Everything You Wanted To Know (And Some You Didn't) About Mortuary Makeup

Have you ever been to a funeral and thought the person actually looked better in the casket than they did in real life? That's all thanks to the skill of the mortician who prepped the deceased person's body at the mortuary right up to the final touch of makeup. Although in some cases special makeup artists are on hand to prepare the dead, more often than not the person who does the makeup is also the embalmer. The embalmer not only chemically prepares a person's body for a funeral but typically finishes with a cosmetic makeover that creates a warm, peaceful, and nearly lifelike appearance.

Doing mortuary makeup can be a thankless job. After all, a mortuary makeup artist's client is, well, dead - and it's no easy feat to make a dead body look alive. There are all kinds of characteristics in a bloodless body that make it more challenging to beautify than a living, breathing human. But by all accounts, many embalmers love what they do: the work combines science with art and for some, that's the perfect balance.

Applying makeup to dead people is pretty much nothing like applying makeup on yourself and these creepy mortician beauty secrets prove it. Read on to discover everything you never wanted to know about makeup for the dead. 

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  • First Comes Embalming, Then Comes Makeup

    Since bodies start decomposing immediately after death, un-embalmed tissue is often too soft to make up properly. Embalmer Jamie Reed AKA the "Embalming Queen" says embalming a body makes the skin firmer which provides an easier surface for applying cosmetics. Besides providing a better physical foundation for makeup application, embalming also adds some color back into the deceased's face – a big help for mortuary makeup artists (or embalmers) struggling to find the perfect shade of foundation to cover that waxy sheen. 

     
  • They Replace Blood With Embalming Fluids

    Embalmer Jamie Reed says the goal of embalming is essentially to replace a person's blood with embalming fluid, which firms up the skin and smooths it out. This is preparation for makeup, which ends up being the final touch of preparing a deceased person for a funeral. 

    Licensed embalmer Daniella Marcantoni describes the different fluids used in the embalming process to better prepare the skin for that touch of makeup. These steps come before makeup, but are an important part of the process. 

    "Or you want what we call a 'hot fluid,' which was a really strong fluid to dehydrate somebody who was really edematous. And then you get people who are really dehydrated. There's all these different types of fluids you can use to kind of correct these issues."

    One Reddit user named formalina does makeup at a funeral home and elaborates: "Dehydration presents as dark, tough, 'mummified' in appearance. Completely undesirable!" 

  • Embalmers Are Trained In Embalming, Not Necessarily Cosmetics

    Embalmers Are Trained In Embalming, Not Necessarily Cosmetics
    Photo: Bousure / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Daniella Marcantoni says that, at least in California, makeup application is not a mandatory part of embalming school. "I don't remember them teaching us makeup in school. I think maybe there might have been an optional workshop or something," she says. "Where I did my apprenticeship, I did everything, which was nice because it allowed me to have a very full-circle experience."

    And to be fair, embalming a body with chemicals for preservation is quite a different set of skills than applying makeup onto the surface of skin. But typically makeup is the final touch required of embalmers, so most have to figure it out on their own. But it's important: anyone who's seen an overdone corpse at a funeral knows that can be grim. Makeup is definitely a skill that requires training and practice. 

    However, larger mortuaries today often have separate staff members for embalming and makeup application. Remember Neon Demon? The makeup artist in that movie was certainly no embalmer, yet there she was painting faces in the morgue. 

  • Embalmers Have Their Own Special Cosmetics For The Deceased, Including A Product To Give Them A 'Lifelike Glow'

    Embalmers Have Their Own Special Cosmetics For The Deceased, Including A Product To Give Them A 'Lifelike Glow'
    Photo: YouTube

    It's known as "orange juice" in the biz. Daniella Marcantoni describes it as "a tinted liquid, and it has a little bit of a moisturizing property in it." The product is Glow Tint, and it's meant to make dead skin look...well, less dead. Embalmers have a plethora of makeup options to use when making up the dead; there's even a product to help counteract jaundice for bodies affected by liver disease.

     
  • Embalmers Can't Make 'Improvements' To The Corpse, Even If The Family Requests It

    Embalmers Can't Make 'Improvements' To The Corpse, Even If The Family Requests It
    Photo: da mad pixelist / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    Sometimes morticians get requests to "fix grandma's teeth," but unfortunately, they can't do anything to the body that could be considered mutilation, like removing teeth or skin tags. They aren't even supposed to cut the deceased's hair unless there are explicit written instructions! Pacemakers are the only thing that morticians are allowed to remove from the body - everything else is considered "irreversible" and not allowed. On knowing which formulas to use on which bodies, embalmer Jamie Beck says, "You're basically cooking up a recipe based upon whatever you know about that person."

  • Airbrushing Works Best

    Airbrushing Works Best
    Photo: YouTube

    Foundation has a tendency to look cake-y and fake on embalmed skin, which is hard and dehydrated. Some embalmers like the effect that Beautyblenders have on embalmed skin, but most find airbrushing to be the most effective, natural way to apply foundation. Why? According to Jamie Beck,

    "I have used regular cosmetics for embalmed bodies, but the skin is so firm, there’s no way to work in your foundation. Using an airbrush gets you streak-free, nice coverage."