TikTok Is Obsessed With Putting Makeup On Dead People (& You Will Be Too)

When you think of TikTok, DIY beauty hacks, speedy cooking tutorials and dancing probably spring to mind. The app serves up bitesize content that's easy and enjoyable to scroll through pretty mindlessly but if you find yourself in the camp that ends up watching well into the early hours of the morning, you're likely to have come across the more curious clips.
There are the women who live in real-life Disney houses, people who are reclaiming outie labia, and prison wife TikTok. But none of these is more enthralling than mortician-Tok. Sometimes referred to as funeral directors, undertakers or embalmers, morticians prepare the deceased for burial or cremation, which includes washing the body as well as applying makeup and even doing hair — and TikTokers are obsessed. The hashtag #mortician has amassed 286.5 million views and counting as embalmers take to the app to divulge peculiar facts, share macabre stories and let viewers in on what really happens on the mortuary table.
Advertisement
A handful of morticians have become influencers in their own right. Wiltshire-based @mortuarytech has hundreds of thousands of followers and often participates in TikTok lives to answer questions about the makeup used. Then there's Eileen Hollis, licensed funeral director and embalmer at Hollis Funeral Home in Syracuse, New York (@hollisfuneralhome on TikTok), who has 751k followers and 12 million likes, and mortuary science student Mimi aka @mimithemortician, who isn't far behind. Though there are many ghoulish questions asked – 'Has anyone ever woken up on the slab?' – the majority of the interest is from viewers who want to know more about the technicalities of being a mortician – specifically, what it's like to do hair and makeup on a dead person.

You'll find a lot of L'Oréal, Maybelline and Revlon mascaras and eyebrow pencils. I've seen some embalmers using Glossier, too.

Mimi
One of the most watched mortician-Tok videos is by Eileen and has 2.2 million views. Lightheartedly tagged #GRWM (or 'get ready with me', a popular TikTok series), the clip shows her mixing makeup pigment with Vaseline to make a skin tint for a dead person. The application is not shown out of respect but the comments prove that people are fascinated. "I wish we could see u putting makeup on them but that's a little too far I think lol," wrote one follower. Another commented: "Weird I know, but I would love to know what mix you would use for my complexion."
Advertisement
There's no denying that death is a taboo topic. Rather cleverly, though, TikTok's morticians are taking our collective interest in the way we look and using it to normalise the subject, all while tapping into our curiosities. Mortuary and special effects makeup artist Heather (aka @beforethecoffin) captioned a recent video: "What would your final lip color be?" It may seem like a morbid question (and one many would rather not think about) but the comments came flooding in. One follower said it had to be the trending Too Faced Lip Injection Extreme Gloss, while another joked: "If I don't look like a goth goddess or 2006 scene queen I don't want it." How we choose to wear our hair and makeup can be key to our sense of identity. If our appearance holds a certain personal importance in life, it can't be any different in death. But what exactly is it like to put makeup on a dead person?
"Some people care [what they look like] and some people truly don't," says Eileen. "Some people want eyeliner as sharp as a knife and some simply prefer to go back to the earth without any fuss. Sometimes I get so close to a person's face, I have moments where I feel like I'm painting rather than simply applying cosmetics. I still have times — an out-of-body experience if you will — when I think to myself, Whoa, this is your life. I shock myself with how comfortable I am caring for the dead." Mimi seconds this. "The most shocking aspect would have to be how therapeutic it is. I assumed doing hair and makeup on dead people would feel somewhat unnatural and strange but I soon realised it is quite the opposite."
Advertisement

One family was adamant about their grandmother having '90s eyebrows. When the family came in for the viewing, they hated the eyebrows and insisted on fixing them themselves.

Mimi
On TikTok one of the most commonly asked questions is which products morticians use on the deceased. Interestingly, it's a combination of specially formulated mortuary cosmetics (a must, as a number of obvious and not so pleasant skin changes occur after death) and well-known brands. "For most cases, I'll use the makeup right out of their personal makeup bag," says Eileen. "I've used Maybelline, Chanel, NARS, Fenty, IT Cosmetics, NYX, bareMinerals and Anastasia Beverly Hills to name a few."
There are special instances, though. "For challenging cases that require restorative art skills and full coverage, I start off using mortuary cosmetics from The Dodge Company and LolaSe7en Mortuary Cosmetics," says Eileen, who uses Tarte makeup brushes and Beauty Blenders to apply makeup. "Lola is a mortuary cosmetics professional and her line of mortuary cosmetics melts into the skin, covering the toughest postmortem discolouration," says Eileen. "Postmortem skin changes can be extremely challenging but it's not the most difficult part of my job."

I've used CeraVe, Cetaphil and micellar water in the past but that doesn't mean I'm out here performing the deceased person's entire 'go to bed with me' skincare routine.

Eileen
Mimi says the colour correcting products we use in everyday makeup (green to cancel out redness, purple to neutralise yellow tones and orange to mask dark circles) are often applied on dead people, too. For sanitary reasons, whatever makeup is given to them by the family of the deceased will be kept at the funeral home. If you're deep into mortician-Tok, you'll know that some products are thrown away but others may be reused on other dead people. "You'll find a lot of L'Oréal and Revlon mascara and eyebrow pencils. I've seen some embalmers using Glossier, too," says Mimi.
Advertisement
Mimi details that typical makeup products are formulated to respond to the warmth of your skin, which poses a challenge when a person is dead. "Because you lose warmth when you die, a lot of drugstore foundations or liquid face products won't work well on the deceased. That's when those specially formulated mortuary makeup products come in handy." Believe it or not, skincare is also an important part of a preparatory beauty routine in death, says Eileen. "I've used CeraVe, Cetaphil and micellar water in the past. I'll use a gentle face cleanser but that doesn't mean I'm out here performing the deceased person's entire 'go to bed with me' skincare routine. More often than not, though, I use mortuary products rather than well-known skincare brands." Eileen mentions that these kinds of products are designed to properly clean and disinfect the dead human body. "They even prevent fungi and mould, too." 
So who gets a say in how you look when you're dead? After all, you can't exactly speak for yourself. Mimi says she doesn't do anything extravagant regarding the hair and makeup unless it is requested by the family. "It's our job to honour the families we serve and to provide them with the services they wish. Giving their grandma a colourful eyeshadow look may be alarming if she never wore that kind of makeup on the regular!" But if a loved one was known for a signature lip colour or winged eyeliner, Mimi encourages the family to say so. "We will apply the cosmetics however they wish."
Advertisement
Often, the family has the most say, seconds Eileen. "They know all the fine details that make a person unique. To get the deceased person's look right, I ask for multiple pictures and ask a million questions. For example, which side did they part their hair? Which fingers did they wear their rings? If there’s a next of kin, I always ask. I don't want the recently deceased person to haunt me!" But dead people have a say, too. Well, kind of. "People can make pre-arrangements and plan their funeral in advance," says Eileen. "We've cared for quite a few people that have left detailed instructions about everything they want," including wishes about respecting gender identity. "A dear friend of ours set aside her whole funeral outfit, makeup bag, special blanket and fuzzy slippers. I love when people are that comfortable with their own mortality."
That's exactly what TikTok's morticians are doing: allowing their curious followers to face any fears they may have through education. "People are intrigued by morticians because we're talking about one of the most hush-hush subjects in society," Eileen says. Perhaps brought on by the global pandemic, the TikTok comments section proves we're more morbidly curious than ever. In the UK alone, there have been more than 160,000 coronavirus-related deaths. Dr Pamela Rutledge, media psychologist and director of the Media Psychology Research Center, says: "Many people have experienced losing a family member, colleague or friend at a time when social isolation made the loss more poignant. Death is an existential threat because we don't know what it’s like. The ability to watch morticians addresses some of that curiosity and takes away some of the mystique. Humour especially diffuses the anxiety and fear." Pamela explains that the popular questions about makeup are less about beauty than the cultural tradition of preparing a body so that it looks as though death hasn't occurred. "Makeup softens the intensity of death and extends control in real-world terms," she says. "It helps relieve some of that existential threat. One of the ways to overcome death anxiety and help people who are grieving is to talk about it, rather than pretend it doesn’t exist."
Advertisement
If you've ended up on mortician-Tok, you've probably heard the story about the funeral director who plucked a dead woman's mole hair, only to be blasted by her family for altering her appearance. Family members do occasionally have aversions to the finished hair and makeup look, says Mimi. "One family was extremely adamant about their grandmother having '90s eyebrows. To err on the side of caution, we pulled up reference photos of that aesthetic to make sure we were on the same page. When the family came in for the viewing, they hated the eyebrows and insisted on fixing them themselves. We provided them with exactly what they asked for but they ended up not liking the way they looked, which is perfectly fine!" Eileen adds that she has had to slightly fix a person's hair or brighten their shade of lipstick, but nobody has ever been horrified. "When I need to fix something, I just quickly and calmly do that without ego. If someone's hair isn't exactly right, I like the opportunity to finesse it and make it perfect."
Depending on the state of the body, TikTok's morticians explain that it can take hours to prepare a dead person. If a body has experienced a traumatic injury, Mimi says that the restorative art process is not easy. "It's incredibly difficult to make everything look smooth and natural," she says. "It takes a lot of focus, time and attention to detail. Car accidents can pose a great challenge when it comes to restoring the deceased. Sometimes there will be burns, wounds, hair loss or other visible damages." In situations like these, morticians do what they can to achieve the most natural appearance with the help of a substance akin to facial filler. "We have mortuary wax that can be used to fill and smooth over wounds," says Mimi. "It is also used to smooth out unwanted texture that is present on the skin. We then apply makeup and other cosmetic products on top of the wax to create a flawless finish. It is virtually invisible."
Advertisement
On TikTok, @mortuarytech recently went viral for revealing that the hair and body is cleansed before makeup. Rather intriguingly, the hair washing routine isn't that different from having your lengths tended to at the backwash in a salon. "We use our own shampoos and place your head on one of our head blocks, then we would set your hair and wash down your body," she said. Another common query is whether hair is difficult to curl or straighten when a person is dead. "I've actually had no problem curling dead people's hair whatsoever," said Eileen in a video. "All you need is to tease it to Jesus and put a lot of hairspray. This is coming from a funeral home that does a heck of a lot of classic old lady hairdos, like pouffy-type curls."

Some funeral professionals think we're a disgrace for spilling the tea, but honestly, the questions that people are asking us aren't anything too wild and crazy — they're all good questions.

Eileen
Post-body wash, Mimi adds that there is a specific mortuary product which is widely used by most funeral homes. "The commercial dupe for it is the CeraVe Moisturising Cream," she reveals. "I am a firm believer in taking care of your skin in both life and death. It is crucial for us to wash, disinfect and moisturise the deceased's face prior to applying any cosmetics. After we are finished embalming, we apply a thick layer of this product to the deceased's face, hands and neck. These are the areas that may be seen during any viewings so we pay special attention to them. We leave the cream on until we are ready to apply the cosmetics."
Advertisement
Styling hair and applying makeup takes a while longer than the cleansing and another common question is whether there is a strong odour as the body starts to decompose. According to @mortuarytech, it's not uncommon for morticians to rub sliced lemon inside a face mask to cover up any smells. Morticians have a duty of care towards the person in question and their family so it's fundamental to get on with the job the best they can, regardless of the situation.
Their personable honesty means TikTok's morticians are finding fame on the app. Though most are praised by their followers for tackling the big questions with ease, Eileen says that talking openly about doing hair and makeup on the dead can offend people. "Some funeral professionals think we're a disgrace for spilling the tea," says Eileen, "but honestly, the questions that people are asking us aren't anything too wild or crazy — they're all good questions." In fact, she mentions that a lot of these queries involve information which morticians are legally supposed to disclose to the family anyway. Mimi agrees that older funeral directors tend to gatekeep what morticians do and TikTok allows for more frankness. "Now Gen Z and millennials have entered the chat and have completely obliterated any rules or guidelines that were placed upon death. I'm here for it!"
Eileen explains that there are people in deep, complicated grief who have been traumatised by the unknown, including what morticians do behind closed doors. But TikTok's candid, witty mortician community is helping to alleviate some of this fear. "Communication is everything," says Eileen. "Keeping an open and honest dialogue about death can help soften existential dread." Pamela adds that for some people, being able to watch morticians on TikTok may even provide comfort by making the horrible mundane. Mimi agrees. "TikTok has allowed us to be recognised and appreciated but it has also provided us with a much-needed platform where we can discuss death in casual conversation outside of the workplace."

More from Beauty

R29 Original Series

Advertisement