A Beginner's Guide to Stage Makeup

A Beginner's Guide to Stage Makeup

Before the curtain rises on your big stage debut, you'll want to make sure that your costume and makeup are perfect. When you're acting or dancing with larger theater or dance organizations, it's not unusual to have a makeup artist do it for you. They likely have a specific look in mind that the director would like. However, in many cases, especially in smaller groups, a makeup artist may create a look for your show, but it will be up to you to re-create that look for each performance. Stage makeup is an essential skill in the theater community, and precise application can put the perfect finishing touches on your character's costume.

Supplies You Need for Basic Stage Makeup

The best part about learning to do your own stage makeup is that it gives you a chance to find your perfect shade and the types of products you prefer to work with. Every person in the production might choose to use a different brand, especially if you're applying it yourself, but as long as everybody has the basic supplies and correct colors for their roles, they're on the right track. The basic supplies needed to apply stage makeup are:

  • Foundation sponge or brush
  • Facial cleanser
  • Toner
  • Moisturizer
  • Powder and powder puff
  • Makeup pencils and a sharpener
  • Stage makeup
  • Mascara
  • False eyelashes

How to Apply Stage Makeup

Once you've gathered all of the basic materials needed to apply your stage makeup, you can start putting it on. The first step in application is to wash your face. Make sure there's no residual makeup on your face from your day-to-day look, and be sure to moisturize your skin.

Once you have a clean and smooth base to apply your makeup, you can start applying your foundation. If you're struggling to pick the perfect foundation for your skin tone, keep in mind that stage lights tend to wash out your skin and add a colder effect to colors. Unless you're playing a character who is sick or ghostly, you should choose warmer foundation colors, especially those with a gold or yellow undertone.

Use a sponge or brush to evenly apply your foundation for the best coverage. You should blend your foundation evenly into your hairline and below your jawline. Your jawline is especially important to focus on because you need to ensure that the color blends into your neck, so it doesn't look like you're wearing a mask when you get up on stage.

Be sure to contour your makeup; stage lighting not only washes you out, but it also flattens your face and removes definition. Contour the cheekbones by applying a darker color just below them, concentrating it in the hollow of the cheek. Strengthen the look of your jawline by adding a line of shadow on the bottom edge of your jaw.

Define and emphasize your eyes with plenty of eyeliner and mascara. False eyelashes can be a great tool to really help your eyes pop.

Line your mouth with a firm line. The goal is to enhance the current shape of your mouth and strengthen it, not to create a new shape entirely. Pick a lip color that makes sense for your character.

Once you've finished creating your look, apply powder over your entire face to set the makeup.


  • When you're playing larger venues, use a slightly darker foundation and apply makeup with more exaggerated lines so your features can be clearly seen from the back of the room.
  • Use stage makeup, not regular makeup. Stage makeup is thicker and may feel more oily, but it's made to stand up to the heat of the stage lights. Water-based makeup will fade and run under the lights.
  • If you're playing a younger character, contour your makeup to make your eyelids appear rounder and emphasize the apples of the cheeks. If you're playing an older, frail, or gaunt character, contour the eye sockets, cheekbones, and jaw.

Properly Removing Stage Makeup

You may be exhausted after a show, but even if you want to flop into bed as soon as you get home, you should always take the time to remove your makeup. If you don't take the time to clean it off, it's going to do a number on your skin.

The best way to start is by using makeup wipes. Don't rub your eyes too aggressively; just use a wipe or two and gently wipe off the makeup until the wipe shows little to no residue.

Once your skin is free of most of the makeup, put a little bit of coconut oil or face oil on a cotton pad. In circular motions, massage it into your skin to break up any clumps of makeup left over and prep your skin for cleansing.

Now, do a deep cleanse. Use your regular cleanser on a cotton pad, being sure to get into curves and crevices such as the area around your nose. Next, use a second cleanser specialized to your skin's issues, like hydration or acne. Massage in the cleanser and rinse with tepid water. Finally, pat your face dry and add a light moisturizer.

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