23 Truly Gorgeous Day of the Dead Makeup Ideas to Practice Now

It’s about that time of year again when the flannels are broken out, cozy sweaters reappear, a sudden obsession with apple picking heightens, and, of course, major holidays grace us with their presence. One of the biggest holidays of the season? Día de los Muertos (also known as Day of the Dead), which begins on November 1. It’s just around the corner, so if you haven’t started planning your makeup look yet, open your makeup bag ‘cause it’s time to practice. And though you probably (ahem, absolutely should) already know this, a reminder that Día de los Muertos is not synonymous with Halloween and should never be used in any costumes, so if you’re here for that, please click away right now.

Everyone else, though? Please keep on scrolling for 23 of the best Day of the Dead makeup looks to get you inspired right now. But first: If you need a refresher or just came to learn about the meaning behind Day of the Dead, we also caught up with Judith Bautista, aka Kahlovera, a Mexican American artist who specializes in Day of the Dead, and LA-based designer Lily Martinez, who creates Día de los Muertos-inspired looks, to give you all the info on Day of the Dead and the meaning behind the holiday.

What is the Day of the Dead makeup called?

As a reminder, “Día de los Muertos is a day to honor your ancestors and your deceased loved ones and to welcome them back with altars of their favorite things, pictures, candles, and marigolds,” says Bautista. “You display their favorite foods and tell stories of memories that were tied to that person that passed away.”

Another tradition or way to partake in the holiday is by dressing up in Day of the Dead makeup (which, again, is not a Halloween costume, so if you’re here lookin’ for inspo, you’ve made a wrong turn). You might hear a few different labels often used to describe Day of the Dead makeup, but there are key distinctions between each of these terms and their different origins. Bautista breaks it down:

A little history: The Catrina is an iconic figure that comes from a piece of work called La Calavera Catrina by artist José Guadalupe Posada (Catrina was also later included in a mural by Diego Rivera) and features a skeleton woman wearing a dressy hat adorned with flowers. “It was a mockery on people who were trying to look sophisticated,” Bautista explains. “They would dress up and try to look like they were high-class, and his point was even in death, we’re all just skeletons.”

Can I wear Day of the Dead makeup?

It depends on who you ask—and, honestly, if you have to ask, it’s probably safe to sit this one out. But, both Bautista and Martinez say they actually love to see other cultures celebrating the tradition when done respectfully and with knowledge of the meaning and historical background of the holiday. “I feel so strongly that everybody can participate,” Martinez says. “As long as you know the meaning behind it—in honor of the people that you love—it’s such a powerful thing to participate in.”

As Bautista explains, “If you think about the roots of what it really means, it’s a day to honor your deceased loved ones, and there’s nobody who’s impartial to that—anybody can relate to that,” she says. “The big thing is when people don’t respect the culture itself, or they’re interested in tying it into Halloween, and that one is sensitive to me, too. I do Halloween makeup all the time, but I’m very careful not to label one as the other. As a Mexican American artist, that’s been my biggest mission: to celebrate our culture without letting the roots of it be taken away.”

What do you need for Day of the Dead makeup?

Martinez’s trick for creating a base for your skull that’ll stay put throughout photoshoots or festivals is to use a long-lasting foundation in the lightest shade you can find. If you’re fair, she suggests adding a bit of white face paint to the foundation—buuut not just any face paint. Bautista says to skip the cheap costume store stuff that can crack and melt, and to instead pick up some water-based face paint.

As for the black detailing, Martinez uses eyeliner and a Mehron water-activated palette to keep the lines sharp and clean. If you want to glam it up and make the black pop, Martinez likes to use glitter eyeshadows and apply gems (or any other small embellishment) with eyelash glue.

4 products to try for your Dia de Los Muertos makeup:

How to apply Día de los Muertos makeup:

If you want to keep your look simple and easy, stick with the fundamental elements of Day of the Dead makeup. According to Bautista, those include a skull with added flowers, plus a mix of colors, patterns, or shapes based on the person you’re honoring.

While there is room for creative interpretation, keep in mind that these are traditions and celebrations that are rooted in cultural history. Since it is a celebration of life, Bautista also advises against adding any elements to your look that could lean towards horror or gore and blur the lines between Day of the Dead and Halloween. “It’s not about fear or anything scary,” Martinez adds. “It’s about life, but they just happen to be in another space.”

With that in mind, here are a few examples of Day of the Dead makeup to get you inspired.

1. This sunflower Day of the Dead makeup


A post shared by Lashes | Brows | All things beauty ✨ (@katesbeautyybar)

2. This vibrant makeup tutorial

A post shared by LA CATRINA ANDANTE ™ (@lacatrinaandante)

This is an incredible Day of the Dead makeup look filled with (lots) of artistic detail and gorgeous embellishments. (Think: face jewels, beautiful eyelashes, and lots of shimmery blue eyeshadow.) If you have the skill to create this, this is a next-level Day of the Dead idea.

3. This red and white Day of the Dead makeup


A post shared by Brianda Lizarraga (@brianda_lizarraga)

Both sides of this half-face Day of the Dead makeup are legit gorgeous. I mean, that contouring on their right side? Seamless. And using red and white in this look is such a fun way to create a simple—yet still very impressive—look for Día de los Muertos.

4. Pretty pink makeup for Day of the Dead


A post shared by @poisoneddoll_

If you typically go for looks that don’t require a full face of paint—I got you. This look keeps it low-key, but the hot-pink accents (think: pink lips, cheeks, and the details under the eyes) still make for beautiful Day of the Dead makeup.

5. This simple makeup for Day of the Dead

This subtle Day of the Dead makeup is so sweet and pretty for November 1. It doesn’t require a ton of color, and you can recreate just using a white eyeliner pencil and some magenta lipstick.

6. This warm-toned Day of the Dead Makeup


A post shared by 𝓙𝓮𝓼𝓼𝓲𝓬𝓪 𝓡𝓮𝔂𝓮𝓼 (@jessicareyes___)

For this Day of the Dead makeup look, pick two warm-toned colors (like the pink and orange you see here) and use them as the theme for your look. The gold embellishments in this pic are so freaking pretty, too.

7. This elaborate Day of the Dead makeup


A post shared by Pao Castillo (@paola_mkeup)

Heads up that this look isn’t for makeup newbs, but if you have the skill (and patience!), this Day of the Dead makeup has an incredible payoff. Don’t forget to invest in a face paint palette—and a few detailing brushes—before giving this Catrina makeup look a try.

Grab one of these eyeliners:

8. This embellished look


A post shared by Paola Balandran (@payolys_mua)

The gorgeous decals and embellishments in this Catrina makeup really make it stand out (I mean, the placement around the eyes and along the ridge of the nose are kinda perfect). Down to try it out yourself? Don’t sleep on the pink eyeshadow—it’ll bring your Day of the Dead look to the next level.

9. This low-key Day of the Dead makeup


A post shared by NYC / NJ Makeup Artist | Jimena Helms (@jimenamuanyc)

If you’d rather take a softer approach to your Day of the Dead makeup, go for this half-face creation. It’ll give you the option to wear something simple on one side of your face (like this winged eyeliner and red lipstick) while still wearing all the makings of a Catrina look on the other side.

10. This flower Day of the Dead makeup look


A post shared by Marian Santos MUA (@soymarian.mua)

The flower detailing—both on the face and in the hair—is key to recreating this Day of the Dead makeup look. Don’t forget to finish off your creation with a set of wispy eyelashes and a pink smokey eye.

11. This pink Day of the Dead makeup


A post shared by Maquilladora / Peinado / Uñas – 📍Santiago (@dangermakeup)

The shades of pink and red in this Day of the Dead look are too pretty not to recreate. Don’t you just love that subtle pink highlight on the cheekbones too? Finish off your makeup with a touch of glitter on the eyelids.

12. This colorful idea for Day of the Dead


A post shared by Ale Su Art (@alesuart)

What do you get when you combine varying shades of orange, green, blue, and yellow? This incredible makeup look for Day of the Dead. The glittery details (thanks to face and body glitter) on the nose and around the eyes are key to creating your own version of this one.

13. This corn-husk crown look


A post shared by Lily Martinez (@lilylove213)

“For me, it has so many meanings, but primarily it’s the crossroads of my creativity and what I love to do and my culture,” Martinez explains about her Catrina creations. In each look, she incorporates something related to her Mexican culture, like this look that includes a crown of corn husks. “I still want it to be authentic to who I am and still be in touch with the tradition, but modernize it.”

14. This simple Day of the Dead Look


A post shared by iluvsarahii (@iluvsarahii)

For this look, you don’t need a ton of supplies—you just need a steady hand. This minimal, modern look only requires a few makeup products, like liquid eyeliner, red lipstick, a little bit of eyeshadow, and of course, the floral crown on top in corresponding colors.

15. This half-face makeup look


A post shared by KAHLOVERA 🎨 Lil’ Bitter Pixie (@kahlovera)

If you don’t have the patience required for a whole face of makeup, you can get a similar effect with a half-face Day of the Dead makeup look, like the one shown here by Bautista.

16. This love-themed look


A post shared by Lily Martinez (@lilylove213)

This Catrina makeup look by Martinez features pink, hearts, and all themes of love. “When I’m putting on this, I think of the people that are gone,” Martinez explains. “It makes me think of them because that’s what it’s for. It’s not just a costume.”

17. This bejeweled Day of the Dead look


A post shared by Lora Arellano (@lora_arellano)

As Bautista explains it, the makeup is a reflection of your own life or an interpretation of someone that you’re honoring, so what colors you use is up to you as the artist. Feel free to incorporate your loved one’s favorite flower or colors in your design.

18. This full-body makeup


A post shared by KAHLOVERA 🎨 Lil’ Bitter Pixie (@kahlovera)

When working with white and black paints, things can get muddy quickly without the right techniques. Bautista recommends first contouring with shadows, like powder contour makeup, before defining any heavy lines. “It’s hard to erase and start all over when you use water-based makeup, so I would suggest they do their sockets and cheekbones with powder and later come in with the lines, so they feel more confident with their placement,” Bautista explains.

19. This colorful Day of the Dead makeup


A post shared by ⱠØⱠØ ⱠØVɆ ❤️‍🔥 (@lolol0ve)

Don’t be afraid to change it up from the typical skull design. This makeup look starts with a white base, but instead of blacking out the eye area, the artist used bright, colorful shades to create a stunning eye makeup look that still resembles a skull.

20. This rhinestone makeup look


A post shared by Lily Martinez (@lilylove213)

This interpretation features rows and rows of roses and rhinestones, and don’t be afraid to carry the theme down into your outfit and accessories too. “A Catrina means you’re supposed to be all decked out, so jewelry would be another thing to dress up your Catrina,” Martinez adds.

21. This marigold Day of the Dead look


A post shared by Ana Lopez Alberyd (@vallera818)

For a look like this, swap the light face base makeup with orange face paint and gold tones to create a look that resembles the classic marigold flowers.

22. This flower-petal makeup


A post shared by Sonia Castañeda (@sccastaneda)

Jewels aren’t the only option for embellishing your Day of the Dead makeup look. Martinez says eyelash glue also works great for applying little pieces of paper cut in the shape of flower petals. Or you can skip the glue altogether and paint the flower petal shapes around your eyes with a damp makeup brush and gold shimmer pigment, like the look shown here.

23. This decked-out Day of the Dead look


A post shared by KAHLOVERA 🎨 Lil’ Bitter Pixie (@kahlovera)

Bautista’s last bit of advice for creating your Day of the Dead makeup look: Stay true to the culture but still represent yourself or whoever you’re honoring.”

Why trust Cosmo?

Siena Gagliano is a contributing beauty editor at Cosmopolitan and has three years of experience writing about beauty, fashion, and lifestyle news. She’s an expert at writing makeup stories that range from witch makeup tutorials to the best gel eyeliners. She’s an authority in all makeup categories, but after speaking to—and learning from—Mexican American artists and designers regarding Día de los Muertos, she feels knowledgable on the topic. Her Day of the Dead makeup looks include all Mexican American artists.

Sami Roberts was previously the beauty assistant at Cosmopolitan with four years of experience researching, writing, and editing health, social media, and beauty-related stories, including the best 2022 makeup trends and the coolest Halloween hairstyles. Her Day of the Dead makeup look picks highlight all Mexican American artists, and were chosen with information from experts in mind.

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