Halloween is my favorite time of year and I fully admit that my partner and I have been watching horror movies at night since the beginning of September. As much as the CGI in horror movies can blow my mind (or give me nightmares) it’s the practical effects that I love more than anything. Theatrical and Halloween makeup has the ability to truly transform us into other beings. To bring little pieces of other worlds and dreams, good or bad, to life.
Halloween, like all theatrical and costume makeup, comes in several forms. You’re most likely to come across grease paints, cream bases, and powders. The type of the makeup determines how you apply it, what it’s best for, how it wears, and how you take it off. None of them are any better than the others, they just have pluses and minuses depending on your skin and the look you need to achieve. Let’s break down these three types so you can get an idea of what I mean.
Grease paint is the oldest costume makeup and still one of the most effective. It has an oil base and tends to be very thick, almost like a dense body butter that needs your body heat to be able to spread properly. You can find grease paint in either palettes, tubs, or in crayon-like sticks.
What it’s best for: Grease paint is great for anything that needs opaque coverage or if you need to cover a wide area. Quality grease paints are highly pigmented and will completely cover up skin without streaking. This is perfect for full face coverage, detail work, and for getting sharp lines. It has a fairly long wear time, particularly when it is properly set with powder. (You’ll want a neutral setting powder so nothing interferes with your colors.)
Its downside: Grease paint is downright greasy. It’s a very thick oil base with the best staying power of the three making it also harder to remove than the others on the list. Being oil-based and hard to get off means that those of us with sensitive skin are more likely to have acne breakouts triggered by long wear of this paint. Personally, I do have sensitive, acne-prone skin but love the way grease paint looks so I tend to wear it anyway and then go heavy on my acne treatments and spot treatments as needed. Read my guides to the best acne treatment systems for adults and the best acne spot treatments for more information on what I’m currently using. Also, oil-based paints are more likely to stain fabric.
Creams are like diet grease paints. They’re basically the same thing, but a little lighter. And like diet foods, they might be better for you, but can also not be quite as good as their counterparts. These makeups have an oil base but a thinner consistency, closer to a thick lotion or hand cream. You can sometimes find them in tubes but they come in palettes as well.
What it’s best for: These have good opacity, though not as great as grease paints, and these blend well with each other both on your palette and on your skin. Creams are a good choice for gradients, intricate shading, and wide coverage for people with sensitive skin. They tend to be easier than grease paint to take off and are comparable to stick concealer.
Its downside: Creams are the middle ground between grease paint and powder makeup. They cover well, but not as thickly as grease paint. Since they’re easier to remove, they also won’t stick around as long as grease paints. Setting powders will extend their lives. These are also likely to stain fabrics.
Powder, also called cake makeup, is generally a pressed powder that you activate by either adding water or touching it with a wet brush or sponge. They’re watery, which is no surprise, and you can control their consistency and concentration with the amount of water you use. You’re most likely to find this in dry palettes, similar to watercolor paints, or as a loose powder.
What it’s best for: Being water based, powders are perfect for sensitive skin. They’re the least likely to irritate skin, the easiest to remove, and the least likely to stain clothes. Since they dry quickly, these are a good choice for children as they’re harder to accidentally smear or smudge during the drying phase.
Its downside: Water-based paints are not nearly as opaque as oil-based paints and tend to go on streaky if you try to cover too much area. They’re great for washes and for projects that don’t need to completely obscure the skin. Since they are water soluble, these paints are the quickest to run or wipe off when exposed to any moisture. A makeup setting spray will help, but still won’t get you the lifespan of oil-based paints.
A note on AA makeup.
A new formula on the scene, alcohol activated (AA) makeup is a powder that is only soluble in rubbing alcohol. This stuff is the longest lasting of them all and the hardest to remove as you generally have to rub it off with rubbing alcohol. As a result, this stuff can wreak havoc on your skin and isn’t recommended to be used often. If you come across AA makeup, best leave this one to the professionals.
Halloween makeup tips and tricks.
Always, always, always perform a patch test to make sure you don’t have an adverse skin reaction, especially if applying on children. This isn’t something you want to find out after you’ve covered your entire face. The recommended wait time is 24 hours, but anything is better than nothing.
You can remove powder makeup with soap and water, but you’ll want a good oil-based makeup remover, like cold cream, to remove grease paint and creams.
If you want to try to use grease paint and water-based makeup on the same surface, you’ll want to apply the powder makeup first and allow it to dry completely before attempting to layer grease paint on top of it. Otherwise, they can smear and mix causing a muddy mess.
Spirit gum is magical. You can use it to apply false hair, eyelashes, and glue on latex fake wounds. If you need to glue something to your face and not end up in the ER, spirit gum is where you want to be. However, if you’re going to be using spirit gum, make sure you pick up spirit gum remover before you use it. Otherwise you’ll be taking a late night trip to the store trying to play it cool with a huge witch’s nosed glued to your face.
Read the instructions because some brands or specific colors can be applied near the eyes and some can’t. Pigments are weird like that.
To make your look last even longer, wash your face with an astringent and don’t moisturize before donning your Halloween makeup.
On the other hand, if you’re worried about getting grease paints off, cover your skin in a thin layer of cold cream before applying to make removal easier.
When possible, apply the lightest colors first and work the darker colors in on top.
Adding glitter can be a perfect accent to some costumes, but be sure to add it at the very end and make sure it’s cosmetic grade glitter. Check out my guide to the best body glitter products that can turn you into a glitter wonderland.
But now, let’s get our claws into the best Halloween makeup palettes of 2017.
1. Mehron Special FX Kit
If you want to cover all your bases and get all your supplies in one place, the Mehron Special FX Kit is a great way to start. You can basically go from having no tools to everything you need in one purchase. This kit isn’t dedicated to just one costume like say a vampire kit would be. This is a set that can help you achieve a wide variety of looks. So if you’ve got plans to be a zombie, this has everything you need. If your friend, really wants a werewolf look, this can do that too. And it comes with a fair amount of product, so you can definitely get more than one application out of this. Alright, I’m going to go over the huge list of what’s included so you can get start thinking about all the creepy things you could do with this.
First off, let’s cover the palettes. The Special FX Kit comes with two makeup palettes. The first is an eight color cream makeup palette what comes with three shades of peachy-olive that would be great for flesh tones, sickly green, dark brown, black, grey, and white. The colors have excellent opacity and they give you enough to be able to cover your whole face in just one color if that’s what you needed. The second is a bruise wheel which is also cream makeup and comes with five colors: light green, yellow, red, maroon, and a very dark blue that looks black until you blend it out. These colors can give your skin anything from a beat up, prizefighter look to a battered, rotting corpse.
To help you get these looks, the set comes with two instruction booklets with all different human and monster tutorials. The kit also comes with three types of fake blood (thin, thicker, thickest), brushes, sponges, texturizing sponge, pointed cotton swabs, powder puff, setting powder, spirit gum, spirit gum remover, makeup remover, brush cleaner, modeling flesh, modeling putty, temporary white hair dye, synthetic hair for werewolves etc., three fake wounds, liquid latex, barrier spray, blood to dye your teeth, a fixative that prevents this blood from staining your teeth, fixative A for prosthetics, 3D clear gel, and rigid collodion.
The last two are the least known. Your 3D gel will arrive looking dried out, but don’t worry it’s not. It’s meant to be melted by placing your bottle in a bowl of hot water and once the gel is both liquid and not so hot it’ll burn you, you apply it to your skin to create extreme skin textures. The rigid collodion is a clear liquid that you paint on your skin in thin layers to create indented scars. Tt shrinks as it dries and is very inflexible so it pulls the skin together creating a really cool, realistic puckering. This YouTube tutorial shows a perfect example. Tip: use the spirit gum remover to remove the rigid collodion or you’ll get a ripping off a bandage effect.
Okay, so that’s a lot. This is basically a treasure chest filled with Halloween possibilities. If this were $100, that works out to about $3.70 per item. A quick search will show you that you’re not going to find the majority of these items for under $7.
Price: $99.88 (21 percent off MSRP)
- Everything you need in one place
- So much for the money
- Two cream makeup palettes
- Can create multiple different looks
- Comes with instruction booklets
- Includes tools and removers
- No animal testing
- Not everyone will need all these tools
- Not all items are latex free
2. Wolfe Professional Hydrocolor Face Painting Palette
Wolfe FX Hydrocolor is one of the densest powder makeups you’re going to find. Nothing will ever be as dense as grease paint or creams, but these powders are so highly pigmented that you can definitely make them opaque. Wolfe powders have a waxy base to them so when they dry, they maintain some flexibility instead of other water-based paints that can crack on high movement areas like your face. Despite that, these paints still come off easily with water. The coverage and consistency are about as good as you’re ever going to get with a powder makeup. It blends well and streakiness is very preventable with a little practice. You get 12 vibrant colors that will stay on your face through a lot of abuse. A setting spray will prolong your colors even further. A little goes a long way so you can get a lot of uses out of this palette
- 12 densely pigmented colors
- Water-based for sensitive skin
- Can be opaque
- Blends well
- Long lasting
- Resists cracking
- Not as opaque as cream
- Not many fleshy colors
3. Imagic Halloween Flesh Makeup Palette
Here are the gory flesh tones I’m looking for. I love this stuff. With these reds, browns, and peaches you can create realistic wounds. It’s perfect for painting injuries, blood, and exposed muscle and sinew. These are grease paints so they are very creamy and cooperative to work with. You can easily get full opaque coverage and the colors blend well into each other. Along with the flesh and blood tones, this palette also has two different shades of grey and an off white. If you think you’ll need a bright white or black, you won’t find them here, but those extremes tend to come off as unrealistic when you’re going for a bloodied look.
Price: $17.99 (33 percent off MSRP)
- 12 colors prefect for gore
- Long lasting grease paint
- Great consistancy
- From professional cosmetics company
- Geared toward only a few different looks
4. Rubie’s Complete Clown Collection Makeup Kit
You’ve seen It. I loved it and I super don’t want to run into Pennywise in an alley–and I normally like clowns. But I know this Halloween, chances are high Pennywise is going to scare the wits out of me. With this clown palette you have all the face paint you need to either be a perfectly lovely, fun clown or turn it into something more sinister. You get applicators, a sponge, and a brush to go with an eight color palette (green, black, white, yellow, grey, blue, red, purple) and a tube of white cream base makeup to cover your entire face. The paints are pigmented but a little thinner than other brands which is understandable for the price. To get the same effect as other palettes, you’ll likely need to layer these on a bit more. Temporary red hair color can give you that classic clown wig look and it comes with little stick on gems for the nice, friendly clowns. If you’re going for Pennywise, a set of creepy buckteeth or sharp, shark-like teeth can complete the look.
- All the face makeup you need for a clown costume
- Long lasting grease paint
- Comes with applicators
- Not as high quality
- Needs to be thicker to be vibrant
5. Myo Ultra Bright Neon Loose Face Pigments
This isn’t a traditional Halloween palette but I figure we’ve had some sets that give you all the dark, horror colors you need–what if you want to go bright? These Ultra Bright Loose Pigments from MYO as bright as they come. I haven’t found anything that has the same blindingly neon pigmentation as these powders from MYO. If you’ve ever wanted to color on your face with highlighter markers, they’ve got you covered. These are a good fit for a fairy princess look, a unicorn, or colorful butterfly. These would also be perfect for pride parade but that’s another post. With loose pigments, you need to have a primer base for them to stick to and a good setting spray to keep them in place. This set comes in the colors Flamingo, Smurfette, New Money, Highlighter, and Orange Peel. Oh, and they’re extremely black light reactive so that’s a bonus.
- Five unbelievably bright colors
- Unique look
- Black light reactive
- Easy to remove
- Working with loose powder can be tricky
6. Graftobian Severe Trauma Makeup Kit
The Graftobian Severe Trauma Makeup Kit gives you the tools to create really gruesome wounds and injuries. This modeling wax will make your squeamish friends hate you, and if that’s not what Halloween is about, then what’s even the point? With modeling wax you, can create swollen, puckered areas of skin that you can then “stab” into or cut open to make it look like you have open wounds. Most modeling waxes are a little sticky. If you’re finding it hard to work with, try covering your hands in lotion or an extremely thin coating of olive oil to make the wax easier to manipulate. You can attach your wax fake wounds with spirit gum and then blend out the edges for a seamless appearance. Any time you are using spirit gum, you want to make sure you’ve got spirit gum remover on hand, which they don’t include unfortunately.
This kit also has powder with a powder puff to set your wax and make it easier to paint on, sponge wedges, texturizing sponge, brush, stage blood, and bruise wheel. A bruise wheel has all the colors you need to combine to make a really gnarly bruise which can up the realness of wounds like you wouldn’t believe. A lot of the best fake wounds require the addition of liquid latex which isn’t included in this kit, so just keep that in mind when you’re planning your look.
Price: $18.94 (20 percent off MSRP)
- Creates gory wounds
- Cream makeup bruise wheel
- Enough for many applications
- Includes tools and instructions
- Good beginner kit
- Doesn’t include spirit gum remover or liquid latex
- People with darker skin will need to paint over modeling wax
7. Mehron Makeup Pro Bruise Palette
A few kits so far have included a bruise palette or bruise wheel which is a set of paints that when combined make a really nasty looking bruise. If you’re going for dead, rotting, or injured look and already have your fake blood and other tools and only need the paint to complete your creepy look–then you can just pick up a bruise palette. I like the Mehron because it’s affordable, gives you five natural looking colors, and blends really easily. You get a mustard yellow, sickly green, warm light red, dark reddish-brown, and a deep purple-blue. Some have said that these cream makeups blend too easily, but that’s one reason why I like them. When you don’t have a lot of art experience, getting colors to blend can be a little frustrating. The Mehron is almost foolproof in that the colors blend seamlessly with very little trying. If the colors are blending too much for your liking, tear tiny chunks out of your sponge wedge for a makeshift texturizing sponge.
Price: $14.88 (22 percent off MSRP)
- Makeup palette for gnarly bruises
- Blends seamlessly
- Long lasting cream paints
- Definitely needs a setting powder
- Easy to over blend
8. Ccbeauty Professional Halloween Makeup Kit
Halloween isn’t always blood and gore, and this palette from CCbeauty provides all the bright colors of the rainbow. These 12 grease paints are intensely pigmented and very opaque. They blend well but are solid enough to hold a clean line. This palette also includes metallic silver and gold. The gold is the least opaque of the lot and really needs to be gone over twice for full coverage but if that’s the worst of it, it’s an impressive set of paints. The metallics have a good shine to them that sets them apart from the other colors. This set also comes with some modeling wax and wax tool so you can add some skin texturing or increase the size of your cheekbones for a cool skull effect. If this looks lovely but you also want all that gory fun, CCbeauty has a set of two 12 color palettes with brushes which comes with this bright palette and one that is flesh and blood colors.
Price: $27.99 (18 percent off MSRP)
- 12 bright colors with metallics
- Grease paint
- Comes with modeling wax
- Highly pigmented and opaque
- Grease paint is heavy on the skin
- Needs setting powder
9. Wolfe Monster Palette
A different palette from Wolfe, these water-based, powder makeups come in a set of six colors designed to create monstrous looks. No bright rainbows here. It comes with light bluish grey, black, red, burgundy, and two shades of a sickly, rotting yellow. This is a great choice for zombies or other scary creatures of the night. Being water-based, these paints are great for sensitive skin and easy to remove. They dry quickly but that can also be a downside if you’re working slowly and trying to blend. Wolfe powder makeup has a waxy base that gives their dry paints some flexibility so they can move when your skin moves without cracking like normal water-based paints. These will need a setting spray to extend their life, as powder makeups don’t generally last as long as creams or grease paints. Wolfe paints have impressive opacity and you can get some surprisingly dense coverage.
- Six creepy monster colors
- Water-based paints for sensitive skin
- Highly pigmented with great coverage
- Waxy base prevents cracking
- Fast drying
- Won’t last as long as oil-based paints
10. Kryolan Supracolor Clown White
Okay, I know this isn’t a makeup palette, but it’s a Halloween makeup essential. So many Halloween makeup creations, from skulls to Victorian royalty, start with a white base, but that base can make or break a clown costume. (Pennywise folks, I’m looking in your direction.) A clown white face should be unsettlingly opaque. It should make people wonder if there even is skin under there or if that’s just your creepy white clown face. A lot of clown white bases can go on patchy or show far too much of the skin underneath it, but the Kryolan Supracolor Clown White is unbelievably dense. It goes on very light and doesn’t feel cakey at all. It’s a grease paint so it will have a heavy feeling to it and you’ll need to set it with a powder, but once you do that, it will last you all day. Don’t be a streaky clown.
- Dense opaque white for wide coverage
- Not cakey
- Long lasting grease paint
- Easy to work with
- Best with a sponge
- Grease paint can be hard on sensitive skin