By Kristina Uriegas-Reyes

Día de los Muertos, celebrated November 1st & 2nd, is a Mexican holiday that celebrates the lives of the dearly departed. My grandmother, raised in Mexico, handed down the cultural knowledge that comes with this important holiday. She explained that the day is meant to honor, commemorate and celebrate the lives of the dead by creating altars and traditional pan de muerto (yum!). Although skulls are a part of the traditional imagery, she emphasized the lack of association with Halloween.

This brings me to the idea of cultural appropriation. Time and time again, you see celebrities costumed in sugar skull makeup, the latest being Sandra Bullock and Kate Upton. The beautiful sugar skulls, often decorated pastries, are obviously inspiring, yet the meaning behind them can be lost in translation.

I spoke to my grandma after creating this tutorial and the most surprising thing she said was that it’s actually very rare for Mexican people to create this kind of makeup. It’s mostly utilized in parades or high-scale events. Although Day of the Dead is celebrated throughout Mexico and in other parts of the world, the sugar skulls makeup has become a rare, yet special occurrence. The imagery became more prominent in America as Halloween rolled around.

When Latino USA asked me to create this tutorial, I jumped at the chance to explore my roots and create a spectacular look for our Day of the Dead celebration.

I drew out a sketch beforehand so I knew exactly what I’d be doing. I ended up changing my mind a few times, but it never hurts to have a plan. I’m not going to lie, this makeup can be long process, depending how detailed you get, but you can work faster by figuring out which products work best for what you’re trying to do. I shopped around and ended up getting almost all my products at Ricky’s NYC.

sugar skulls 2

Step 1: The Basics

I cleaned my face as usual and started with toner, moisturizer and primer. If you’re starting at night, you might want to use a makeup wipe and cleanser beforehand. The primer is great because it helps everything wipe off super easily once you’re all done. Everything is going to be covered in makeup so make sure to spread the primer evenly all over your face.

I used an eyebrow brush on my brows down, but don’t worry about it too much since they’re going to be painted down anyway. Some suggest gluing them down, but I don’t think that’s necessary. I also used a eye lash curler on my lashes. You can heat yours up with a a hair dryer for a stronger curl, but make sure it’s not too hot or you’ll burn yourself.

In terms of hair, I started with rag rolls since I’m going for a vintage feel and that’s normally how I wear my hair anyway. It’s super simple, but you can find a tutorial for this hairstyle on xoJane. I also think victory rolls would look wonderful with this look!

Sugar Skulls 3

Step 2: The Base

Starting with a stark white from a clown makeup palette, I dabbed paint all over my face, including my ears. Don’t worry if you get a bit of makeup in your hair, it goes with the overall look. You can use your fingers to spread the paint (with clean hands), but I recommend using a makeup tool of some sort. I used a Beauty Blender to start and a makeup brush to fill in the hidden spots, such as my hairline, lips, jaw and outside of my nostrils.


You’re going to want to avoid the areas around your eyes since that will be black, but it’s ok if you get some in the area since you can easily go over it with black paint. Once there’s a a bit of makeup on your face, use the white eye liner to create circles around your eyes, which you will later be outlining in black. I only put white paint up to the edge of my neck, which makes this look like a mask. You can cover your neck if you’re into that though.

sugar skulls 6

I decided that I wanted to do a 1920’s cupid lip so I used a Q-tip to wipe the white paint off my lips. Then I used the white eyeliner to create the outline I wanted. You can always go back and use a Q-tip if you feel the shape is not quite right. I wanted a really strong lip so I use a good amount of paint all around the covered section of my lips and spread it evenly with a brush. There’s now room to add lipstick later!


Before you move on, make sure everything is blended evenly and in the right spots.


If you want this look to last, you can use a hair dryer (set on cool) to dry your makeup and add setting power all over your face using a powder puff.


Step 3: Shadow Eyes

Next, I started my eyes by adding sparkly black eye shadow all over my eye lids. Don’t worry if your eyes are kind of uneven, just layer it on thick, especially near the inner corners of your eye. You’ll be blending with paint later. Next, line the inner corner of your eye with black eye liner since you wont be able to get paint there. You should have a smokey eye going on. Feel free to add multiple coats of mascara.



Next I used a black eye pencil to draw circles around my eyes. You can draw symmetrical circles or follow the outline of your skull bones, creating more of a sunken look. It’s all up to you! After I draw the circles in pencil, I traced them with a liquid black pencil.


Then I took the black paint from the clown palette and, using the brush, I filled in the circles with black paint. I painted upward and over, using my eyebrows as a directional guide. I blended the eye shadow and paint slightly where they intersect.


To give some interesting dimensional to the black paint, I added blue and purple eye shadow with a hint of purple eye liner. This created a subtle matteness and overall shimmer to the eyes.


Step 4: Flower Petals

The next step is also the most tedious depending how you go about it. I wanted really precise flower petals to surround my eyes so I used red liquid makeup. It worked like a charm!


I created scallop shapes, one by one using the tip of the red paint.


So far, so good!



Step 5: Lips

Next, I lined my lips with a red lip liner, using the outline I created earlier, and filled my lips with lipstick. Because of the heart-shape of my lips, the color started bleeding into the white paint. I had to do a few touch ups as I went along.


Step 6: Details


This detail was definitely the easiest. I used a Q-tip to outline the heart and filled it in black paint and a brush.




I used liquid eye liner for the mouth because it felt more precise when it comes to creating an end point. It’s probably that I’m more used to working with it since I have an obsession with cat-eye makeup.


I filled in the stitches one by one, careful not to mark the rest of my face.



I did this nearly last, but it actually makes sense to do this first in case your hand hits the designs on the bottom half of your face.

I used a white eye pencil to create the web, went over it with black liquid eyeliner and then went over that in black paint since i didn’t think the liquid paint was thick enough. I have a widow’s peak, which helped work as my guide.


Step 7: Cheeks

At this point, you can just play with your look. I didn’t get too intricate, but I did add additional red swirls to the side of my cheeks using liquid red paint. At one point, the red smudged, but I was kind of into it so I blended some more. I liked that it looked like creepy sunken cheek blush. That’s the thing with this makeup. Since there’s no right or wrong way to do it, you find new techniques and details as you go.


Step 8: Skull Nose

I almost forgot about the nose! There are a few ways you can do it. The side of your nose can be shadowed in for a sunken-skull look, but you can also darken the nostrils or create a heart-shape at the tip of your nose. I went with a sort of ace shape with shadows underneath my nose. I outlined the shape liquid eyeliner and filled it in with black paint and a brush.



Step 9: Accessories

For the finishing touch, I added a flower crown which I created last fall using aRookie tutorial. It’s pretty simple if you’re planning to create your own. All you need is a glue gun, fake flowers and a hair band. All of which you can probably find at your nearest dollar store.


Voila, you’re done!


I hope you enjoyed my tutorial. I certainly enjoyed making it!

For more beauty and style, follow Kristina at or on twitter at @tweevalleyhigh

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