• Shane A.S. Ritchie, CFSP

Why do they look so dead?

Updated: Jul 31

Techniques for giving the deceased a restful but life-like appearance.

We have all seen it. The deceased lying in the casket; formaldehyde gray, stage make up caked on to try to cover it, and overall very artificial. This is a very unpleasant sight for families to remember their loved ones. The ridiculous part of the whole ordeal is that there is absolutely NO REASON for it. With the advancements in 21st century mortuary cosmetology and cosmetology in general, our excuses are without basis. The very first rule to having a life like appearance is a having well embalmed body. Sloppy work in the prep room leads to sloppy cosmetology work.

On a living body, we are generally used to seeing them in a standing or sitting position. This causes shadows to be cast in certain places and we become accustomed to seeing a face at this angle. While lying down in a casket, a body doesn't have these normal shadows so it is our job as funeral and cosmetology professionals to help balance this. Which in turn, provides a more life like appearance to the dead.

As a rule of thumb for most normal cases: a solid opaque base color is not generally necessary. Using a lighter hand with a sheer foundation color or an airbrush yield the best results. In some cases, foundation may not even be needed. This allows the natural variation of color, imperfections, pores, and all the things that make us human to show through. After a base is applied, begin to contour the face; adding shadows where they would naturally occur.

•Upper eyelids

•Jawline and under the cheekbones

•Temporal area and outer forehead

These are not meant to be hard cut lines of darkness, but ever so slightly deepened. While this takes a little practice and learning, the reward of seeing a family appreciate being able to properly say goodbye to a loved one is worth the time and effort. The next step is to highlight the warm and bright areas of the face. Think of where the sunlight would naturally hit and cause a "glow" or a pinkish ruddy tint.

•Apples of cheeks

•Bridge and tip of nose

•Middle of Forehead


Now, how do we achieve these results? Everyone has their way of doing things, but with these techniques and tips, you can achieve great results and adapt them to yourself.

For shadowing and highlighting:

(photo credit: http://askzelna.com/how-to-contour-like-a-pro/)

This photo is a relatively good example of where to shadow and highlight. If using powder cosmetics, use a large fluffy brush, such as our Bdellium Powder brush, dip into the powder, tap off the excess and lightly buff into the skin. An airbrush can be even better, such as our Iwata HP-C Plus. Depending on skin tone, use a cooler shade for fair skin tones and a warmer for deeper skin tones. For the smaller areas, I prefer a small fluffy brush, such as our Bdellium Water Color or Finger Brush. In mortuary cosmetics, we have this stage makeup approach in which we over apply because that is "how it's always been done." This is 21st century cosmetics here to change that. As for the highlight, a blush or blush type cosmetic is great. Again, a big fluffy brush or an airbrush are my favorites. Choose a light pink or deep pink depending on skin tone and how much "life" you need to bring back into the skin.

I hope and believe that you will find these techniques useful. Remember always that practice makes perfect and knowing that you have brought some sort of peace to a grieving family is always worth the effort.

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