Dia de Los Muertos Makeup – sugar skull face paint design

Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday that celebrates those who have departed. To honor them, families make altars for their loves ones and bring offerings to cemeteries, dance, play music and dress up, as well as wear the traditional Dia de los Muertos makeup, a complex sugar skull face painting design.

On this day, the streets of Mexico near the cemeteries are filled with decorations of papel picado, flowers, candy calaveras (skeletons and skulls), and parades. People everywhere are celebrating and mourning their loved ones in an unique way, that is different from other cultures.

While the celebration is connected to the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day and some even regard it as a Mexican Halloween, the fact of the matter is that the way death is viewed in Mexican culture makes Dia de Los Muertos a one of a kind holiday, that actually celebrates death and welcomes all the departed spirits home.

It is believed that the spirits of the dead visit their families on October 31 and leave on November 2. Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these gifts.

A common symbol of the holiday is the skull (from the Spanish calavera), which celebrants represent in masks, called calacas (colloquial term for skeleton), and foods such as sugar or chocolate skulls, which are inscribed with the name of the recipient on the forehead. Sugar skulls as gifts can be given to both the living and the dead.

Although death is still feared, as in other cultures, Mexicans learn to accept it as a natural process in their lives. That’s probably the reason why instead of having terrifying motifs associated with this holiday, Dia de Los Muertos is literary a celebration, a time of happiness and joy, where people dress up and wear colorful makeup.

Some of the most famous symbols of Día de los Muertos are those elaborately designed and meticulously executed skeleton or sugar skull makeup designs that have become a popular way of honoring the holiday.

You can easily do your own Dia de Los Muertos makeup with a few paint brushes and some colorful palettes, a good understanding of facial anatomy and some creative inspiration. I’m here to tell you more about some of the elements you can include in your concept and to help you choose the best tools in order to achieve one of the best sugar skull makeup designs out there and impress everyone with your skills.

Sugar Skull Makeup

Sugar Skull Makeup

Dia de Los Muertos Makeup

It is not my intention to intimidate you, however doing a complex face paint like Día de los Muertos makeup requires some practice, a sketch of what you would like the end result to look like and of course, patience in creating your makeup.
With that in mind, I suggest you start by doodling some creative sugar skull designs on your makeup face charts. Only when you are pleased with your design on paper, should you start by applying your face paint.

But coming up with a design is not always easy, especially since you don’t do your research on the subject and you don’t really know anything about the Day of the Dead. Luckily, I’m here to give you some pointers!

Sugar skull makeup face chart

Sugar skull makeup face chart

Dia de Los Muertos Symbols

One of the most important symbols of the Dia de los Muertos are the calaveras, which stand for “skulls” in Spanish. Raging from the calaveras de azúcar (“sugar skulls”) to jewelry, those amusing and colorful skulls are used to adorn the altars for the dead that are set up for the holiday.

Flowers are also popular symbols of the Dia de los Muertos makeup, so try to incorporate them in your design, or use them as accessories for your final look. The most commonly used flower for Dia de los Muertos in Mexico is the marigold, which is known as the flower of the dead. According to Mexican belief, the souls of departed family and friends return to earth on the day of the dead, and it is believed the strong scent of marigold helps to guide them back.

Dia de los Muertos makeup design

Dia de los Muertos makeup design

Sugar skull – what makeup products to use?

Recently the sugar skull motive has developed into a highly artistic style of make-up design, combining stunning and elaborate face-paint with various flowers, beads, sequins, glitter or other embellishments you might find lying around somewhere in a drawer.  Stock up not only on makeup pigments, intense eye-popping eyeliners pencils and cool eye shadows, but also on some cream makeup (I used Mehron’s Clown White Paste) to achieve the opaque, white canvas on which you will be painting your design.

Before you begin doodling on those elaborate, colorful designs, brush on an even coat of white loose powder to not only help set your foundation but also give your skin that ghoulish, skull-like finish, the perfect base for your Dia de los Muertos designs.

Now you can either use eyeliner pencils to bring life into your design or water activated palettes especially designed for face painting and body painting. Since I wanted to create a graphic look and include a spider web into my design, I preferred working with water activated colors and fine pointed makeup brushes.

Day of the Dead makeup

Day of the Dead makeup by Luiza Burhai

Search for photos of actual altars created for Dia de Los Muertos to find your inspiration for a cool skull design, or play with colors, shapes and glitter applications to achieve an unique design. The basic principle is to strive for a stylized, more glamorous version of the anatomically correct drawing of a facial skeleton.

I’ve attached some photos for guidance, yet if you ever get confused, just remember to always use the darkest colors (not necessarily black) to shade the tip of your nose, the eye area and the hollows of the cheeks. Teeth are usually the element everyone wants to have fun with, so draw inspiration from other designs and incorporate them in your makeup sketch.

Skeleton makeup

Skeleton makeup

Everyone has their own preference and style, which is what makes this style of face paint makeup so unique and special. If you’re taking your makeup design out, you can also apply fantasy lashes, sparkly jewels or even contact lenses. Get creative and have fun with it!


As a professional make-up artist and beauty enthusiast, Luiza's expertise has become highly prized over the years. As owner of this site, she set her mind to create a publication for those who are focused not just on beauty trends and popular brands, but also on the industry's most well-kept secrets.

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