VERMILLION, S.D. | Abby Meyer, a University of South Dakota student working on her master's in technical theater design, has been doing theatrical makeup for a long time. 

Looking to mix things up at Halloween even in her youth, Meyer took passé costumes in a different direction. 

"When I was a kid, my mom would try and get me princess costumes and things like that," Meyer said. "And then I'd go into the bathroom and cover myself with red lipstick, and be like a 'vampire princess.'" 

University of South Dakota graduate student Abby Meyer demonstrates makeup techniques on USD senior Hannah Kieliszewski at the Warren M. Lee Center for the Fine Arts in Vermillion on September 7. Cake makeup, the type of makeup recommended by Meyer, is often used in theater productions and is made of oil and colored powder. (Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal) Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal

Today, Meyer's website boasts photos of her makeup works, which vary from colorful fairies to convincing gunshot wounds and scars. 

Meyer is, in essence, a scary-makeup pro. With Halloween approaching, how can a regular person, lacking Meyer's talent and expertise, make their child or themselves into a convincing zombie or a beautiful fairy for trick-or-treating or a party? 

The following are some tips and tricks from Meyer for an extra-scary Halloween getup. For each of the following disguises, Meyer advises that people get started earlier rather than later. 

Frankenstein's monster

The "typical" Frankenstein still looks about like the character portrayed by Boris Karloff in the 1931 film -- a large, squarish forehead, green or yellow skin, bolts sticking out from the neck, facial scars. 

It's a character near and dear to Meyer's portfolio -- she transformed actor Austin Vetter into the deformed, decaying, stapled-together monster for USD's 2015 production of "Young Frankenstein." 

As makeup projects go, that one was pretty involved -- Meyer made custom silicone moldings for the facial deformities of Frankenstein. That would be too cumbersome for most people to do, but there are easier ways to become a monster. 

What you'll need:

  • Moisturizer
  • Foundation
  • Liquid latex or spirit gum, available at Halloween stores and Wal-Mart, or online
  • Tissue or toilet paper
  • Cake makeup -- Meyer recommends Ben Nye brand, available online
  • Prosthetic add-ons, like the bolts sticking from Frankenstein's neck -- these can be found online
  • Blow dryer
  • Setting powder, available at beauty retailers and online


1. Use moisturizer on skin where makeup will be applied, because makeup is drying to skin. Let it dry before proceeding. 

2. Add any prosthetics, which are glued on with liquid latex or spirit gum. To make Frankenstein's facial deformities and scars, apply a coat of liquid latex or spirit gum to the skin in the area, then stick on toilet paper for bulk, then another layer of liquid latex or spirit gum, and so forth, until the deformity is of a suitable size and shape.

A blow dryer will help these latex-paper lumps to dry. The metal "stitches" on Frankenstein's scars can be drawn on with a makeup pencil or even "sewn up" with yarn. Because of how difficult and cumbersome this part can be, Meyer said add-ons might be better for an older child or adult rather than a very young child. 

3. Apply foundation to the skin, and to the prosthetics and deformities. 

4. Time for the cake makeup. Nothing like ordinary makeup, cake makeup is a thick, opaque substance made of powder and oil, usually used in theatrical productions. In the case of Frankenstein, shades of green and yellow are the norm. 

University of South Dakota graduate student Abby Meyer demonstrates makeup techniques on USD senior Hannah Kieliszewski at the Warren M. Lee Center for the Fine Arts in Vermillion on September 7. An important part of any good makeup, Meyer said, is to use dark colors for facial shadows and lighter shades for highlights, to create contrast. (Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal) Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal

But to do good scary makeup, don't just slap on a single shade across the face. Ideally, there should be a main shade, plus a lighter one and a darker one. If green is the main color, Meyer says purple is very effective for shadows. 

"That's the most important part of creating a good makeup: being able to create the highlights and the shadows of the face," Meyer said. "And that's what a lot of people forget when they're putting on their ghoulish makeup is, they maybe just color their entire face with white or green, and they forget that when you do that, you create this flat effect." 

So Meyer applies darker shades in areas where shadows naturally fall, like under the eyes, cheekbones and bridge of the nose, and lighter shades next to the dark ones for contrast. 

"Contouring is the biggest part of creating a realistic, or a dramatic makeup," she said. 

For a novice at the nuances of contouring and highlights and shadows, Meyer recommends watching the many YouTube tutorials on the subject. 

5. Finally, use setting powder to make sure the makeup stays stable and doesn't become a smeared mess or appear sweaty. Apply it with a brush atop the makeup. 


Unlike the monolithic Frankenstein, there are a few different ways to do zombie makeup. 

"For a zombie, that can be very simple to very complex," Meyer said. 

Meyer says she prefers zombies clothe themselves as much as possible, to reduce the amount of makeup that must be applied to the skin and prevent normal-color skin from peeking out. That's a dead giveaway for fake zombies. 

Because zombies are dead, they are paler than they would be in life. For fair-skinned people, that means applying near-white makeup, while for darker skin tones, it's best to apply makeup a few shades lighter than normal skin tone.

What you'll need:

  • Moisturizer
  • Foundation
  • Cake makeup of lighter shade than normal skin tone, plus an even-lighter shade for highlights and a darker shade (like purple) for shadows and contrast
  • Prosthetic wounds, if desired
  • Liquid latex or spirit gum
  • Setting powder

1. Use moisturizer. 

2. Add prosthetics, glued on with spirit gum or liquid latex. These may include pre-made cuts or bite marks, or homemade versions (see Blood and Gashes, below). 

3. Apply makeup paler than normal skin tone. Highlights should be even lighter, while shadows can be purple or dark brown, to create what Meyer calls the "sunken look." The sunken look uses the same contour principles as on Frankenstein, but starkness is key. 

"Beauty makeup artists always talk about how your contours should blend," she said. "When you're doing something dramatic where you want to look like a zombie, it should have harsher lines."

5. Use setting powder. 

Blood and gashes

What if your costume isn't Frankenstein or a zombie per se, just a regular Joe with a hideous gunshot wound to the head or a massive werewolf bite? 

University of South Dakota graduate student Abby Meyer demonstrates makeup techniques on USD sophomore Alyssa Elbert at the Warren M. Lee Center for the Fine Arts in Vermillion on September 7. To make a bloody wound, the stage blood or strawberry jelly should be applied in an oozing fashion. (Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal) Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal

No worries, gory wounds are one of Meyer's specialties. Prosthetic wounds can be bought from the store, but for that stomach-churning realism and a guarantee no one else at the party will have the same wound, do it yourself. 

What you'll need:

  • Moisturizer
  • Foundation
  • Liquid latex or spirit gum
  • Molding wax (available from Ben Nye)
  • Cake makeup in dark maroon or purple, or lipstick in dark colors (not for lips)
  • Stage blood (available from Ben Nye), or strawberry jelly
  • Hairspray

1. Use moisturizer on skin that will have makeup. 

2. For a horrifying, skin-tearing gash or a missing eye, use molding wax and liquid latex. The latex is adhesive for the molding wax, which is formed into a wound. Shape the wound appropriately, making it look natural. The best way to do this is to smooth the edges and make it appear seamless. 

3. Apply foundation to the area. 

4. Apply the dark maroon to the area from which the blood will be seeping, in a way that looks realistic -- this represents dried blood. Then apply the stage blood or strawberry jelly in an oozing, seeping fashion. 

5. A great way to make a wound convincing is to add bruising. For this, use lipstick or cake makeup of purple, maroon and yellow, progressing outward from the wound in that color order. Consider adding reddish-colored veins emanating from the wound as well -- it's a sure sign of infection. 

USD sophomore Alyssa Elbert models make-up done by University of South Dakota graduate student Abby Meyer at the Warren M. Lee Center for the Fine Arts in Vermillion on September 7. Keep in mind the type of zombie when selecting an outfit -- risen-from-the-grave zombies may wear deteriorated funeral wear, while a disease-victim zombie may wear street clothing. (Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal) Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal

6. Use hairspray to set the fake wound. 

If the gash is for a young child's costume, Meyer recommends a temporary gash tattoo rather than the aforementioned process, as it is less difficult and unpleasant for a child. 

"The younger you go, you want to go with things that are easily removed," she said. 


If a cute costume would be more appropriate than a ghastly one, Meyer said fairies are a good choice. 

There aren't many rules with fairies, though Meyer recommended people stick to a color or character theme. 

"You really play up the colors," she said. "Stick with a color theme, because if you get too crazy, it'll look muddled, and it'll look messy." 

What you'll need

  • Moisturizer
  • Foundation
  • Cake makeup in bright, fun colors
  • Lipstick in matching color
  • Wig if desired, also of matching color -- can be purchased online
  • Setting powder

1. Apply moisturizer, then foundation. 

2. Makeup is a wild card with fairies -- it can be as wild as imagination permits. If, for example, the fairy is purple, use a light shade of purple cake makeup for the base coat and accent it with decorative flourishes in darker and lighter shades -- swirls and dots across the face help a fairy stand out from the crowd. 

USD senior Hannah Kieliszewski models makeup done by University of South Dakota graduate student Abby Meyer at the Warren M. Lee Center for the Fine Arts in Vermillion on September 7. Fairy makeup is much more freewheeling and creative than more set-in-stone looks, like Frankenstein. (Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal) Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal

3. Bright lipstick in a similar color will add another pop of color. 

4. Add a wig of a similar color if desired. Flowers in the hair make a lovely accent. 

5. Use setting powder to keep those colors pretty all night. 


For fresh-from-the-grave zombies or Frankenstein, Meyer recommends the hair be mussed, knotted and dirty. A bald cap can be worn, though children may find them uncomfortable. 

Outfits for zombies vary based on which type of zombie a person intends to be. If the zombie has risen from the grave, dress in suitably deteriorated funeral clothes, usually formal wear. An old suit can be purchased at a thrift store, and distressed using a serrated blade to create the wear and tear of the grave. Don't forget to add dirt (Meyer recommends dark paint) to complete the outfit. 

A similar approach can be used for Frankenstein -- a shirt buttoned to the collar with an overcoat would work, and can be similarly distressed. If authenticity is important, remember that the original novel came out in 1818, so look for appropriately drab, old-fashioned attire for an authentic Frankenstein. 

For a zombie à la-"The Walking Dead," in which the person was alive until infected with a zombie disease, regular clothing can be worn, perhaps dirtied and distressed. Bear in mind, though -- the more skin covered by the outfit, the better.

Fairies are flexible, but a gown is a sensible choice for a traditional fairy. Flowers, sequins and wings add to the look, and can be purchased at craft store. 

Makeup removal

Once Nov. 1 has arrived and all the Halloween fun is over, how does a person get all this makeup off? 

"Most of this makeup should come off rather easy with Wet Wipes," Meyer said. "If you have sensitive skin, the thing you want to do is, once you've removed your makeup is, make sure you moisturize your skin." 

Care must be taken during the makeup removal process. 

"When you take your makeup off, be gentle about it, because your skin on your face is very sensitive," Meyer said. "So don't be angry about it." 

After makeup is removed, wash off the face with a face wash and warm water. 

If spirit gum was used as an adhesive, spirit gum remover is available, though it can be harsh on skin. Liquid latex, no matter what, will feel like a Band-Aid coming off. If any pieces of latex remain, they can be removed with baby oil.

Cake makeup shouldn't stain the skin as long as foundation is used under it, though inexpensive fake blood could stain the skin for a time. 

If there is some part of Halloween makeup that absolutely won't come off the skin, Meyer knows of only two things that work -- time, and a loofah. 

"If you turn yourself into Frankenstein, some of your skin's going to be a little bit green, no matter (what)," she said. "Just for like a day." 


The types of makeup used here can have adverse effects on the skin of certain individuals. In particular, liquid latex must be avoided by anyone with any degree of latex sensitivity. Even those who can wear rubber gloves without problem should be careful, Meyer said, because liquid latex gets into the pores. 

The best way to be sure about whether latex is an issue, Meyer said, is to test it in a small spot on the hand or inner arm, and watch for a reaction. 

Spirit gum is less allergenic than liquid latex, though some people may still have problems with it. It's also more vulnerable to sweat, meaning its adhesiveness can fail at times. 

Also, be prepared for an unpleasant odor while the latex or spirit gum dries. This is normal. 

"Liquid latex smells terrible, until it's set," she said.