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How to...Understand and Use Theatrical Makeup and Hairgoods

on Tuesday, 06 July 2010. Posted in Show Resources

A Brief Primer From Tracy Theatre Originals, Covering:

  • About Makeup
  • Elements Of Makeup
  • Artistry
  • The Order Of Things
  • Hypoallergenicity
  • Facial Hair
  • Blood
  • Bruises
  • Gels
  • Collodion
  • Prosthetics
  • Liquid
  • Latex
  • Wigs
  • Clown Makeup


  • There are numerous reference books for the successful application of makeup - you can find our favorites in our list of favorite references on the resources page of our web site.
  • We also offer free, easy instruction sheets on separate makeup techniques, and the theatrical makeup workshop by Ann Carnaby - see our finishing touches retail catalogue or inquire for more details.
  • Makeup for the stage is highly pigmented, which means it contains a significantly higher concentration of pigment (the color) than street makeup. This means that you apply much less makeup to get the same color coverage, making it better for your skin and for your pocketbook.
  • All cream bases contain either wax or oil - if you are sensitive to either, i.e. Mineral oil or bee stings, read labels carefully.
  • A cream formula gives a slightly shiny (more lifelike) surface; cake gives a more matte finish, although it may take a trained eye to tell the difference - both are equally high in quality - both apply easily to the face - cake is the form of choice for covering large body surfaces.
  • Removing makeup after each performance and thorough skin cleansing will do more for preventing skin problems than anything else.

    • Do all eating and drinking before you begin to put on makeup
    • Apply all facial hair & prosthetics to a bare, clean face
    • Apply makeup after prosthetics & facial hair are in place, and before getting into costume
    • Blend makeup from face to hairline and to, but not under collar or neckline of costume there is no valid reason for makeup to get on clothing
    • Do not eat food or drink anything but water while in costume or makeup


    • Less is always better
    • Like any other skill - practice, practice, practice!
    • If you don’t like what you’ve done, you can always wipe it off & start again!
    • Change the way a person looks by using color
    • Color the parts of the face you want to make prominent lighter or brighter
    • E.g.: use bright lipstick to emphasize the lips - color the parts of the face you want to reduce or recede darker
    • E.g.: use a muted shading color to create creases to suggest age
    • To make creases & contours where they don’t exist, paint them in - use a wide flat brush, & create the crease by giving one edge a crisp line, & feather the other edge, so it blends into a lighter shade. In this way you can straighten or bend a nose, create an oriental or other ethnic look where none exist, and age a young person many years.
    • Always use a translucent powder to set your makeup - it will absorb any excess makeup or perspiration and help to set the color in place
    • Barrier spray or a similar sealant will help seal in perspiration, and thus improve the adherence of makeup and anything else attached to the skin such as facial hair
    • A stipple sponge (black coarse textured sponge) is useful to apply a texture - whiskers, age, bruise, etc.
    • Use brown to texture on a beard shadow, & bronze for very natural lip & cheek color


    • The principle element that sets stage makeup apart from street makeup is the amount of pigment. Stage makeup has a very high percentage of pigment.
    • No highly pigmented makeup can claim to be hypoallergenic; in fact that claim really shouldn’t be made about any makeup, since their will always be someone sensitive to some ingredient. That said, the products we carry use only FDA approved ingredients processed in the highest attainable level of good manufacturing practice, and our manufacturers have over 75 years of minimal incidents of product complaints.


    • A higher quality mustache or beard has human rather than synthetic hair, and fewer hair strands knotted together on a fine net (lace). Less expensive pieces have more strands knotted together on fabric or coarse mesh. The higher quality gives a more realistic look
    • We offer a reasonably priced range of human hair mustaches and beards to help meet both your production values and budgetary constraints
    • Wash the piece with soap & water to remove the stiffness from the lace and to fluff the hairs to make them look a little more realistic
    • Do not use liquid latex as an adhesive as it has no solvent and cannot be removed from hair or skin except by pulling
    • To prevent a mustache “malfunction”, cut the lace backing of the ‘stache down the center, then glue the two halves onto the lip, abutting the edges as though they were not cut - this al- lows the upper lip to stretch during singing and smiling without pulling the mustache off
    • Barrier spray on the skin before attaching any facial hair or prosthetic can enhance the sticking qualities of any of the adhesives because it seals in perspiration
    • As with any prosthetic being applied to the skin, apply the facial hair first, then make up the skin treating the hair as a natural part of the face
    • See our build-a-beard kit for instructions on how to create a mustache or beard from scratch using crepe hair or other fiber
    • Your choice of adhesive depends... - tape is best if you need to apply or remove the facial hair quickly - spirit gum is best if you need the security of a perfect and secure fit
    • Tape strips or dots to apply
    • Position the facial hair on the face to determine exactly where the best place is to put it. Trim or modify any parts if needed
    • You may have to trim the tape pieces to fit narrow or tricky parts of the facial hair
    • Apply one side of the strip or dot to the inside of the facial hair, leaving the paper protective cover on the side that will stick to the skin.
    • Remove paper covering from the tape in the center of the piece first, & press taped facial hair to the skin in the correct position. Then continue to remove paper from tape on one side, and press onto face from center of face to outside edge, then do same on other side
    • To remove - gently peel the tape from one side to the center, then from the opposite side.
    • Remove the tape from the hairpiece to leave it clean & ready to use again.


    • Paint a thin layer of spirit gum on the skin, everywhere the facial hair will be placed
    • Allow the gum to air dry until tacky – about 30-45 seconds
    • Place the hairpiece in place onto the tacky spirit gum
    • Press firmly in place
    • Dip a cotton swab into the remover - begin at a top edge of the hairpiece and
    • Work the remover onto and under the lace to loosen the piece
    • Continue to work the remover under the lace until the piece is removed
    • Clean the skin with the remover
    • If there is buildup of spirit gum on the hair, it may be cleaned with acetone
    • Do not use acetone on the skin


    • There are many kinds of blood for different purposes - runny, thick, dark arterial or light veinous.
    • Capsules are supplied empty - fill the empty capsule with thick blood, tuck into side of mouth, bite & swish with saliva just before revealing from mouth.
    • Squirt blood - a thin liquid blood for use in appliances to create spurting effects in either arterial or venous color - excellent for accident & mass casualty exercises.
    • Be sure the fabrics that will come in contact with stage blood are either disposable or of a high synthetic content. Natural fibers such as cotton, silk or rayon will stain easily.
    • We urge you to use a commercially prepared theatrical blood product (even if you don’t buy it from us) rather than a homemade recipe, as the ingredients available for homemade blood are much more likely to stain both fabric and skin.
    • A little “blood” can go a long way, and less is always more, in terms of dramatic effect.
    • Plan the spill of blood very carefully, to get a minimum amount on costumes and fabric on furniture or draperies
    • Use fabrics with a high percentage of synthetic fiber in them.
    • Scotchguard everything the blood may come in contact with.
    • Keep a bucket of water handy backstage to plunge bloody fabrics into as quickly as possible after the garment comes off stage. Add a wetting agent (stain remover) to the water for best results
    • Protect fair skin with a layer of cream makeup wherever stage blood will touch it
    • Don’t scrub - that only pushes the pigment further into the skin cells
    • Do use water or steam as warm as you can stand to gently allow the pigment to rise to the skin surface
    • Do be patient - a pigment stain will wear off more quickly if you leave it alone


    We suggest the use of Graftobian’s purple passion & plum with a stipple sponge to create extremely realistic fresh bruises.

    • Don’t see Graftobian’s makeup in our catalog? That’s because it is a new makeup line for us we will be putting out a supplement to our catalog very soon - in the meantime, please call or write to order
    • Apply both colors lightly with a stipple sponge
    • Use the darker color (purple passion) to identify the edge of the bruise
    • Fill in the center with the lighter color (plum), blending the two shades where they meet
    • Putting the lighter in the center will make your bruise look swollen


    This inert, gelatinous material is solid and flexible at room temperature

    • Soften to mold the material by warming the container in a bath of warm water, then apply to the skin & make gory shapes as desired
    • Removal is easy by peeling gently away from skin


    Also known as scarring liquid - used to make an indented “scar” on the skin

    • Paint a line of the liquid on clean skin where the scar is to appear. The material shrinks as it dries, causing an effective indentation in the skin
    • The indentation is most effective when the line is painted on skin with some soft tissue under it, like a cheek, rather than where the skin is pulled taut over bone like a forehead
    • When dry, use a deep red color in the deepest part, and gradually lighten the color out to the surface, where the skin should be a normal or even pale skin tone


    • Are available in a wide variety of shapes you can add to a face to enhance a look or change the shape completely
    • Higher quality prosthetics have more detail and finely tapered edges for seamless blending with skin surface
    • Our prosthetics are hollow, and are therefore more likely to fit most faces
    • To apply:
    • Areas of skin to which prosthetic is applied should be free of grease & body oil by cleansing with an astringent
    • If necessary, trim edges of latex to fit the contours of the face; cut out nostrils to facilitate breathing
    • Apply barrier spray if perspiration is likely to be a problem
    • Use spirit gum and follow directions in the Facial hair section, or Admed, a silicone based adhesive specifically for prosthetics, applying it to both the skin and the prosthetic where they will touch, like using contact cement.
    • When adhesive is tacky, gently apply prosthetic exactly where you want it
    • Blend edges of prosthetic onto skin with modeling wax
    • Apply makeup as usual, treating the prosthetic as part of the skin to be made up


    May be used to attach latex to latex, crepe or other hair to a cloth or net foundation for reusable beards and mustaches, and for creating very fine molded prosthetics by painting layers onto the inside of a negative plaster mold.

    • When the top surface is dry, powder all surfaces to prevent it from sticking to itself.
    • Color latex with food coloring - use 2 parts yellow to each part of red for Caucasian skin - add blue for darker skin.
    • Note that tinted latex dries much darker than it appears as a liquid (you may have noticed this with latex wall paint!).
    • More people are developing latex sensitivity - a patch test on any actor who has not recently been successfully exposed to theatrical latex is recommended.
    • Do not use directly on the skin - there is no solvent safe for using on the skin, so it must be pulled off, taking skin cells with it.
    • Test for sensitivity by placing a small dot on the skin where there is no hair - check periodically for redness, swelling, itching, soreness or other symptoms. If there are none in 24 hours, you’re probably ok.
    • Many of our prosthetics are made of latex - be sure to test for sensitivity of them, also.
    • Mask grease or mask cover will cover latex pieces better than makeup and will not cause the latex to break down over time.

    Apply makeup to the face as usual, blending with the prosthetic

    • Remove the piece by dipping a cotton swab
    • Into the remover that goes with the adhesive you used, and gently work it under the edge of the piece, lifting as you go.
    • Cleanse both the prosthetic and face carefully with remover, then soap & water; dry thoroughly before putting away.
    • Do not use adhesives or removers that are not made for use on the skin.
    • Do not use latex as an adhesive - it cannot be removed from hair or backing except by peeling.


    • The wigs we offer are chosen for their theatrical quality at a reasonable price.
    • All the wigs we offer are made of a high quality synthetic fiber, and the curl or wave is set into the memory of the fiber.
    • Combing or brushing while wet may release the curl - attempts to restore the curl with a heated tool will usually cause the fiber to permanently frizz and make the wig unusable.
    • Our wigs are on an adjustable foundation to fit most heads.
    • Hand wash with mild soap, Woolite or shampoo, and air dry completely before combing.
    • Many of the wigs we list are constructed to describe the style they represent, therefore, while they may be cleaned, combed, and held in place with pins and hairspray, they may not be easily converted from one style to another, because of the direction of stitching of the hair fiber, location of fullness, or positioning of a part or scalp piece.
    • Some of our wigs have a full “scalp” so that a part can sometimes be moved to either side or the center.
    • We hope you will have great satisfaction from these wigs for your theatrical productions or events.


    Care for your artificial hairpiece as you would your own hair:

    • Shampoo gently in a basin with mild shampoo or hand washing soap in tepid water
    • Rinse in clear water
    • Shake off excess water
    • Air dry on a towel
    • Do not brush or comb until fully dry unless you wish to straighten the curl
    • Do not use curling iron or curling kits
    • No setting is necessary - curl will remain in fiber
    • Comb gently into style when completely dry


    There are two forms - liquid & spray

    • Liquid color is easier to control where it is put, but it takes longer to dry & it is easy to use too much.
    • Spray on color is in hairspray so it makes the hair stiff, and is harder to control where it is put.


    Traditionally, there are three types of clown faces.

    • The “white face” is the classic clown whose face, neck & ears are completely white, and whose exaggerated features are drawn in bold colors & often are outlined in black for emphasis. The traditional white face uses only black & red as accent colors - the “comedy” type of white face uses more & brighter colors & often adds a false nose.
      • The mime is an offshoot of the traditional white- face clown, but only the “mask” area of the face is painted white - not the neck or ears. Usually the mime face is only in white and black, though there may occasionally be a small touch of red.
    • Auguste clowns are the most slapstick, and are broader in action and makeup than any other clown. Usually they wear oversized, comic clothing and use a pink makeup color called Auguste as a base for their exaggerated features.
    • The third type is the tramp or hobo, a uniquely American invention. Generally a tramp clown wears tattered clothes and a mournful expression, emphasized by a pink flesh-tone base, red tipped nose, and, for male tramps, a 3-day growth of beard.

    Tracy Theatre Originals carries makeup and noses suitable to all 3 styles.

    Adapted from Strutter’s Complete Guide to Clown Makeup by Jim Roberts, 1991 ISBN 0-941599-10-8