Easy Gel Effects

Fri, 2013-08-23 16:00 -- Barry Robinson

It's easy to create gel effects from common ingredients. Here's how. 

Gel effects is a popular medium in medical and casualty simulation. It is a gelatin-based product that is heated and applied to the skin to build three-dimensional wounds, scars, lesions, and sores. Gel effects are sold by many of the major makeup manufacturers (inlcuding Ben Nye, Naimie's, and Mehron) in both squeeze bottles and as gel slabs.

It's also easy to create gel effects from common ingredients. You'll need:

  • 14g food grade gelatin (two 7g envelopes);
  • 15mL water; and
  • 30mL glycerin.

Directions: Mix components in a small glass container. Allow the mixture to sit for five minutes so the gelatin can absorb the water. Heat in a microwave for nine seconds and stir. Repeat until the gelatin is fully dissolved. Do not allow this mixture to boil. Pour into plastic squeeze bottles and allow to cool. For blood gel, used to make blood blisters, add a TINY amount of FD & C #40 red food colouring. You can make a scar gel by substituting the water in the formula given with 10 mL of a water-based liquid foundation and 5 mL water. Flocking, sold by special makeup effects suppliers, can be used to intrinsically colour the gel effects (I've found this gel keeps well at room temperature for several weeks; the glycerin acts as a preservative). For long term-storage, store in a refrigerator.

The following applies to both the commercial product and the homemade version. To use:

  • Fill a container with hot water and place the bottles in the water until the gel melts (I find it convenient to use a small, adjustable crock pot to keep several bottles hot); 
  • Apply the gel to clean skin; and
  • TEST the temperature of the gel BEFORE you apply to make sure you don't burn your actor.

Gel effects can be sculpted as it cools with a small, stainless steel makeup spatula:

  • Warm the spatula in the water you use to melt the gel so it doesn't cool, and set the gel while you are working. You can also make wounds and effects ahead of time by sculpting the gel on a piece of silicone parchment (the kind used for baking); 
  • After you've finished, leave the gel on the parchment and lightly dust with baby powder to prevent sticking; 
  • Store in a plastic bag until needed; 
  • To apply the pre-made gel effects to your actor, brush a thin layer of Pros-Aide on the base of the effect, allow to dry until tacky, then press onto clean skin;
  • To make the gel effects longer lasting stipple on a thin layer of clear cosmetic latex, Water-Melon (a latex substitute from Michael Davy), Pros-Aide, or spray with makeup sealer;
  • Colour with alcohol-activated paints or creme colour;
  • Remove the gel effects by carefully peeling it off the skin;
  • Warm water can be used to dissolve the gelatin if it doesn't come off easily;
  • To remove pieces that are coated with latex, soften the latex by covering with a washcloth soaked in warm water; and
  • Follow manufacturer's directions to remove makeup sealers and prosthetic adhesives.