Ghost Makeup Tips and Tutorials
Between urban legends and Hollywood, ghosts have become an extremely important part of popular culture. Human nature seems to be drawn to the idea of interacting with departed loved ones.
That of course keeps ghost costumes near the top of the list of ideas for dressing up for Halloween parties. It's popular among kids who can simply cut holes in sheets to drape over themselves, so they can run around on Halloween collecting candy—appearing to float at times, as they glide from door to door. However, it is also popular among adults, who often opt for more "realistic" costumes involving face painting or makeup.
The ghost is a very versatile costume. Although some ghosts, like those made of sheets, seem fun and harmless, others are portrayed as unable to rest. These unfriendly ghosts partake in haunting activities to communicate or exact revenge. Whatever the reason, ghosts are unpredictable, and you never know what the outcome will be when the living encounter the departed, which adds some interesting possibilities to the costume.
Who Wants to Be a Ghost?
In my unofficial research among adults, a far larger percentage of women would like to dress as ghosts, complete with face makeup, than men. Perhaps this is due to cultural norms surrounding makeup—men generally have far less experience, and struggle even figuring out how to use the stuff, while for the ladies, it's just a matter of creating a different look.
Whatever the case, in this article, we will see a very cool example of a male ghost, but the majority of the examples will be women (of course, the same techniques can be used across genders).
Now, most ghosts share predictable looks. The two most easily identifiable features of a ghost are:
- Pale skin
- Dark circles around the eyes
Ghosts are almost always on edge, so they don't get a lot of sleep. That results in nearly all of them having dark circles around their eyes from walking around all night—we all know the living who participate in similar behavior have the same problems ;-).
So when thinking of ghost makeup, you will need to have a white base and dark circles around your eyes, no matter how you customize the rest of your design.
You can use various colors for the dark circles, such as:
- Black and gray
- Multiple shades of gray
- Navy blue and gray
- Shades of brown or purple
How to Apply the Makeup
You will need:
- White cream foundation (or base) makeup
- White face powder
- Dark eyeshadow
- Stippling brush
- Blending brush
- Suggested: white eyeliner, dark lipstick, and other eyeshadows and brushes for bruised/veined effects
Basic instructions (we will go over how to get creative with this look further down):
- Use the stippling brush to apply the white cream foundation makeup. If you are unfamiliar with how to use a stippling brush (it requires more of a dabbing motion than a painting one), watch the "Undead Ghost Makeup" video in the tutorial section.
- Use the blending brush and dark eyeshadow to create rings around the eyes.
- Optional: Paint veins around the eyes and temples and line your inner lower eyelid with white eyeliner.
- Use the blending brush and dark eyeshadow to create contours on your cheeks and the sides of your nose.
- Apply the white cream foundation makeup to your entire face, neck, and any bare skin. If you are worried about getting makeup on your clothing, the look can work without it, but it needs to at least gradually fade from the neck down—a sharp contrast between white skin and natural skin color can leave you looking a little unconvincing and odd. However, children tend to get away with only face makeup.
- Don't want to wear too much makeup? Most ghosts are traditionally shown wearing high-necked clothing—find a similar outfit and eliminate the need to paint those parts of your skin.
- Take advantage of the dark eyeshadow on your eyes and cheeks. It can create a sense of anger or foreboding, and draws attention to the face, making it less likely that people will notice your natural skin color showing elsewhere. Notice the male ghost, where dark makeup is used to great effect to make the cheeks look sunken.
- To whiten your hands, brush them with chalk dust. It works well, though the look wears off with time.
Ghost Lip Makeup
Option 1: Dark Lips
Nearly everyone who creates their own ghost makeup uses a dark lip color. I think dark lips are an excellent choice when dressing as something no longer living, because they give the sense of being cold. Almost any dark shade will do, with dark blue, burgundy, and black being among the best choices.
Option 2: White Lips
Having said that, I have also included an interesting contrast to the usual practice. One woman ghost below is a professional model who had her lips painted the same white as her face.
Option 3: Cracked Lips
Another thing some people choose to do is crack their lips to add to the impression that they are no longer living. Some only need to leave their lips alone for the day to generate the cracked, chapped look. If you are blessed with healthy lips, dab them with a thick concealer, which will dry and crack. You can cover the concealer with a matte lipstick.
Version With a Red Tear
It's especially important to add a little differentiating touch to your makeup because the ghost costume has become somewhat ubiquitous. You want to be sue to stand out from any other ghosts that may be attending the festivities.
You can take away some tricks for how to do so from the picture above, with the much larger-than-normal dark circles around the eyes, red teardrop, and (assuming she didn't wear a wig) purple hair.
All of these cool touches guarantee she won't be competing with anyone else with this look.
Ghost Actress Makeup
In this photo, we see the makeup of a stage actress preparing to play the role of the ghost.
Notice again the unique touches that make her makeup completely different from the first ghost image. Again, we have the dark circles around the eyes, but what sets it apart are the unique designs around the cheeks, eyebrows, and lips.
Another great takeaway is the way she is applying the base to her arms and hands. She has already applied it to her neck, to give you an idea of how the finished makeup will look.
Little Girl Ghosts
This young girl has been made to look like one of the departed. Her expression complements her makeup and really adds to the overall look.
At first glance, you may be thrown off by the blotchy look. However, I believe it was done on purpose, as evidenced by the similarly scattered makeup applied to her hair. To me, the patchiness of the makeup gives her appearance an even more convincing ghostly air, although I'm not exactly sure why—it just speaks to me that way.
The dark lipstick, red stream of blood coming down her forehead, and red spots around her mouth seem to imply she may have entered the afterlife only recently.
Very Pale Version
This is of course the professionally-made ghost, but I wanted to include it to show how a deeply pale base can look awesome when accompanied by dark eyes. The eyes are spotlighted by their contrast against the white makeup and terrific platinum wig.
The model also shows what it looks like to have white lips that blend in with the skin, an unusual decision compared to the many dark lips we have seen.
Darker Makeup and Chains
Many times ghosts are portrayed as dead people haunting the corridors, chained and unable to escape until some type of event sets them free. So chains can understandably be a great accessory for a ghost.
What is particularly noticeable about this ghost is that the face has darker coverage. It looks more shadowy than the others we have seen so far. The way the cheek bones are highlighted adds an ominous look to the specter, suggesting he's in no mood to fool around. He is enjoying his job of haunting someone.
Sometimes it's helpful to watch someone else put it all on. Here are videos for two very different types of ghosts—one reminiscent of the black-and-white silent films of the roaring twenties and another drawing from spookier, more "realistic" contemporary ghost depictions.
1920s Ghost Makeup
After looking at these makeup photos and tutorials, you can see why the idea of being a ghost for Halloween is so compelling.
The basic white foundation with dark eyes is easy to execute, but as you have seen, there are a variety of ways to make your version unique and memorable—which is what makes it so fun!