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If you’ve seen The Haunting of the Hill House, you’d know that Shirley Crain Harris, the eldest daughter of the family, owns a mortuary. She does the embalming herself, and in her own words, fixing up the dead. That means putting on some makeup on their face to “make them look like the person they were.”

The primary goal here is to prepare the deceased for public viewing so any trace of illness or injury should be dealt with. Here’s how embalmers and/or mortuary makeup artists make the dead look a little less lifeless.

Clean base

Just like a normal, living person’s routine (with a few exceptions, of course), makeup for the dead starts with a clean base. By that, we mean the body is washed from head to toe, embalmed, washed again with hair shampooed and conditioned. Part of this process – depending on what needs to be addressed – is the reconstruction of parts that have decomposed way too quickly or was damaged due to any wound. This way, the mortician gets the perfect canvass to begin makeup application.

Less is more

You know those “no makeup” makeup look that’s been done on Youtube a million times? That’s the goal for the dead. Doing a smokey eye, a teal mascara, or a bold red lip is not going to work. It’s borderline inappropriate, too, especially if the family has specific requests for their deceased relative. Mortuary makeup artists ask for a picture from the family, too, so they know how the person looked like when they were alive. They’re also mindful of parting hair the wrong way, clean-shaving someone known for their facial hair, or even cutting someone’s nails. Here’s a fun fact, too: an embalmer can only add to and not subtract anything from the body, except for a little hair trim.

Color correction

Makeup for the dead is more than just your regular foundation and lipstick. Chemicals are also used to bring back some color to an otherwise ashy and pale skin. Morticians use use of a variety of dyes and fluids, either to liven up the body’s color or to moisturize the skin from the inside out. Skin discolorations are mostly because of blood, and when you’re dead and embalmed, all that is replaced with formaldehyde. That’s where tints like a rosy pink hue can be mixed, much like putting food coloring into water. Nails are painted, too, usually in the shade of mocha.

Image from Netflix


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