Introduction: Sugar Skull Makeup Tutorial

About: Professional MUA, educator, and Benefit Beauty Artist working in Sacramento & the Bay Area. I specialize in film, print, editorial, glamour, & special FX. FB: In…

Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout the world. Held on November 2nd, two days after All Hallow's Eve, families visit the graves of their loved ones and build altars heaped with ofrendas-- offerings to the dead, including marigolds, alcohol like mezcal or pulque, pan de muerto (bread of the dead) fruits and nuts, tissue paper decorations, and sugar skulls. There is often a procession through the town to the cemetery of townspeople, musicians, and performers dressed as skeletons or sugar skulls prepare to honor the dead. In today's tutorial, we'll learn how to apply a traditional sugar skull makeup.

Step 1: Apply Base

Apply a base of white cream color all over the face, leaving space around your eyes where you will be filling in with black. I'm using Kryolan Aquacolor, which I highly recommend as it doesn't dry out or crack like clown white or the cream makeup you buy at the Halloween superstore tends to do. It's also much easier on the skin. Using a wetted foundation brush, I applied several layers until it looked smooth and opaque, then set with a heavy dusting of Ben Nye Super White powder.

Step 2: Apply Black

Apply black paint in large circles around your eyes and in a sort of upside-down heart shape on your nose, mimicking the shape of the nasal aperture in your skull. I'm using my Wolfe Brothers FX palette, which is a really reasonably priced set of high-quality water-activated face paints. You can use Kryolan Aquacolors, any other face paints, or liquid/gel liner in a pinch, but I wouldn't recommend it. Set both with a matte black eyeshadow.

Step 3: Apply Color Around Eyes

Apply your chosen eyeshadow color around the ocular apertures. I'm using a bright pink from my Pigment Cosmetics Brights palette. I then added a deep fuchsia shade over the pink near where it meets the black to deepen it, then used a clean fluffy brush to blend it all together and out to give the color a diffused edge.

Step 4: Add Teeth

Using your face paints/liquid liner/gel liner, draw the outline of your teeth over your lips. I extended the teeth about an inch or so past the sides of my lips, and drew a thin black line bisecting the teeth to further hide the contours of my lips. I also painted thick black contours at each side to represent the open apertures between the teeth and the back of the jaw.

Step 5: Add Scalloped Edges

Add scalloped edges around your teeth, nasal aperture, and ocular cavities. I filled in the ones around the ocular cavities with black because later I will be gluing some gems there and didn't want to have any gaps in color, but I left the ones around my nose and teeth as outlines because I'll be filling them in with eyeshadow.

Step 6: Color in Scallops

Using eyeshadow on a small detail brush, color in your scalloped outlines. Something that is complimentary to the main colors that you have chosen for your makeup looks best-- try something directly across from your main color on the color wheel, or perhaps a triadic color scheme (three colors equidistant from each other on the color wheel).

Step 7: Add Small Detail

Using your liquid liner/gel liner/black face paint on a tiny brush, add small detail to the face. I outlined a flower on my chin and added scrolls to the contour areas of my face (cheekbones & jawline). Other traditional decorative items for the chin area are diamonds or spiderwebs. Get creative and do whatever works for your face shape and personal aesthetic!

Step 8: Contour

Instead of contouring our face with a cool brown color like normal, we're going to use bright, fun colors! Yay! Start with the darkest color at the bottom of the cheekbone (I'm using a dark violet), then blend a slightly lighter color just beneath it (fuchsia in my case), and the lightest at the bottom (pink). Try combos like blue to green to yellow or red to orange to yellow; whatever floats your boat.

Step 9: Decorate Forehead

We're going to use the same technique that we used for the bottom half of the face (outline, then shade & add color using eyeshadow) to draw a spiderweb (or diamond, or marigold, or whatever your little heart desires) on your forehead. I chose to extend the bottom of the web into a cross on my nose. I then used the same shading technique that I used to contour my face on the spiderweb, starting with the dark violet on the bottom and blending up to pink at the top. I also used black eyeshadow on a teeny tiny detail brush to shade under the lines of the spiderweb to add more depth.

Step 10: Add Gems

Using a pair of pointy tweezers, I gently dipped flat-backed gems that I bought at the craft store (check out bead stores or eBay for options too) in some dark-toned lash glue, waited until it got tacky (about 30 seconds), and applied to my face in the scalloping around my eyes. I alternated pink and purple because they're my faaaaaaaavorite (also I went a little nutty at the craft store and bought like 5 different colors of gems).

Step 11: Powder & Set

Once everything's dry, dust it all down with a translucent powder (RCMA No-Color Powder FTW) and spray it with a cinematic setting spray like Ben Nye's Final Seal. False lashes won't show up against the black-- unless you have sparkly or colorful lashes! OOOOH!

A crown of colorful marigolds is an excellent finishing touch!

Note about the skull I'm holding: this is a handmade candleholder meant to put on your altar on Dia de Los Muertos. I bought it from a local vendor in Sayulita, Mexico, and was overjoyed to get the chance to use him in my photoshoot.

Hope you enjoyed this Instructables! Subscribe for new tutorials every Wednesday and Friday (except for the week of 6/5, when Alex Your Face will be on vacation. Hollaaaaaa!!!), and follow me on Instagram (AlexYourFace), Twitter (@AlexCassieMUA), and Facebook (!

Hair & Makeup Contest

Participated in the
Hair & Makeup Contest