WHEN IT COMES to exploring stage makeup, young performers often ask similar questions. How is stage makeup different from everyday makeup? What colors should I choose? Where should I invest more money, and where can I save?

Your makeup kit will grow over time as you gain experience and develop new characters. For now, let’s start with the basic items you’ll need to build your first theatrical makeup kit.


The difference between over-the-counter makeup you can purchase at any drugstore and performance makeup is the amount of pigment it contains. Performance makeup can have up to three times more pigment, offering better coverage under harsh theatre and film lights. With more pigment, you use less makeup overall, allowing for a lighter application. If your face is sensitive or prone to breakouts, you can protect your skin with a barrier spray used under your makeup and on top as a sealant. Small spray bottles travel well.

As the name implies, foundation provides a base for your entire look, so finding the right color is key. Start by buying a small, personal foundation kit for theatre. Today’s kits often include multiple foundation colors to experiment with. Or you can visit a costume shop with tester boards to find your perfect shade.

Make sure to choose a cream-based rather than powder foundation, as it provides a smoother finish and can be easily blended. Cream stick foundation can be used for all performance needs, from high-definition film and television to stage or still photography.

To add highlights and shadows, choose colors several shades lighter and darker than your foundation. Select a couple of colors of each, as your needs will vary on different stage sizes. Remember, you can always go lighter by blending two or more colors, but it’s harder to go darker than the shade in the container.

A variety of sponges will help in applying and blending your foundation and highlight colors. A stipple sponge can be used for creating freckles, stubble, or texture.



Once you’ve established a base, you’ll want to accentuate your features: lips, cheeks, and eyes. You have nearly unlimited options, so start with a few products in each category, then build your collection over time.

Mascara is best selected in the brown/black combination, which is the most universally flattering. Black alone often comes across as too heavy, and it doesn’t work well for all hair colors. Here’s a place you can save money: You don’t have to buy expensive mascara for your kit.

A variety of eyebrow pencils will ensure you have the right color for the right job. Opt for different shades of brown — light, dark, and auburn — and, of course, black. A nice pencil sharpener with a clean-out stick is also a good investment that will last a long time.

Flat and angled brushes tend to be most versatile, while a soft, round-tip brush works well around the eyes. Do include a good brush cleaner. It’s key to keeping your brushes in shape so they’ll last longer and be ready for the next performance.

Rouge or blush colors vary widely, but you should always include a natural color option. This is best for small theatres where the audience sits close to the actors onstage. Blush brushes come in multiple sizes, but a couple are all you need.

Lip colors vary a lot, so choose a nice selection of three or four to start. Make sure to include a nude or natural color in the mix. Guys only need this neutral color to bump up the natural shade of their lips.


A setting powder in a shaker container works well to finish your look and ensure your makeup stays in place throughout the performance. A neutral powder shade can be used on all foundation colors. If you select powder with color in it, make sure it matches your foundation; otherwise, it will change the overall color on your face.

To apply your finishing powder, buy a powder puff large enough to cover your hand. Pressing the powder into the puff and onto your face ensures moisture is properly removed. Dusting powder on your face with a brush does not provide the same results. A nice cloth puff can be washed with mild soap and water and reused.


Clean your face with wipes specifically designed to remove makeup, not with hand wipes. Be careful not to scrub your face too hard with paper products, which can irritate your skin. Finish your cleaning regimen with soap and water or your regular facial cleanser.


Once you have your makeup, you’ll need a case for storage. Don’t use cardboard shoe boxes — they won’t last. A hard, plastic container — with or without trays — that can be latched closed is your best bet. Organize your makeup and applicators to ensure they don’t move around in transit.

Travel with a small hand towel to lay on your dressing room counter. Placing your makeup on the towel versus the table will not only keep your area clean but also prevent your brushes from rolling.

Beginners don’t need to overdo their kits. If you like to collect items, you can trade them out from your personal storage as you work on different shows. Remember, you will have little space to work in, so bring only what you need to the theatre.

With these tools, you’ll be well prepared for your performance. Have fun, be creative, and enjoy your next makeup assignment.

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