Halloween Edition: 6 Makeup Secrets for a Spookier Costume

halloween makeupAssemble, spooky ghouls and ghoulettes! Brought to you by the month of October and the letter ‘H,’ I give to you a post in the Halloween Spirit.

As actors, we get the privilege of living a sort of permanent Halloween for our work. Some of us even work Halloween itself…there is no shortage of haunted house and escape room side gigs in the fall. If you’re dabbling in professional haunting, it’s not uncommon to be asked to create your own look or do your own makeup. But unless you have experience working with gore effects, it’s hard to know where to start. Below are some quick tips to spookify your look, whether for your October side hustle, or your costume party commitments.


  1. Isolate the source of the injury. Remember that blood is the frosting on the cake of gore. The trick to realistic gore makeup is to figure out where the blood is coming from. For example, if we’re dealing with a gnarly head wound, you want to build the gash before applying the blood.
  2. Give it dimension. Giving your gore dimension will seriously up your game. Common tools for this are wax or latex. Wax is good for anything that might need to be detailed or molded. Cotton balls can be torn and rolled or pinched to build abrasions, swelling, and edges of wounds. For an easy cut, build some swollen flesh with wax, and literally cut into that yourself, then paint with makeup. Cover them with liquid latex for a skin-like texture and paintable surface. (Just make sure you’re not allergic!) Liquid latex is also excellent for crafting any skin texture or abnormality, whether gore-related or for monster makeup. Make sure to blend over the edges with appropriate makeup to fully incorporate it into the rest of the look.
  3. Bruising. Grab some good old-fashioned Ben Nye and get to work! Bruising will truly take gore makeup into a realistic realm. Although bruise kits can absolutely be purchased, I would recommend remaining open to blending your own for some of the in-between shades. Start with figuring out how fresh your bruise is. Healing bruises will have more yellow, green and soft brown at the edges. Remember that bruising will probably accompany most injuries, so layer it in under the blood. The deepest part of any cut and the point of most stress in any bruise should be darkest. (Although certain bruises might have a lighter, eye of the hurricane point near the darkest center. Consider stippling red or pink over deep purple bruises to give depth and indicate a fresh injury. Blending is your friend with bruises! Take it all the way out to the normal skintone.
  4. Blood/Bloodstains. Now we get to the fun stuff! Ranging from the Party City toothpaste tube of vampire blood to lovingly hand-mixed concoctions, blood is the finishing flourish on any gore effect. The big thing to remember here is washability and viscosity. Blood is all well and good until someone is doing nightly laundry after a late night show. (Or, you know, you want to use your shirt again in the future). There are plenty of resources for blood recipes floating around. Just be careful in your research. Make sure you are getting these recipes from makeup artists who have tested their recipes on similar materials. The second thing to consider is viscosity. Older wounds won’t have fountains of fresh, flowing blood. The blood will have congealed, or dried, calling for thicker blood or perhaps just bloodstains. The longer blood has been exposed, the darker the stains are going to be. Especially on clothing, you want to shoot for more of a rusty brown than a cherry color.
  5. Overall Effect. Remember that you don’t want your costume to stop with gore effects. You must consider the overall mood and incorporation of the effect. Clothing can be distressed, hair can be styled, details like staining fingernails and teeth can be considered. For a cheap spooky trick, choose a foundation a shade or two lighter to wash you out, and line your undereyes with a bit of pink, coupled with under-eye shadows, to look sickly or ghostly. For a quick blacked out tooth, take a Reese’s Pieces wrapper and fold it over a front tooth, tucking the edges behind.
  6. Hair. A little goes a long way. To get that Bride of Frankenstein height or Snooki-esque bump, back brush (or rat) hair directly behind a layer at your hairline. Build height piece by piece, spraying and setting as you go. Then smooth the un-ratted layer over top. (Or don’t and rock some Helena Bonham Carter-as-Bellatrix Lestrange!) Hair can be powdered with flour or cornstarch for a cheap gray, but get ready for a really annoying shower. A gross but effective trick to getting gunk out is applying mayonnaise.
  7. Bonus: De-spookify! What goes up must come down. My go-to for getting all kinds of blood and bloodstains off skin is Dr. Bronners and shaving cream. A mix of both will help get most major blood effects off in the shower.




There are so many more ways to play with gore! Prosthetics and wigs are game changers if you have the know-how or resources. Do your research. Be creative. And lean into the many performance opportunities for the enterprising artist around Halloween. Of course the final touch is the acting. Your makeup can look as terrifying as you like, but if you’re not selling it with your performance, the effect will fall flat. Apply your training to even the cheesiest of Halloween gigs. You still should have an objective. You still need to fully commit. You are still reflecting humanity (or human fears) to provoke a reaction. Embrace it. And Happy Halloween!

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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at www.rachelfrawley.com

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