What Does a Mortuary (Funeral) Makeup Artist Really Do?

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After we die, there are a lot of things that happen to our bodies if we choose to be buried. These things aren’t often talked about, but they’re a part of the typical process to prepare our bodies to be viewed by friends and family. 

If you’re having an open-casket funeral, for example, your funeral home will likely use the services of a mortuary makeup artist. Despite common misconceptions, a mortuary makeup artist—also known as a desairologist—doesn’t try to make the deceased look pretty or glamorous like one would when doing their makeup for a special day. Rather, this is about helping the body appear lifelike and natural. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

What exactly does a mortuary or funeral makeup artist really do? How does this fit into the overall embalming process, and how does one prepare themselves for this role? In this guide, we’ll share how you become a mortuary makeup artist and their unique duties in the funeral industry. 

What Are a Mortuary Makeup Artist’s Duties?

If you attend an open-casket funeral, you can see the deceased person in their casket usually from the waist up. They might not appear alive per se, but they typically appear to be sleeping or at rest in a natural way. 

Believe it or not, this isn’t how the body naturally looks after death. After death, the body undergoes a number of processes. Thanks to rigor mortis, the body is stiff and bloated. It can appear pale, and the eyes and mouth are also usually open in a way that doesn’t feel lifelike because—obviously—it isn’t. 

When someone passes, a mortuary makeup artist, also known as a mortuary cosmetologist, uses his or her skills to make the deceased individual appear to be lifelike. Their main role isn’t to glamorize the deceased like they’re going to a fancy party. It’s just to help them achieve a lifelike, natural look. 

In some cases, this is more of a challenge. For example, if the deceased underwent major trauma that might have left bruising, wounds, or deformities, there might need to be special makeup applied. 

What exactly do these makeup artists do?

  • Apply makeup to the skin, neck, chest, and sometimes other areas of the body
  • Use clay, plaster, or wax to reconstruct the face or body of the deceased
  • Style the hair of the deceased
  • Do a manicure
  • Assist the grieving family

The mortuary makeup artist’s roles will depend on the family’s specific requests. Some families might wish for very little makeup while others might want their loved ones to appear in a certain style. Most often the style is chosen to reflect how the individual was in his or her life. 

ยป MORE: Do you know someone who's experiencing a loss? This checklist is here to help.

 

How Do Funeral Makeup Artists Apply Makeup and Hairstyles?

As you might have guessed, working with the deceased is a lot more challenging than working with the living. Everything is a bit more difficult because the individual can’t lift his or her own body weight, and there are natural processes that affect the hair, skin, and coloring. 

Makeup doesn’t apply the same to the skin of a deceased person as it does to the living. If the person has been embalmed, their skin is very firm. It’s hard to blend the makeup into the skin like you would normally. 

Instead, most makeup is airbrushed on the face. This means the application is a lot more even and natural-looking. Unless the family requests otherwise, the goal is usually to make the individual appear as natural as possible. 

Makeup is also used to “reconstruct” certain features. Once someone dies, their lips usually appear smaller or even nonexistent since they’re dehydrated. A makeup artist can give the illusion of a fuller lip with the masterful application of lip liner, lipstick, and gloss. 

When it comes to styling hair, the mortuary makeup artists usually have to shampoo, condition, dry, and style the hair. The person will be lying down as well, making this even more challenging. They might need someone to assist them with this process. 

Last but not least, the nails are almost always painted a natural shade. After death, the nails can appear grey and cold, so this is typically done to both men and women. 

How Do Funeral Makeup Artists Choose Styles?

How exactly do these makeup artists determine what style is the best fit for the deceased? The answer is simpler than you might think: they ask the family. 

Since the open-casket viewing is typically within one to two weeks after the individual dies, the wound of this loss is still very fresh. Many families are still struggling with grief and pain, and handling these emotions with compassion is part of this job. 

The family has full control over how the person is represented during the makeup work, within reason. In many cases, the mortuary makeup artist requests what’s known as a “memory photo.” This is a photo that best represents how the person looked while alive. It’s also how the family wants to remember them.

In addition, the family can make their own requests. They might ask for a specific style depending on the wishes of the deceased. For example, if a woman loved to have her hair in a fancy updo, they might want this recreated for her viewing and burial. It’s important to honor and acknowledge the family’s wishes. 

Can Anyone Become a Mortuary Makeup Artist?

There are strict education requirements to become a mortuary makeup artist. While previously it was the mortician, undertaker, or funeral director who oversaw these duties, many are outsourcing to local cosmetologists. 

In order to be qualified to apply makeup to the deceased, you’ll need to have a high school diploma and a degree in cosmetology. Your degree needs to be from a state-approved program, and you’ll also need to pass the state licensing exam. 

While each state has different requirements, most require you to have:

  • 1000 to 1500 hours of training in makeup, hair, and nails
  • General courses towards your associate’s degree
  • Specific courses in applying makeup to the deceased, if available

Taking additional training or courses in the funeral industry, biology, and so on can also strengthen your application. Once you’re certified in your state, you can begin building your portfolio and working with funeral homes.

Another option if you are interested in this field is to become a mortician or funeral director. While this requires more education, it is a more lucrative field. To become a mortician, you’ll need to have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in mortuary science from an accredited program. You’ll also need to pass a state or national board exam and complete an internship. 

In training to become a mortician, you’ll learn how to prepare bodies for viewing. This includes learning how to apply makeup and more advanced skills than simply becoming a cosmetologist. 

How Do You Become a Mortuary Makeup Artist?

Anyone can become a mortuary or funeral makeup artist as long as they have the right education, qualifications, and experience. Once you’re certified in your state, it’s time to market yourself. There are a lot of job opportunities in major cities, and more funeral homes are looking to outsource these tasks to cosmetologists. 

You can find opportunities:

  • Online: Many funeral homes will list job openings online. These can be both full-time and part-time, and some hire these cosmetologists as contractors. 
  • Volunteer: Volunteering to do this for free a few times can help you build experience and your portfolio. 
  • Apprentice: If you’re serious about landing a job, becoming an apprentice under a mortuary makeup artist can help you learn more about the industry and how to become better at your craft. 
  • Word of mouth: Last but not least, like any job, sometimes it’s best to market yourself by word of mouth. Asking for recommendations, especially from funeral homes, is a great way to stand out. 

This is a growing job field. Since we have a growing aging population, the demand for mortuary makeup artists is expected to grow as well. The funeral industry is a rapidly expanding place. For those passionate about helping families after a loss, this can be a great career choice. 

Understanding The Role of a Mortuary Makeup Artist

When people think of a morgue, they don’t usually think about makeup artists. In reality, there are so many different parts of the funeral industry. Making the deceased look as natural and lifelike as possible can help the family find comfort after a loss. Though it might seem like a small part of the big process, funeral cosmetologists play an important role. 

Whether you’re looking to become a funeral makeup artist yourself or you just want to learn more about this growing industry, this guide shares everything you need to know. Makeup can truly be a force for good and comfort, even after death. 


Sources:

  1. “How to become a mortuary cosmetologist.” Cosmetology Practice Test Guru, 23 November 2019, cosmetologypracticetest.guru/blog/become-mortuary-cosmetologist-desairologist
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