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Ending ABC (Airbush Confusion) Part II - Airbrush Cosmetics

There are many different brands of airbrush cosmetics on the market. As of this writing, a quick internet search showed at least thirty five different companies making airbrush cosmetics.

When it comes down to it, there are really three main types of airbrush cosmetics; water based, silicone based, and alcohol based. Each has its own pros and cons, as I will describe below. The one common denominator in all airbrush cosmetics is that the pigments will settle over time, so make sure you shake them very well before and during use.

  1. WATER BASED - The most common type of airbrush cosmetic. Usually comes in "kits" with a cheap reverse double action airbrush and tiny compressor. Aimed at the home-use market but are found in most mortuary airbrush kits.

  • PROS

-Generally low cost

-Easy to remove

-Easy to clean from brush

-Can be sprayed at lower pressures

  • CONS

-Rubs off easily

-Somewhat thermogenic

-Doesn't cover discolorations well unless very heavily applied

-Heavier applications look "caked-on", mannequin-like

-Can't be splattered for pointillism effects

2. SILICONE BASED - The choice of many beauty cosmeticians for bridal and film work

  • PROS

-Smooth coverage on normal skin

-Stays on much better than water-based cosmetics

  • CONS

-Limited colors

-Somewhat thermogenic

-Special cleaner required to clean airbrush

-Higher cost

-Doesn't cover discolorations well unless heavily applied

-Heavy applications look "caked-on", mannequin-like

-Can't really be splattered for pointillism effects

-Requires a much higher pressure to spray. Usually 30 psi (requires a pro compressor)

3. ALCOHOL BASED - The choice of most professional makeup artists

  • PROS

-Very smooth coverage

-Tenacious staying power. Very difficult to rub off

-Can be applied lightly to even out skin or more heavily to cover some discolorations

-Covers most discolorations without looking "caked-on"

-Can be thinned with NecroActivator or 99% alcohol for "wash" effects and mottling

-Great for splatter pointillism effects


-Made to work with alcohol activated palettes, NecroPAX, etc.

  • CONS

-Brush must be cleaned with 99% alcohol or NecroActivator

-Alcohol odor

-Requires higher pressure to spray properly. Usually 20 psi (requires a pro compressor)

My all-time favorite airbrush cosmetic (and the choice of most every professional makeup artist) is the Skin Illustrator Liquids line. It comes in many colors and works wonderfully on restoration as well as normal cases. Won't rub off from touching, kissing, etc., can be thinned with NecroActivator to create a wash for mottling and can be splattered using the Paasche H Series airbrush with very low pressure settings.

Most of the time I use it with my Iwata HP-CS airbrush with pressure set at 20 psi for extremely smooth finishes on skin or over NecroPAX that has been sealed with Green Marble SeLr, to adjust the overall base tone.

As you can see, the choices of airbrush cosmetics are many. Your choice really comes down to the quality you want to present to your client families. I do not recommend water-based airbrush cosmetics for mortuary use. Period. That being said, if you mainly have "normal" cases, a good silicone based cosmetic might be a good choice. NEBULA by Kryolan is a favorite in the beauty world.

But for the best of the best on any type of case, you simply cant beat the Skin Illustrator Liquids. Give them a try with your Iwata HP-CS airbrush and your Paasche DC600R compressor and I'm sure you will be thoroughly impressed.

In the next and final installment of this series, I will coverage actual usage of the airbrush. Techniques, tips, and exercises to make you the best airbrush mortuary cosmetologist you can be!

Shane A.S. Ritchie, CFSP is the President of NecroMetics®, a three-state licensed embalmer, funeral director, post-mortem restoration specialist, and a SPFX cosmetics enthusiast. He has written many articles for nearly every major funeral profession publication and is a public speaker and educator on topics of embalming, restoration, and mortuary SPFX cosmetics. He may be reached at

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