Aretha Franklin is laid out 'like a queen' — this is how the deceased look their best, according to mortuary makeup artists

Morticians (also commonly known as funeral directors) and mortuary makeup artists have become the beauty gurus for assisting families in making sure their loved ones look their best at wakes and funerals. In most cases, the same makeup rules apply for the living and deceased. Consider Aretha Franklin and the absolutely regal way her body has been glammed up for public viewing and funeral.

Golden goddess: Aretha Franklin. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

The Queen of Soul died on Aug. 16 at her Detroit home after a battle with pancreatic cancer, but her diva style lives on. In a photo taken on the first day of her open-casket viewing at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Franklin is dressed in a bright red lace dress and pair of Christian Louboutin high heels adorning her crossed feet. Page Six reports that the “Respect” singer was wearing matching “crimson-colored lipstick and nail polish.”

On Wednesday, the late singer was outfitted in a powder blue number, and she wore rose gold on Thursday. For her funeral services on Aug. 31 at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit, Franklin was dressed in lustrous gold lamé that complemented her solid bronze casket.

Aretha Franklin’s lies in her casket at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History during a public visitation in Detroit on Aug. 28. (Photo: Paul Sancya/AP)

Mourning fans took to the internet to express their sentiments, including how Franklin’s look honored her signature lavish sartorial style.




However, there are differences in the types of makeup used on the deceased, and factors considered include how much trauma the person being serviced has experienced.

Mortuary makeup products are not for the living and are used to mask,” says Lisa Furr, a licensed funeral director and supervisor of Anatomy Laboratories at Rutgers Medical School.  “It is very thick, waxy, and kind of smells like turpentine.  We use it as a foundation to mask cases like gunshot wounds. Other than that, we would use traditional makeup or whatever the deceased generally used. We usually ask the family to bring us their makeup.” 

Yahoo Lifestyle interviewed three mortuary makeup artists on their fascinating profession, as the one responsible for how a person looks the last time they’re seen by loved ones.

What are some best practices used when creating makeup looks for the deceased?

Jamaya Moore, Freelance Mortuary Makeup Artist: I typically ask for a reference picture to see how someone looked before death. We also ask the family about their makeup preferences. Don’t overdo it. Some people don’t need layers of makeup. Knowing how to properly color correct is crucial because as the body decomposes, the skin starts to lose color. Color correcting helps brighten areas or conceal tough scars or bruises before foundation application. Airbrush makeup helps when there was a fair amount of reconstructive work done that doesn’t need to be disturbed by makeup brushes.

Aniana Perallon, Funeral Director, Fook Funeral Group: Best practices begin with attaining photos of the deceased from their family members. Our goal is to make the deceased look as they did when they were at their best. Photos allow us to see how the deceased wore their hair, as well as their favorite color pallets. Beyond cosmetics, we also have techniques that help emaciated bodies seem healthier by using a small-gauge syringe to inject the sunken feature of the face and/or hands with small amounts of a post-mortem feature builder — it’s sort of like Botox.

Amber Carvaly, Mortician, Undertaking LA: At Undertaking LA,  we have a different mindset than other funeral directors. But I am Coco Chanel all the way and my attitude is “less is more,” aka “simplicity is the keynote to all true elegance.” When funeral directors cake on makeup, it looks just as terrible as it would if the person were alive, if not more garish, as the person is obviously dead, and nothing will make them look alive. I am a fan of touching up eyebrows, mascara, and a favorite lipstick if the deceased had one they liked. 

What specific makeup is used to give the deceased an ‘alive’ look?

Moore: There isn’t any specific makeup, but color matching is essential. It’s generally best to use foundation products that have a golden undertone because it gives a natural lit-from-within look. There are companies that sell makeup to morticians but some of the shades aren’t realistic and makes the deceased look too red or warm. I usually mix several shades to address tonal differences in the skin. No one is one shade. We have natural light and dark areas on the skin.

Perallon: Depending on the condition of the remains, we can use traditional over-the-counter or mortuary cosmetics. The main difference between the two is that mortuary makeup is vastly more opaque than traditional makeup. Also, traditional makeup reacts to the warmth of the human body, which is now lacking after death and in turn makes these cosmetics react differently — sometimes even making it difficult to apply. Like traditional cosmetics, mortuary makeup comes in a variety of forms: liquid, creams, powders, and even airbrush. Mortuary cosmetics also come in alcohol-based textures, which work the best on skin that has edematous remains or those who display skin slip. Or, there are oil-based picks that help to provide moisture.

Carvaly: There are heavier makeups that are promoted as mortuary makeup, but they are essentially just theater makeup. We used Maybelline at my old job, and yes, the “Maybe she’s born with it…” was always a funny joke in my head.

Do you have any makeup tips for anyone struggling to look vibrant or … alive? What features should they focus on?

Carvaly: If you want to know what actually makes people look alive and dead, it’s their hands. When I worked a brief stint as an embalmer, I would often put a few strikes of light yellow on the hands to give them more luminosity. I think the face is the same. Contouring does not make you look alive, it makes you look like a doll. So in girl looks, I’d say it’s that soft, no makeup-makeup look — the kind where the makeup artist touts that they used one color and Vaseline all over the model to create each specific look.

Perallon: The outcome should look like you’re slightly blushing or have the perfect tan. If you really want to go glam, I would recommend a bold lipstick and focus on applying fresh eye makeup.

What are some key products in your mortuary makeup kit, and why are they essential?

Moore: For starters, MAC Mineralize SkinFinish Natural powder because it does what the name says and creates a skinlike finish. It’s mineral based with pigments that give skin more dimension. I generally stick to mascaras in black and brown — not only for eyelashes but to add depth to hairlines, beards, and mustaches. Ben Nye Final Seal setting spray is also a staple. During funerals, families might touch the deceased, and we don’t want the makeup to shift. Airbrush makeup is also a plus when creating an even, flawless finish after reconstructive work has been done.

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