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How to Do Sugar Skull Makeup (Day of the Dead)

Mary Smith
By Mary Smith. Updated: January 20, 2017
How to Do Sugar Skull Makeup (Day of the Dead)

Day of the Dead is a Mexican tradition incorporating ghostly visages and startling skull designs which many find spooky and frightful. However, the day is actually a celebration of lost ancestors and was originally enacted to help the dead have a more peaceful journey into the afterlife. Perhaps because of this, many of the sugar skull (known as calavera in Mexico) designs are actually quite beautiful and visually stunning. They can incorporate lots of color, have creepy decals (like spiders and bats) or take on the more simple black and white skeleton design we might think of as being traditional.

Whether you want to be menacing or striking, read the OneHowTo method for How to Do Sugar Skull Makeup (Day of the Dead) and celebrate Halloween, a fancy dress party with friends or just practice for your own amusement.

You may also be interested in: How to do a Natural Makeup Look Easily

Steps to follow:


Although there are many different designs you can make, there are some key elements which you'll need to incorporate. The first one is that while the foundation of the face is light, the eye sockets need to be dark to give the skull effect.

To do this you will need either a white foundation or face-paint. With a thick kabuki brush, apply the white color to the whole face, except for the eyes. Depending on what you will wear, you can continue the white base onto your neck and ears. If you use the cream (which we recommend), then you will need to apply translucent powder afterwards to make sure that it stays. Brush it on all over the face, but leave the eye sockets mainly blank.


With a fine flat eye-shadow brush to draw an outline around the eye socket. This can either be just a guideline or, if you prefer, you can make it thicker to provide an outline for the eye socket. This is good if you want a lighter color for the eye socket as an outline will help it pop compared to the foundation.

How to Do Sugar Skull Makeup (Day of the Dead) - Step 2

Fill in the eye socket with whatever color you like, but it must be darker than the white foundation. If you are doing this for Halloween and want to be spooky, use darker colors and maybe even add some red blood shades. If you want to be a little more glamorous, we recommend using some metallic blues or pinks which you can blend in with a darker color. This will make your eyes shimmer rather than pierce.

We will return to the eyes in just a minute.


Once you have the base and the eyes done, the next step is the lips. This is best drawn with just a simple black color. Elongate the sides of the mouth with a thin line to make a big skull grin, then just do little vertical slashes to make the "teeth". Use a fine brush for this. You can add some red to the rest of the lips to make them pop.

How to Do Sugar Skull Makeup (Day of the Dead) - Step 4

As it is a skull effect we are after, we need those cheeks to have a sunken look. To do this add a blusher which will curve down under the natural cheekbones to give then a hollowness. Again, if you want creepy go for darker tones, if you want something brighter add a similar shade to the color you have made your eyes.

A real thick black shade will give you the scariest appearance, like the picture at the top of this page.


To finish the standard sugar skull look, we just need to do the nose. Skulls don't have noses, so you will need to fill in the tip with a dark color (the same color as the eye sockets) so that it gives the impression it is flat. Do this by making a narrow patch on the tip of the nose rather than making it the full width. This will help give the impression that there is nothing there. You can make it bigger if you wish, but try not to make the design too 'busy'.

If you have done all these steps with just a white foundation and black makeup, you will end up with an effect like the ones below which is a great scary looking skull design. You can still add your own flourishes to make it your own.

How to Do Sugar Skull Makeup (Day of the Dead) - Step 6

To make it more elaborate we need to draw "petals" around the eyes. This is common to traditional calaveras and will make all the difference. You could use a completely different color like the one in the picture below and brighten up a previously scary image. With a fine brush, make little arches over the outline of the eye and color them in with either the same or different color.

We can replace the petal design by using colored craft crystals (little gems with sticky backs to them) instead. This gives a great vibrant look, but is more captivating than arresting.

How to Do Sugar Skull Makeup (Day of the Dead) - Step 7

You will want to finish it off by adding some designs, again with a fine brush. Many traditional looks use a spider's web. Start by sketching on the outline lightly and then go over it again with a thicker line of color when you are happy with the design. Bats and crosses also create a nice eerie effect.


Putting on some swirls and dabbled lines can also make it look authentic, but you could even draw moustaches or thicker brows to give a more devilish appearance.

How to Do Sugar Skull Makeup (Day of the Dead) - Step 9

And there you have it, a great basics tutorial which you can add to with shading and color to create your own Día de Meurtos sugar skull that suits you and your personality best. We do advise giving it a go at least once before you intend to show it off so that you can work out the kinks.

If you're looking for some more ideas for Halloween costumes, try this female vampire costume or this fantastic article on How to Make a Harley Quinn Costume for Halloween.

If you want to read similar articles to How to Do Sugar Skull Makeup (Day of the Dead), we recommend you visit our Beauty & Personal Care category.

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How to Do Sugar Skull Makeup (Day of the Dead)