Last week, my grandmother passed away. I asked my mother and aunts if I could be the one to do her hair, make-up and nails for the services. It may sound scary or even weird to others, but it is a very special experience. It is the last time, on this earth, that you can provide a service to that loved one. One last service to show them how much you care. This was my second time preparing a body for viewing services. I have put together a few tips that I stumbled upon myself while preparing the body or read about online. The two posts that I found most helpful online were from ehow and the gloss. (Note: I have not provided any pictures for the steps because I didn’t feel it appropriate to take them. If you read closely you can figure out each step without pictures.)

When preparing the body it will be already placed in the casket or it will be on a table, I have worked on both. I prefer the body to already be in the casket so that the hair and make-up don’t get messed up when they move the body. Just know that if you work on the body before it is in the casket you will need to do touch up on the hair and make-up after the body is moved.

Right before you begin, line towels on the clothes, pillow and casket liner to protect them from any make-up, polish or hair product. You can take your own, but the mortuary will provide them for you if you ask.

If you aren’t 100% sure how your loved one used to wear and style their hair and make-up, take a picture with you. This will help be a guide and a reference as you prepare their body.


Step 1: Relax

Take a deep breath. Remember that they are no longer in their body. When you touch their cold, stiff body don’t become scared or uncomfortable. Pretend you are working on a mannequin.


Step 2: Nails


Shape the nails and gently buff a natural shine onto the nails.


Remove any old polish. Shape the nails with a file. Paint with a soft polish that isn’t distracting.


Step 3: Make-up

I take the make-up bag of the deceased person and/or I take my own. If you take their make-up you are sure to have eyeshadows, blushes, eyeliners, etc. that match their skin tones and that people recognize them wearing. I never use cream foundations because they are designed to work with the heat of the body. I ask the mortuary for the face powders/foundation base that they use. They will provide you with anything that you need! I then use what I brought for the rest of the face (blush, eye make-up, and lipstick). For the make-up step, I found the ehow post the most helpful.

Before you begin the make-up tweeze! Tweeze women’s upper lip. Tweeze any unwanted stray neck hairs or eyebrow hairs. Don’t aim to thin the eyebrow.


I have personally never worked on a man, but I have read that the mortuary should shave them if you want them to look clean shaven. Then apply a powder foundation base to remove any waxy shine from the skin. Then do a very light amount of light blush or bronzer on their cheekbones. I then would ask the mortuary what they usually do for men’s lips.


Face Make-up — I work in the powder foundation that the mortician gives me. I then add some powder to hide any patches that may look shiny/waxy. I think in one of the links that I read it is referred to as blot powder. I then use a blush brush to add a little bronzer to define the cheek bones. Add a light amount of blush. I then use an eyebrow pencil to fill in or define eyebrows to look very natural.

Eye Make-up — Add eyeshadow and go very light on eyebrow pencil. For my grandmother, who never wore make-up, I did a light champagne and pink shimmer eyeshadow. I then did a very fine line of eyeliner right along the lash line, which I smeared into the lash line so that it didn’t look like she was wearing eyeliner; It just helped define where her eyelashes were. Then gently do a very small amount of mascara. This can be tricky since there eyes are closed, sometimes quite tight. You may need to lay a tissue right underneath the eyelashes as you do the mascara.

Lips — Now to do lipstick, I use a lipstick brush to draw on the lipstick of choice. When embalmed their lips can sometimes end up closed very tight causing their lips to pull in, so you may need to draw in their lips. I actually had to draw in an upper lip for both bodies that I prepared. Now you should be finished unless you see any shiny places on the skin that need to have more blot powder applied.

Note: Remember to go light on make-up colors. You want it to be a more natural look, not a painted on make-up look.


Step 4: Hair

I take my cutting shears/scissors with me incase there are any hairs that need to be trimmed.


I recommend just combing the hair how they usually wore it and holding it into place with some hairspray.


Curl and/or straighten the hair like it was usually worn. When it comes to doing next to the face and scalp I place a comb against the skin and place the curling iron on the comb, so as not to melt the skin. After the body has been embalmed the skin can be like wax and can melt when touched with hot appliances (so I have read).  The comb provides a barrier so that no heat will get next to the delicate skin. Once the hair is all curled and/or straightened, back-comb/tease the top to add just a little body to the hair. Comb the top layer smooth and secure in place with a little hair spray.

Note: After the body is placed into the casket you will need to do a little touch up. When the head is placed upon the pillow, it can pull some of the hair from the top and sides underneath their head. I use a comb and gently pull the hair back out and into place. Now lightly spray with some hair spray to finish the look.