Using Eye Shadow with Polymer Clay

Buy cheap makeup kits for use with decorating polymer clay.

It’s a week before Christmas as I write this and hopefully you have already braved the crowds and finished your holiday shopping. Or shopped online (my favorite way). But there’s one thing available this time of year that might make you want to venture out, and that is inexpensive (okay…cheap) makeup sets. Often marketed as stocking-stuffers for young girls, these compact, inexpensive makeup sets typically contain sets of related eye shadow colors that might be too garish for the more conservative among us. But this is exactly why you should be looking at them. All of those bright, sparkly, colors are perfect for crafting, and make an inexpensive addition to the mica powders and chalk pastels you already might have. Here’s what you need to know about using eye shadow with polymer clay.

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Mica Powder vs Eye Shadow

What is Mica Powder?

Mica is a flaky mineral rock that is ground into a pigment called mica powder. Pearl Ex is one brand of mica powder.

Mica is a rock mineral that naturally forms flat sheets that reflect the light like a mirror. When mica is ground into a powder, those little flakes act like glitter and reflect light in a pearlescent, shimmery, sparkly way. Mica powder is added to many products that we use everyday, from the pearly swirls in your shower gel to the sparkles in your toothpaste and hair spray, to the frosty shimmer of your lipstick. We also use mica powder in crafting. Mica can be coated with a variety of colored pigments to create colored mica powder. Most metallic paints are not made with pulverized metal (some are), they’re usually made with colored mica powder. Metallic and pearl varieties of polymer clay are made with mica powder. And you can even buy small jars of colored mica powder itself. Common brands are Pearl-Ex, MetalFX, Perfect Pearls, and some of the colors in Christi Friesen’s Surface FX line.

Pigments, mica, and powders are magical

Don’t be intimidated by those little jars and packets of colorful powders. Learn to use them effectively in your projects.

What is Eye Shadow?

Cheap makeup can be used with polymer clay.

Well, I’m sure you know what eye shadow is. 🙂 But actually, what I mean is…what IS it? Eye shadow is a mixture of pigments, in a carrier, that we apply to our faces. It’s typically earth mineral pigments such as titanium dioxide, iron oxide, ultramarine, manganese oxide, or chromium oxide suspended in a carrier of talc, cornstarch, silk powder, wax, oils, and stabilizers. Powdered eye shadow would have a powdery carrier whereas creme eye shadows would have a creamy, lotion-like carrier. Foundation, blush, lipstick, and even mascara are all variations on this same theme. Pigments (colors) are suspended in a carrier. In fact, this is the same idea behind all of our craft paints, too. Really, makeup is just glorified and very expensive paint for your face!

Some eye shadow colors are very matte without any sparkle at all. But most colors do have at least some sparkle and some are very, very sparkly. What causes that sparkle? Mica powder! Yes, the very same mica powder that is sold under the name Pearl Ex and is used in crafts. But even if an eye shadow color is very, very sparkly and full of mica shimmer, it will still contain other pigments and carrier ingredients. While an eye shadow can contain mica powder, eye shadow itself is not mica powder.

Learn about using eye shadow with polymer clay in this article by The Blue Bottle Tree.
Cheap eye shadow is an alternative to buying mica powder for polymer clay.

Can you Use Eye Shadow with Polymer Clay?

Absolutely, yes, you can use eye shadow with polymer clay! But you do need to know what to expect. Because eye shadow contains chalky earth pigments in addition to the mica powders, using eye shadow on polymer clay will most likely result in a more muted effect than if you were to use pure mica powder.

Using eye shadow with polymer clay, is it the same as mica powder?
I made these little shapes using black Premo pressed into silicone molds, then dusted with pigment. The top row is eye shadow, and the bottom row is Pearl-Ex, chosen to match the colors as closely as I could. Notice how the eye shadow is almost always more muted than the mica powder colors.

In addition to muted colors, you do need to be aware that some very sparkly eye shadows might not give very good coverage on polymer clay. One of the sets of eye shadow that I bought had very large mica flakes, almost like glitter, and I thought they’d be wonderful on polymer clay. But I was disappointed to find that they were merely brown pigment with large mica. The brown powder didn’t give good metallic-appearing coverage, and the large mica particles didn’t stick to the clay. It’s still nice, but not as cool as I had hoped.

Shimmery eye shadows can be used with polymer clay, but you may get a different effect than you intended.

Some colors of eye shadow contain no mica, and those will work nicely for techniques that use chalk pastels. Because some pigment colors aren’t safe for use in makeup, you’re not going to find as many colors of makeup as you’ll find in chalk pastels. But you can still have quite a bit of fun. These Organic Beads (from my Organic Beads Tutorial) were made using matte colored eye shadows from the sets pictured above.

Eye shadow can be used with polymer clay, such as these Organic Beads.

Because mica powders are pure sparkle, with no murky chalky pigment, the colors of Pearl-Ex are quite a bit brighter than those of corresponding colors of eye shadow. These two Mica Leaf Pendants (get the tutorial here) were made identically, except that the one on the left uses eye shadow and the one on the right uses Pearl-Ex. Notice how the eye shadow creates a much more subtle effect than the Pearl-Ex. This is valuable to know because sometimes the shine of Pearl-Ex can be too much for your polymer clay project and you may prefer the subtle effect of eye shadow.

Eye shadow vs mica powder when using the Mica Leaf Tutorial by The Blue Bottle Tree.
These Mica Leaf Pendants are made the same way except that eye shadow was used on the left and Pearl-Ex mica powders were used on the right. These were sealed and protected with a thick layer of Lisa Pavelka’s Magic Glos.

 How does Makeup Compare to Pan Pastels?

Pan Pastels are an artist’s quality product that places artist’s pigments into a pressed pan, similar to eye shadow, blush, or pressed foundation. Pan Pastels come in matte colors, metallic colors, and pearlescent colors. In general, these colors work very well on polymer clay and are far more intense and rich than their corresponding colors of makeup.

Metallic Pan Pastels are used on polymer clay.

How to Apply Eye Shadow to Polymer Clay

Just like when using Pan Pastels, Pearl Ex, mica powders, or chalk pastels, eye shadow is best applied to raw polymer clay. You can use a brush to apply the powder, especially if you want complete coverage. Or you might prefer to apply lightly with a finger to “hit the highlights”, creating a gilded or frosted effect. You can use the sponge applicators that come with the eye shadow as well. And you don’t have to use a full-coverage effect. There’s no reason you can’t use a light touch to lightly color something as well. For instance, you might want to use a very light dusting of blush or a pink eye shadow to create rosy cheeks on a doll you’re making.

You can apply eye shadow to polymer clay with a brush or with your finger.
Textured black polymer clay that’s been colored with gold eye shadow. On the left a brush was used to completely cover the surface of the clay. On the right a fingertip was used to “hit the highlights” of the design.

Because eye shadow and makeup are designed to be moisturizing and have a creamy effect on your skin, you may very well find that it will clump on your brush and not have the powdery effect that you’re used to seeing with Pearl Ex mica powder. I don’t find it to be a problem, but it’s something to be aware of.

Also, when using any powders or chalks on raw polymer clay, you may find that they don’t completely bind during baking. Therefore, you might want to seal them for maximum durability. Sealers can be used, such as Varathane. I used Varathane on the Organic Beads above. You can also use epoxy resin or a UV resin such as Lisa Pavelka’s Magic Glos (which I used for the Mica Leaf Pendants above).

Using Other Makeup with Polymer Clay

These makeup kits came with glittery eyeliner in pink and blue, and several shimmery highlighting creams which were similar to lip gloss. Can these be used on polymer clay? Just for fun, I used my finger to wipe each of them onto a sheet of polymer clay and then baked it. The oils in the highlighting cream disappeared with baking, leaving the pigments behind. They were surprisingly well adhered to the polymer clay and it took a fairly aggressive fingernail to scratch them off. So if your “cheapie” makeup kit comes with glitter cream or other novelty makeup items, it’s certainly worth a try to use them with your polymer clay, perhaps as sort of a paint. It’s an interesting idea if nothing else.

Inexpensive makeup kits can be used with polymer clay.

Can you Use Mica Powders as Makeup?

Since you can easily use eye shadow with polymer clay, it’s easy to begin to wonder, can you use mica powders as eye shadow?  The answer is no. Remember, crafting mica powders are ground mica that’s been coated with a pigment or dye. Those dyes and pigments aren’t tested for use on the face. Some of them might cause allergies or inflammation. Only use makeup from a reliable manufacturer on your tender skin. Nobody needs to have a terrible reaction to these pigments!

That being said, makeup pigment suppliers are an excellent resource for the crafter and you can often find a wide variety of mica powders and earth pigments that will create beautiful crafting colors.

Purchasing Makeup Kits for use with Polymer Clay

So, is it worth buying cheap makeup kits for use with polymer clay? It depends. If you’re looking for a substitute for mica powder and want to be able to have the full versatility of Pearl Ex or MetalFX powders, then you’re going to be disappointed in using eye shadow with polymer clay. It would be best to save up for the real thing. But if you’re just looking for some fun new ways to decorate your polymer clay, inexpensive makeup and eye shadow palettes are a fantastic deal. I found these sets for $4.88 at Walmart and I know that you can find similar ones year round in dollar stores. You can also raid your own makeup drawer for colors that you no longer use. Ask for donations from your family and friends too. Everyone has colors they bought on a whim and never used. Might as well find a good home for it in your craft studio, right?

So the next time you see cheap makeup and eye shadow sets on sale or at the dollar store, go ahead and try them with your polymer clay. You might find a whole new range of colors that you just love.

Note: Many thanks to Sunny Day Crafts for the really neat Martha Stewart push molds that I used for making the little flowers, leaves, and butterflies. And also to Lisa Pavelka and The Greate Create for providing me with their really fun Magic Glos.

53 thoughts on “Using Eye Shadow with Polymer Clay”

  1. Thanks for your really informative posts. I’m looking into polymer clay heads as part of my sculptures and wondering as to the permanance of the materials used above, as in using makeup on faces how and what to seal it with for a matte finish- and whether that would be durable, or do i need to go ahead and buy pan pastels which are really expensive. Thanks

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