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Serious Skulls & Smiling Skeletons

Updated on October 25, 2013

do-it-yourself skeleton makeup effects

Doing your own skeleton or skull makeup is something that can take just a few minutes or it can be an elaborate painting process that takes lots of practice runs and a goodly amount of time to execute. The choice is entirely up to you. For costuming, this is a very flexible option which can be equally paired up with regular black clothing straight from your closet (again taking just minutes) or it might be accompanied by traditional, festive folkwear as you might want if you are celebrating Dia de Los Muertos.

These effects are suitable for all ages, all skeleton-oriented occasions, is something that can be washed off with soap and water and can even work for people with more sensitive skin.

Classic Skeleton Makeup - black and white, not too many details

skeleton couple, photo by Relache
skeleton couple, photo by Relache

Here's a great example of how to do some very classic and very easy skeleton makeup effects. This was a couple I met at a Dia de Los Muertos celebration, but their makeup would work just fine for Halloween, or any occasion where someone needed to create a basic skull look.

The foundation is pure white, solid across the entire face and neck. (If your hair or hat doesn't cover your ears, it's actually a good idea to do those too.) Then it's just solid black eye sockets (follow your own bone structure to guide the shape and size), nose hollows and very simple "stitch" mouth designs. You can do cheekbone accents/hollows or not as you prefer.

Skull Makeup Kits - all-in-one with instructions

If you need an all-in-one makeup option for a once-off costume event, it's probably best to buy a kit. This is going to give you all you need for just one person complete with instructions. If you are looking for makeup for more than one person, or more than one event, then scroll further down this lens and take a look at the individual recommended products.

minimalist skull, photo by Relache
minimalist skull, photo by Relache

Sensitive Skin Skeleton Suggestions

tips and tricks for gentle makeup

Even people with sensitive skin can do skull makeup! First of all, take into consideration how sensitive your skin is and what you know you can wear on it.

I like to skip any creams and oil-based products when doing makeup on people with sensitive skin. In fact, I also tend to skip a lot of water-based products too, preferring to work as much as possible with very lightweight, unfixed powders. (meaning you will be able to sweat these off if worn for a longer time) These makeup effects are not as durable as what you get with heavier products, but I have a few friends with sensitive skin who can't hardly stand the feeling of makeup and I've found this works really well for them.

In place of foundation or white base dust the skin with a very light layer of pure white face powder. For people who have extreme sensitivities, you might even skip this step, and just let their bare skin be the lightest part of the makeup look.

To add black shadowing and accents, use a hypoallergenic black eyeshadow and pencil. Design the makeup to be as minimalist as you need to suggest the look and leave off any extras. You might even consider doing medium-intensity shadow effects and not color the hollows to be pure, solid black so that there is less makeup on the skin.

skull candles, photo by Relache
skull candles, photo by Relache

Anatomical or Festive - what type of skeleton are you?

When I do skull makeup, I prefer to do

See results

Solid Black Shadows

Anywhere you add black to skull makeup, you are indicating that there is neither flesh nor bone. Don't forget to shade out the tip of your nose, as there is no cartilage on a bare skull.

stila Smudge Pot, Black, 1 Count
stila Smudge Pot, Black, 1 Count

If you want to make sure your eye sockets, rotted nose and skull hollows are super solid black, this eyeshadow will take care of it. You can use an eyeshadow applicator to put this on, or a clean fingertip. Be careful of not getting excess powder onto your white foundation as that can cause unwanted shading or shadows.


Fancy Skeleton Makeup - the festive skulls of Dia de Los Muertos

dia de los muertos couple, photo by Relache
dia de los muertos couple, photo by Relache

For the Chicano holiday of Dia de Los Muertos, the Western "scary" skeleton gets to take on a celebratory and festive look, what is called a "calavera.". Fancy designs, lots of flowers and a good dose of color adorns the ordinarily black-and-white skulls. Colored eyeshadows and pencils, and glitter effects are a great way to take the simple skeleton look and morph it into a festive skull with just a few additions.

Eye sockets, noses and lip shapes are more stylized and less anatomical. Simple colored dots added around other makeup add zing. Adjusting the lines around the mouth from straight to slightly-upcurving turns a serious skull into a smiling skeleton instantly.

skull makeup, photo by Relache
skull makeup, photo by Relache

Making Skeleton Teeth Effects

from simple to complicated

The most complicated part of any skull makeup is decided on what to do for the teeth. After all, on a bare skull, you can see the entire jaw and tooth structure exposed. Many people prefer to do a simple "slashed" tooth effect where you put a series of vertical lines, symbolizing the spaces between the teeth and leaving out any further definition.

However if you want to do something fancier, it's just a matter of practice and makeup choices. Complex teeth are best done by either drawing the outlines with black eyeliner and then going back and filling in with a bit more white foundation or you can paint the outlines using liquid eyeliner or black liquid foundation. Spacing and shading is what takes practice so that the teeth wind up looking like teeth and not just some sort of checkboard wrapping around the lower half of your face. For practice, just do one side of your face first, then see how that works and then do the second half, trying something different if you think it needs improvement. It usually doesn't take more than one or two practice sessions to come up with an effect that pleases you.

Be a Glittering Calavera - add some sparkle and color

11 Colors Neon Glitter Cream Pallette For Eye Face Lip Makeup Color # 4
11 Colors Neon Glitter Cream Pallette For Eye Face Lip Makeup Color # 4

If you are doing your skull makeup for Dia de Los Muertos, having a selection of glitter to add decorations and accents to the basic skeleton face is a great way to capture the ethnic art style. Simple dots, little flowers and tiny vines can be easily daubed onto the white foundation.


Makeup questions are welcome as are your best tips and tricks.

Got a Bone to Pick? - comments and contributions

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    • schwarz profile imageAUTHOR

      Rae Schwarz 

      6 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @MelissaRodgz: Melissa, you can do the makeup I'm wearing in the first picture in this lens in less than a half hour, even as a beginner.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      You have a fun 'Serious Skulls & Smiling Skeletons' lens, very nice! I like the do-it-yourself skeleton makeup effects. Hope your Halloween was a good one.

    • MelissaRodgz profile image


      6 years ago

      Love the makeup. That is super scary and looks like it would be very difficult.

    • schwarz profile imageAUTHOR

      Rae Schwarz 

      6 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @sweetstickyrainbo: Thanks!

    • sweetstickyrainbo profile image


      6 years ago

      nice makeup

    • ShineRita profile image


      6 years ago

      Wow this is fantastic.excellent ideas.

    • schwarz profile imageAUTHOR

      Rae Schwarz 

      6 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @ikepius: I studied costume and makeup in college. I am my own makeup artist!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I am sure you had a very good make up artist by your side. Those pictures look hideous! But that's what Halloween is all about, ne?

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      excellent ideas.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great ideas for skeleton makeup as not all skeleton Halloween costumes come with masks or make up kits.

    • jlshernandez profile image


      6 years ago

      Skeleton makeup for the couple sure looks spooky. Well done.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Awesome faces! Thanks so much for sharing - blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • DJ-TBone profile image


      6 years ago

      excellent lens, if i ever need a skeleton face I now have a bookmark for that!

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 

      6 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Some really great ideas showcasing how to get a great skeleton effect.

    • schwarz profile imageAUTHOR

      Rae Schwarz 

      6 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @HealthfulMD: There's a neighborhood center down the street from me and for the last few years I've painted my face for their Day of the Dead celebration and attended. Lots of people go but don't dress up in any way, but that part makes it a lot more fun for me.

    • HealthfulMD profile image

      Kirsti A. Dyer 

      6 years ago from Northern California

      Adding to my Costumes for Day of the Dead lens. Great make up tips.


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