Theatrical Makeup Tips

It can be overwhelming to choose the makeup for an entire cast.  Over the counter makeup doesn’t seem to hold up under the heat of stage lights, and even if you’re lucky enough to have cool LED lights that don’t heat up your stage, you’ll still have stressed out actors that sweat under pressure.  Regardless, you want quality makeup that doesn’t break the bank.  Also, for young, inexperienced actors and makeup artists, you’ll want products that are easy to use.  If you’re new to stage makeup, it’s important to choose a foundation color one shade darker than your skin tone so that you won’t look pale under the bright stage lights. I’ve been to many stage makeup workshops, , and most have heavily referenced either Ben Nye or Mehron brands.  For anyone new or unsure about stage makeup, here are my theatrical makeup tips to help guide you in your future stage makeup selections

Ben Nye


For years, my number one choice in stage foundation was (and still is) Ben Nye cream foundation.  I started out by purchasing the fair/medium personal creme makeup kit since I had no idea where to even begin.  The kit includes creme foundation, creme contour palette (highlight, rouge, shadow, and lip color), face powder, eye pencil, flat brush, powder puff, sponge applicator, and a stipple sponge.  For just under $25, you’ll be able to try out several of their products to experience their staying power for yourself.


Now for the holy grail of sealers, you’ve got to try Ben Nye’s Final Seal which is not only a great fixative for locking in makeup for long-lasting finish, but also a great primer.  When sprayed on before makeup application, it provides a great base for oily skin or heavy sweaters to keep the makeup from running, and applied after makeup application, t locks in all makeup, including  dramatic makeup colors.   For example, my Genie in Aladdin kept getting blue on our curtains until I used Final Seal on him! The larger bottle is the most economical but that size doesn’t with a sprayer, so I purchased a few empty, travel size spray bottles for application and filled them with the sealer.  Final Seal also has a fresh, minty smell.

Dramatic Colors

Speaking of drastic colors, Ben Nye is my absolute favorite for deep rich colors.  Their Clown Series has tons of richly pigmented colors to choose from, plus the container is over-sized for lots of applications!  Ben Nye also has an awesome bruise wheel.  With the bruise wheel, you’ll have all of the colors you need in one place instead of trying to juggle six colors at once in order to create realistic looking bruises.



Another foundation that I like just as well as Ben Nye is made by Mehron.  Their CreamBlend Stick (Nope, that’s not a typo) is slightly cheaper than Ben Nye when purchasing individually and slightly creamier which makes it easier to apply.  For just under $13, you get .75 ounces.


Another great find is Mehron’s Ultra Fine Setting Powder. It’s great for keeping your makeup in place, and the “Neutral” works with any skin tone; plus it’s less expensive than Ben Nye.

Dramatic Colors

Mehron has several good options for deep, rich, dramatic color including Mehron Fantasy FX Face Painting Makeup, Lipuid Makeup, and colored versions of the Cream Blend Stick.  They come in a variety of colors and don’t have to be used primarily on the face.  The green works great for creating Elphaba, blue was perfect for Genie, and the purple(and pink) were great for accenting the Mad Hatter,


Tools of the Trade

In order to completely avoid cross contamination, I provide each actor with their own Styrofoam plate with the makeup they’re going to use on it.  I use a small makeup spatula to place makeup on each Styrofoam plate.  Then, you’ll want to clean the makeup itself by spraying a 90% (or higher) rubbing alcohol on the open makeup and let it sit for five minutes.  I know that lots of people like beauty blenders (and I don’t deny that they’re cute), but its more economical and less risky to provide actors with their own wedge which can be disposed of after each show.  I buy the wedges in bulk, so I have plenty for all of my actors.  Something else that I like to keep on hand is lots of makeup brushes.  I don’t like using the same brush on different people for obvious sanitary reasons.  After everyone’s makeup is done, they can all be washed out to be used for the next show.  Some people prefer facial powder puffs instead of brushes, but they’re a bit more difficult to clean.  I suppose disposable cotton rounds would be a good alternative, but again, makeup brushes are my preference.  If you prefer makeup brushes as well, make that sure you aren’t getting cheap ones that fall apart after a few uses and washes.  Also be sure that you’re washing your brushes out with soap and cold water.  Warm water causes the bristles to expand, shrink, and ultimately fall out.


For mascara and eyeliner, one safe option is to have actor’s purchase their own.  If you provide mascara, buy disposable mascara wands, but never re-dip the wand once you’ve given it to an actor.  For eyeliner, Ben Nye makes a cake eyeliner with for which I purchase disposable eyeliner brushes.


If you’re spending the time and money to get good quality makeup and applicators, then you need to take care of your inventory.  Don’t just leave items laying around; find a storage container that suits your needs.  The container that I have now isn’t as pretty as the one pictured; it’s basically just a tackle box.  It’s simple, but it gets the job done.  For those of you looking for something bigger, I recommend a rolling caddy.  And for those of you who want the Rolls Royce of makeup caddies, splurge on the Triprel Inc Pro Rolling Makeup Multifunction Case w/Lights Mirror Cosmetic Aritist  You’ll be the envy of all of the other makeup artists!



In Conclusion

After over ten years of productions, Ben Nye and Mehron are the tried and true makeup brands that I know that I can count on.  That’s not to say that I haven’t used other brands; these have just proven more effective in my experience.  For anyone who’s only option is over the counter, I would steer towards active wear or sports strength makeup, but if you’re at all able, try these products.  I really think that you’ll be happy that you did.  And always remember, safety first!

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