What qualifications does it take to be a "corpse beautician"? Do they use special makeup that sticks to the skin or just what the family brings? --Jamie A.
Cosmetics used in the funeral industry fall into two categories: commercial products created just for funeral professionals and over-the counter products like you might use. The products used by specific funeral homes will depend upon the preference of the funeral professional and the needs of the case.
Qualifications for a cosmetician will vary by state and funeral home. Some states require licensure for funeral cosmetics while others only require certification for beauticians working with live clients.
A common misconception is that funeral directors are constantly looking for someone to do this work. In reality, any funeral director worth his/her degree can apply basic cosmetics to man, woman or child. Often, this job is left to a staff associate (non-licensed personnel) who handles dressing the body and casketing the remains.
Yes, you read correctly: men and children require cosmetics. The embalming process replaces blood with embalming fluid. And while embalming fluid is designed to re-create the pink glow that blood adds to human skin (and yes, even darker-skinned folks have a "pinkish glow" that's aided by blood flowing under the epidermis) it is not as dark or strong as human blood.
Because of this "blood" factor, everyone needs cosmetics. But the end result is seldom based upon the brand of cosmetics used. The skill of the person doing the cosmetic work is the biggest deciding factor.
Few families provide their own cosmetics, except in cases where the deceased had certain coloration needs or the family has a special request. Most funeral professionals will not use bright pink lipstick, rouge or nail polish unless specifically directed by a client.
In other cases, the cosmetician needs to use specialized cosmetics that are not available to consumers. Covering dark arm bruising caused by numerous IV's is accomplished with a heavy industry-specific concealer. Wax fills holes left by tubes and covers the small incision required by the embalming process. Tissue builder can be injected in the lower epidermal layers to fill out the cheeks, chin and forehead of a person who experienced drastic weight loss during his/her last days.
In a typical case, a base color is brushed across the entire face, neck and hands. A light pink powder (rouge) is skillfully added to cheeks, chin, nose and forehead. Eyebrows are highlighted with dark pencil. Nose and other extraneous hairs are trimmed or plucked. Most cosmeticians ignore eye shadow, as it doesn't look natural. Light lip color (even for men) is added in a neutral tone.
Blemishes on the hands or exposed arms is covered with a strong concealer. Fingernails are trimmed and cleaned (nursing home residents have some atrociously dirty fingernails).
The last step is to seal it all with powder. This is the one item that a professional will NOT skimp on. Powder is necessary to set the makeup and give the "paint" definition and, for lack of a better word, "life."
Most funeral homes use special lighting in their chapel or viewing rooms that casts a pink tone on the casket area. This adds even more "rose" color to the body, giving the impression of good health and life.
So often I hear people claim that they don't want people looking at them after they die. They "don't want my family to see me that way." Conversations with these folks invariably reveal that they've seen some pretty awful cosmetic jobs at funerals and they don't want to look like that. Pale, pale skin or lifeless, overcosmetized bodies are the result of bad work by the cosmetician.
Is it hard to cosmetize a body? No. Anyone can slap on some makeup. The trick is in making the person look like the best possible version of their past self. A good funeral professional can do that.
A veteran of the funeral industry, Timothy Totten owns Final Embrace, a funeral industry consulting firm and product manufacturer, and will answer your funeral related question right here on In Repose Blog. Please send all questions to [email protected]