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How to Do Skeleton Makeup

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A simple post-modern skull effect done with white face powder, black eyeshadow and black eyeliner pencil (for the mouth)

A simple post-modern skull effect done with white face powder, black eyeshadow and black eyeliner pencil (for the mouth)

Be a Living Skull for Halloween

Skeleton makeup can easily go from humorous to totally terrifying. Doing a skull effect can be super easy or you can take it as far as your makeup skills and budget will let you go. Most often, you see skeleton makeup as part of Halloween or Day of the Dead celebrations, but if you and your friends are amateur horror filmmakers, you might find you need a living skeleton from time to time. And if you are into cosplay, then the need for skull makeup might be as soon as the next convention you attend.

Doing your own skeleton makeup can take as little as five or ten minutes, or it can take a few hours, depending on how much effort you're willing to put into it. At the most basic, having black and white cream or liquid makeup is most often the easiest way to create skull makeup effects. You'll want a few sponges or small brushes to make covering the skin surface go more smoothly, although with some practice, using the fingers can work well too. And it never hurts to have a washcloth and towel on hand that are okay to get sort of messed up. (Hello, thrift store!)

Types of Skeleton Faces

Partial Skull: Are you just partially undead? Or recently dead? You might want to do a creepy effect where you only paint one half of your face like a skull, leaving the other half normal. According to Hollywood makeup artist Dick Smith, the most effective makeup is done on the right side of the face.

Bald Head, Normal Hair, Wig, or Hat: To top off your skeleton face, what do you want to do? If you are really going for a serious skull look, you'll want to learn how to apply and wear a "Bald Cap" which will let you make your entire head look like a skull. Other options include wearing a hood or hat to cover your hair and head. You might prefer to wear a wig, or you can just leave your own hair as is.

Teeth: One of the big things that makes a skeleton look the way it does is that the teeth are exposed. You can choose to paint your lips and cheeks so that they look like teeth or craft an appliance out of wax that glues on over your skin and gives the appearance of exposed teeth and bones.

Anatomical Skull or Sugar Skull: If you are doing makeup for Dia de Los Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead, you might want to paint yourself like an anatomically-correct skull, or you might want to be a bit more colorful and paint yourself to look like the fancy sugar skulls that are created for that holiday.

Painting Your Face to Look Like a Skeleton

You can do a skeleton face with just black and white makeup if that's all you have, but if you can also get grey (or mix it), yellow or red, you can do some fancier effects. If you are using grease paint, you'll need powder to set it. Covering larger areas is easier with sponges than your fingers and makes for a smoother finish.

First of all, cover your entire face in white. If your ears are going to show, you have a decision to make. They can be painted all white too, so that they blend in with the rest of your skin (even though skulls don't have ears). Stop at your jawline.

Eyes: You'll want to fill in black all around your eyes, using your cheekbones and eyebrow ridges as guides, covering what is known as the "orbital socket." Essentially, this is the entire area that would be open if you had no eyeballs.

Nose: Skulls don't have noses since they are cartilage and rot away after you're dead. Black out the end of your nose.

Teeth: There are a LOT of variations for how detailed you can do the teeth on a skull. At the really simple end, just simple vertical black lines works. Or you can draw the outline of individual teeth, fill them in and shade around them. Remember, the part we see on living people is just the little end that sticks out of the gums. Teeth on skeleton faces need to be much longer, going from where your lips meet in a line, up to almost the nose and way down onto the chin.

© 2009 Raye

Comments and Contributions

Raye (author) from Seattle, WA on June 23, 2014:

You could do that makeup on yourself in a half hour, even if it was the first time you ever tried.

george romero on June 23, 2014:

that first image..? that's the final product you are looking to teach me to achieve by reading this article?

looks too difficult! you must be a pro!

Raye (author) from Seattle, WA on November 01, 2012:

Thanks! I should have some new pics to add after I go to a Dia de Los Muertos event tomorrow night.

@hubpages on October 31, 2012:


2 words

aw - some

starrkissed from Arizona on March 16, 2009:

cool :D

e_cigarette on March 15, 2009:

I love the Geoffrey Holder as Baron Samedi from LIVE AND LET DIE. That style definitely has the whole voodoo black magic vibe going on.