favourite but Jeff’s personal favourite is foam latex.

It’s pushy, you can sweat and breathe through it, and it’s very light on your face. Gelatin looks and feels like silicone, but since its made from gelatin (jello), it will break down with sweat and can actually melt if it gets too hot. Prosthetic transfers are made out of the adhesive used to glue on foam. Most of these are a one-time use, but you can use silicone and regular latex a few more times.



The golden child right now is silicone which is a lot heavier and moves like real flesh. It’s coloured like real flesh and is translucent. If you go online, silicone pieces are going to be the most expensive one to buy. If you use straight silicone, you’ll have to use silicone adhesive [to glue it on]. The drawbacks of silicone adhesive is that it’s very expensive. (A small bottle could be about USD$72!) You’ll also have to buy thinner or remover for that. Silicone is the second hardest thing to find online for regular use.

What kinds of costumes would they suggest using silicone for? Full faced silicone can be used for effects such as old-age but you don’t want to make anything that will stick out too far such as a snout or a long nose because it’s heavier and it’s going to fall. Radioactivity or burns can be recreated with silicone since it’s thin. The full silicone faces are easier to do than partial prosthetic – you don’t have to worry about itching on your skin. The advantage of silicone masks is that once you put it on, it pretty much moves with your face, but the disadvantage is once it rips (such as along the mouth), you’ll have to repair that and it’s very heavy.

It’s great if you take good care of it and are careful with it because it gives you more accessibility. If you’ve got the money and you want to do the investment, silicone masks are not bad and they’re really popular for Halloween scares. Silicone prosthetic stretches like foam so it fits most people, but for some face shapes it’s just not going to fit. For latex, because it’s hollow it’ll fit almost everybody. Foam and silicone can only fit a certain number of people, but it’s not 100%.

Silicone has oils in it so you can’t use regular makeup over it. Jeff suggests using an alcohol palette that provides translucence and makes layering the makeup a lot easier. Even though silicone gives a nice realistic look, there is certainly a hefty price attached to it.


Foam Latex

Foam latex is light, squishy and soft, but it will fit only certain types of faces. They can stretch, and you can move it around for a better fit since it gives better movement than gelatin. Jeff gives a word of advice to the audience: don’t put foam in a sealed plastic bag because when you open it, it’s going to smell like rotten eggs! (Due to the sulphur in it)

Regular latex can be used over and over again and is fairly cheap, but it doesn’t work with your face that well. It folds and it’s hollow so you will build a lot of sweat.



Gelatin helps on the money factor, because when you’re done with it you can melt it down and pour it into another mould for another shape. You can use it for a couple of days such as for weekend conventions.

Water will make it dry out and get hard, and scars/burns will end up pulling your face and peeling off with sweat. Materials such as glycerin and absorbitol can melt it down and make a new mould. E

nsure that you have a layer of coating around it so it’ll hold on to your skin when applying. When you glue on gelatin prosthetic, dissolve the edges with Witch Hazel to give a nice clean edge. When using gelatin, be careful of hot temperatures because it will melt very easily.


Jeff’s Makeup Tips

Don’t rush your makeup. Special effects makeup should be done around 3 hours to give everything time to sit and dry. Jeff highlights that makeup is to colour, not cover. If you keep putting the same pigment on the same area, it’s doing nothing but building the layers up.

Everybody tries to match their skin colour right off the bat, but Jeff suggests to start with a blood colour base before adding other colours on top of it. This gives the skin a flat surface to work on and creates an illusion of blood behind the skin which will look more natural. Adding skin colour on top of the red will give a good overall effect for the makeup.

Trey and Desiree close by stating that the longer you stay in makeup, the more it’s going to affect your skin. There is simply no denying it. If you’re going to do a full day makeup for cosplay, especially if it involves special effects material, take good care of your skin. You’re covering your pores and putting chemicals on your skin, and since removers are oil based, you’ll get breakouts very easily.

Remember to pamper your skin after a long day at a convention by using skincare products like face masks. Also, remember to always start with a clean, moisturised face before putting on makeup!


Silicone: Realistic. Mostly easy to apply. Helps you stay on time when applying. Easy on the edges. Expensive.

Gelatin: Cheaper. Can melt back down and make new ones. If you sweat, it can slide off. Good for small pieces like ears and small cuts. Will be difficult to do for a full face.

Foam: Can last for a long day. Fits tightly on face. Can make a full range expressions without anything ripping or pulling. Good for superhero masks or when you need your expressions to show through. Can use silicone adhesive or spirit gum.

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