What I Learned From Paradox Mint’s Beginner Cosplay Tips Panel at Zenkaikon 2024

Technically speaking, I have been cosplaying since I attended Zenkaikon 2011 dressed as Kagome Higurashi from InuYasha (though you could argue that I started even earlier if you count my Halloween costumes from 2008 and 2009, which were Dawn from Pokémon and Raven from Teen Titans). Even after subtracting the five-year hiatus I took from the hobby, that’s still nearly a decade of experience. Yet I would still consider myself a novice cosplayer. As someone who can’t even cut in a straight line and doesn’t know how to style my hair in any way other than a ponytail, making my own costumes and styling my own wigs is completely out of the question for me. So sometimes I can’t help but think: Can I even call myself a cosplayer? Knowing that I have much to learn about how to cosplay effectively, I was intrigued by a panel at Zenkaikon called “Cosplay for Anyone: Wigs, Contacts, and Makeup! Oh My!” The description was as follows:

“Do contacts scare you? Is trying to get that masculine chin hard? Is finding that character wig for less than $50 impossible? Come on out and have Paradox Mint help you navigate the world of cosplay detailing to make everything come together seamlessly.”

I will get my one and only negative critique about this panel out of the way first: The second rhetorical question implied that there would be some sort of makeup tutorial, and since one of the many questions I have about cosplaying is how to make my face a little more masculine when cosplaying male characters, I was looking forward to an explanation that never came. However, I learned so many other things at this panel that this missing information was hardly a loss. 

The panel was divided into three sections: wigs, contacts, and makeup. Although the panel was in Paradox Mint’s name, it was actually evenly distributed between three panelists: Channy (codemangagirl on Instagram) for wigs,  Kay (seaspider10 on Instagram) for contacts, and Mint (paradox_mint on Instagram) for makeup. Here are the valuable tips they shared in each section!

Part 1: Wigs

1. Do I need a wig?

According to Channy, the answer is NO. Although wigs do make things a lot easier when cosplaying characters with unnaturally colored hair—after all, dying your hair takes a lot of upkeep and can damage your natural hair—they are not a requirement. Channy pointed out that some characters have such distinctive outfits that even without a wig, people will recognize you based on your clothes alone. If your overall goal for cosplaying is to simply show your love for a certain character or fandom, then having other congoers recognize your outfit accomplishes this. She did say, though, that you might need a wig (or hair dye) when cosplaying a character who just wears a school uniform, because those outfits don’t tend to have features that are distinguishing enough to differentiate them from other characters’. Another excellent point Channy made was that the popular “twintail” style that so many anime characters sport is actually humanly impossible to create with real hair (thus why many wigs have them as clip-ons), so this would be another instance where a wig is necessary.

2. What kind of wig cap should I use?

When I first started cosplaying in the early 2010s, I forwent wig caps altogether—and you can tell when you see all the blonde hair sticking out from under my dark-colored wigs in old pictures. Even once I started using wig caps, though, I’ve only ever used the black net ones that come with my wigs. I never even considered looking into different kinds. Channy recommended skin tone wig caps for blonde wigs, and wig headbands (which I’d never even heard of before) for heavier wigs. She also suggested using pantyhose-style wig caps to avoid leaving marks on your forehead because they are softer, but they don’t have a hole in the top like the netted wig caps do. Another tip was to put your natural hair into twin braids and pin them up in order to fit longer hair under a wig cap, which I greatly appreciated because I’ve decided to grow my hair out but have never had to deal with wearing wigs with longer hair since I’ve always worn my hair in a short bob.

3. Where can I buy wigs?

All three panelists confessed that most of the wigs they own were purchased from Amazon. In addition to their wide selection and often fast shipping times, most Amazon products have reviews with photos so you can get a better idea of the wig’s actual quality and appearance. However, Channy also recommended the following websites (most of which you can see in the picture above): Arda Wigs, Ebay, Epic Cosplay, The Five Wits, Kasou’s Cosplay Wig Shop, and AliExpress (which one of the panelists described as “Chinese Amazon”). She also recommended a private Facebook group called US Cosplay Wig Sales N’ Swap where you can buy pre-worn wigs for cheap. She said this is a good avenue to take if you want to practice styling wigs, because the low prices and the fact that they’ve already been used will make you feel less guilty if you end up totally destroying them. Another tip one of the panelists mentioned not just for wigs but for costumes in general is to take a “back order” status seriously. They said that they once ordered something on back order in May, and didn’t receive the product until December.

4. How do I store my wigs?

I’ve always just kept my wigs in the original plastic bag that they came in and stored them in a large storage bin. I was worried that this was not a safe or responsible storage method; however, this exact method was actually Channy’s first suggestion. She also said you can keep your wigs on mannequin heads or wig stands to maintain their shape, and recommended storing them in a wig bag. She specifically mentioned Arda’s wig totes, but they are currently out of stock. According to Channy, the most important part about storing wigs is to keep them safe from dust, because dust is hard to get out and can permanently ruin any styling you’ve done.

5.  How do I take care of my wigs?

Channy emphasized the importance of washing your wigs (which I confess I have never done). Her instructions were to gently hand wash in soapy water using dish soap, NOT shampoo, because the vitamins and minerals in shampoo won’t do anything for a synthetic wig. She also recommended soaking the wig in fabric softener to make it shinier and smell good. I raised my hand to ask how to de-static wigs (as this is a problem I’ve frequently encountered with mine) and she said that fabric softener can also help with this issue, as well as fabric sheets or low heat. Lastly, she said to use brushes and combs designed specifically for wigs and advised against using your personal hairbrush because it will contain residue of oils that are good for your real hair but bad for synthetic wigs.

6. What can I use to style my wigs?

In addition to using heat to remove static from wigs, you can also use it to curl wigs. Most wig websites will say the maximum temperature their wigs can handle, and curling irons are usually within this range. Before using a curling iron (or any other heat source), though, one of the panelists suggested testing a single strand of hair from the wig to see if it burns or melts. For shaping the wig, Channy recommended hairspray or styling glue. While I don’t remember the exact product, one of her slides included a picture of the brand göt2b, and I would guess that the product was either their Freeze Blasting Spray or Spiking Glue. Since wigs aren’t your real hair, you can also just use straight-up glue. As for changing the color of a wig, Channy emphasized using synthetic dye instead of hair dye and recommended Rit DyeMore.

Part 2: Contacts

1. Do I need contacts?

It’s been over five years since I last wore contacts, but now that I’m returning to the con scene I got an updated contact prescription from my eye doctor and am excited to start trying colored contacts for the first time. However, just as Channy said wigs are not necessary for cosplay, Kay said that contacts are also entirely optional. First of all, if you’re just using them for a photoshoot and not wearing them in public, your photographer can easily edit your eye color in the final pictures (although this is more difficult for characters with intricate designs on their eyes, such as Power from Chainsaw Man—whom I am actually planning to cosplay soon—or Ai Hoshino from Oshi no Ko). Furthermore, if a character’s eye color isn’t a majorly important part of their design, you may not even need to change your eye color at all. The panelists all agreed that it’s better to wear your regular glasses and just take them off for pictures than to walk around a convention unable to see anything. Kay also made it very clear that contacts are intended for medicinal purposes, not cosmetic, which makes them the most dangerous thing you can do for cosplay. If you apply them incorrectly, buy a bad product, or use them after their expiration date, you can permanently damage your eyes and even go blind. That is a very big risk to take just for a hobby. Nevertheless, if you’re careful and use them properly, contacts can be a very cool addition to your costume.

2. What kind of contacts should I use?

Since contacts are a medicinal product, you should talk to your eye doctor before investing in them. If you have an astigmatism, you may need special weighted contacts. If the colored contacts you want don’t come in your prescription, Kay recommended buying non-prescription contacts and wearing your normal prescription glasses over them so that you can alter your eye color but still be able to see while walking around the con. They also emphasized that if you want to use specialty contacts, such as contacts that change the color of your sclera, you should definitely try regular contacts first. If you find that you’re not comfortable wearing contacts that only change your eye color, there’s no way you’ll be able to handle contacts that also affect your vision. If you’re going to wear contacts that alter your vision (such as all-white contacts), make sure you bring a handler or a friend to help you navigate the con and avoid bumping into things.

3. Where can I buy contacts?

Kay recommended Moco Queen for their fast shipping and low prices, Pinky Paradise for their huge Black Friday sales, and Uniqso for their selection of both contacts and wigs. They also recommended Lens Village (now called CosVillage), Geo Medical, and ColorVue for their daily-use colored contacts. Other websites that they had listed on their presentation slide but did not have any specific comments about were I Fairy and Honey Color. Their list also included the brands Vassen (which you can buy through both Pinky Paradise and Honey Color) and Dolly Eye (which you can buy through Uniqso). Mint chimed in to suggest buying multiple pairs of contacts at once to save money on shipping costs if you already know which characters you’ll be cosplaying throughout the year. 

Part 3: Makeup

1. What brand of makeup should I use?

Mint emphasized that price doesn’t necessarily dictate quality: just because a makeup brand is more expensive doesn’t mean it’s the best option. They recommended the following brands that you can buy fairly inexpensively at drug stores: e.l.f., Maybelline, NYX, wet n wild, Revlon, L’Oréal, Snazaroo, and Morphe. If you’re willing and able to spend a little more money, they also recommended these pricier brands: Too Faced, Urban Decay, KVD, Anastasia Beverley Hills, MAC, Clinique, and Sephora. They also included Benefit on this list but mentioned that they are known to test on animals, which many people prefer to avoid. Mint made it very clear that there’s no point in overspending if you don’t have to, and suggested checking product reviews to determine if it’s worth buying.

2. What should I look out for when buying makeup?

According to Mint, you should avoid using used thrifted makeup, especially eye makeup, as this can be unsanitary. They also said to avoid fragranced makeup (I mean, what’s even the point of making your eyelids smell like fruit?). Crushed beetles are used to make purple and red pigments, so vegan cosplayers should be mindful of this when buying makeup with these colors. It’s important to note that some vegan brand eyeshadow palettes are technically “not eye safe,” but this doesn’t mean it’s dangerous to put it near your eyes; these palettes just use pressed pigments that “leave some color behind” and will stain your eyelids. But this means that the color will last longer, so some people might actually prefer this option! Lastly, keep in mind that makeup DOES expire, so always check your makeup for an expiration date (6m on makeup means it’s good for 6 months).

3. How do I know what would look best on me?

Foundation is the hardest kind of makeup to find because you need to figure out the right tone. Unfortunately Mint didn’t offer any tips on exactly how to do this, but they did suggest experimenting with travel size or “try me” products—and this tip applies to more than just foundation. When an audience member asked how to determine your skin type (oily, combo, dry, or sensitive), one of the panelists said that if you go to a Sephora store the employees there can help you. Once you’ve identified your skin shade and type, you can find makeup tutorials from people with the same skin tone and texture as you. Mint also advised to always test a makeup look ahead of time, not just to see how it looks but also to find out how long it takes to do, so you know how much time you need to get ready before a con.

4. Can I use Photoshop instead of makeup?

Just as Photoshop can be an easy substitute for contacts, you can also use this technology instead of coverup. You can use Photoshop to remove blemishes such as acne and eyebags. Of course, though, this only applies to pictures, so you would have to use makeup to hide these things in person or in videos. In addition, Mint said not to rely on Photoshop for changing skin color; if you’re cosplaying as a character who is an inhuman color such as blue or green, your best bet is to commit to body paint unless fully confident in your own or your photographer’s ability to edit it. 

5. How do I take care of my skin?

According to Mint, “Makeup starts with good skin care.” They provided the following list of skin care products:

-Cleanser/face wash. They advised against using a scrubbing cleanser because scrubbing beads have microplastics that can cause micro scratches that bacteria can get into. Mint personally uses a charcoal cleanser.
-Toner, which seals in any moisture before applying serum.
-Serum. I confess I still don’t really know what this is or what it does.
-Eye cream.
-Facial moisturizer.
-Lip scrubs to get rid of dead skin on your lips (yuck!). They tend to be made of sugar, but coffee scrubs also exist.
-Lip balms to rehydrate your lips. I asked if chapstick and lip balm are the same thing, and they said yes they are. They also added that lip gloss hydrates your lips more than lipstick does, but it is still a makeup product rather than skin care.
-Makeup remover, specifically makeup-removing balms. You should never go to sleep with makeup still on!

While all of this may seem overwhelming, don’t worry: all of it is optional! If you only have the time, energy, and/or resources to wash your face with soap and water, that’s still much better than nothing. In fact, over-exfoliating actually leads to more acne because it takes all the oils away and they replenish more quickly to compensate.

6. Can makeup palettes be sanitized?

Mint confessed that they have been using the same makeup palette for about 10 years, but told us to “Do as I say, not as I do” and throw out makeup that has passed its expiration date. Still, there is a way to sanitize your makeup palettes. You can wipe down the outer area of the palette using an alcohol wipe, then spray the makeup itself with alcohol and let it dry. Do NOT use Lysol or similar disinfectants, though: it must be a sanitizing product that is safe on the skin. Mint also said to replace your makeup brushes but didn’t indicate how often this should be done.

Closing thoughts

Overall, this panel was extremely informative and a very validating experience. I have always felt insecure about not being a “real” cosplayer since I buy all of my costumes and accessories online, so hearing these panelists say that it’s fine to buy a wig off of Amazon (or even forgo a wig entirely), and that there’s nothing wrong with wearing your prescription glasses even when cosplaying a character that doesn’t wear glasses was super reassuring. I feel so much more prepared to put together my next cosplay!

About Gabby Bibus

Gabby has been obsessed with anime since she was just 9 years old, and is proud to say she has watched over 200 different series. But that’s not even her biggest claim to fame: she also lives on a farm with over 80 goats! Although anime and animals are her two favorite things in the world, she also loves music, books, and movies. Her day job is a middle school ESL teacher, and she is also a staff member at the New Jersey Renaissance Faire.

View all posts by Gabby Bibus

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.