40 Face Paint & Makeup-Only Halloween Costumes

Don’t see a trip to the costume store when you gaze into your crystal ball? Fear not. We turned to crafty moms, aspiring makeup artists, seasoned pros and Halloween superfans for paint- and makeup-based inspiration — and we’re treating you to all of their tricks here.

August 31, 2020

Photo By: Gabriela Hardan

Photo By: Sarah Busby

Photo By: Sarah Busby

Lovely Lycanthrope

Australian makeup artist Tracey Doyle drew inspiration for this wolfish look from a pair of golden-colored fashion lenses. (The FDA requires prescriptions for fashion and decorative contact lenses here in the U.S. — so if you’re thinking of trying a pair, your first call should be to an eye doctor.) “I used the yellow contacts and found a reference photo of a wolf to use for inspiration,” she says. Doyle used shades of everyday makeup (as opposed to a costume-specific kit) to create her furry features. “The biggest tip I can give anyone to do an out-there look is to find that reference photo,” she continues. “You don’t need to do it exactly the same as the photo, you can put your own spin on it. Just enjoy being creative. The power of makeup is amazing and endless!”

Scrumptious Sweets

Creative entrepreneur Kristen Bousquet has a few key pointers to creating this homage to ice cream — which, like Doyle’s she-wolf, deploys traditional cosmetics (see a full list of the products she used here). First, use a single look for the “melt” and your lips in order to keep the look cohesive. As for the real sprinkles, “I suggest using clear or white lash glue, not black, as you will be able to see any black glue that is applied, and it may take away from the overall look,” she says.

Sadly, this costume was so tasty that some of it didn’t make it to the shoot: “We also made a headband to go along with this and it was adorable (until my dog ate it before I could take a photo)!” The verbal version of that devoured detail: “Basically, we took a plain headband, spray painted some mounds of cotton to look like ice cream, then glued a sugar cone on top of the mounds to pull the look together.”

Twin Stars

New Orleans artist Crystal Turner has an enviable sidekick when it comes to costume creation in October. “My son and I love Halloween and I dress up with him every year,” she says. “The inspiration behind our unzipped look was to showcase [that] we are all magical and made of the universe!” To follow in their footsteps, buy a zipper at a craft store (or upcycle one from a worn-out item of clothing), then snip off the excess fabric on either side of the teeth. Experiment with laying the zipper at different angles on your face, trimming it to length, then dusting over it with a bit of loose powder so you’ll know where it will be affixed. Dab spirit gum within the outlines that remain, lay the zipper on your face, then use a combination of sponged, brushed, and stippled water-based makeup to create the effect of your choice on the “unzipped” portion of your face.

Unsewn Doll

Take spirit-gum embellishments in a kinda-sweet, kinda-spooky direction as Turner did here, using twine and stuffing affixed with spirit gum and supplemented with makeup to create a look that’s part Raggedy Ann, part Nightmare Before Christmas. Want a step-by-step tutorial for that twine look? We’ve got all the creepy-doll tips you’ll need here.

Adult Halloween Makeup Tutorial: Creepy Ragdoll

Pop Art

Giving yourself the graphic, comic-inspired Roy Lichtenstein treatment, as Wisconsin salon owner Nicoal Steinmann did here, is all about highlighting features with bold black lines (a liquid liner would work well) and recreating the look of Ben Day dots. Named for the illustrator Benjamin Henry Day, Jr., the process (which Nicole rendered in white here) uses mechanically created spots to create shading and variation with a limited primary-color palette in images printed for newspapers.

Glam Extraterrestrial

Known on social media as Villainous Varnishes for her professional makeup artistry and hair styling, Austina calls herself Aura Nova, “the cutest alien babe in the universe,” here. The key to nailing a look like this one is to tell a strong color story — here, a retro pink and green combination that carries into her accessories (find a full list of the makeup she used here). “To make the antennae you’ll need a headband, wooden skewers, air-dry clay, spray paint and hot glue,” she adds.

Silent-Era Cyborg

Artist, cosplayer and theater grad Kami Williams hits the books — or the Internet, as it were —before embarking on a look like this one. “I found inspiration online and began creating a vision board off Pinterest, including similar makeup designs from other artists and anything I would use as reference during the process,” Williams says. “I began the design by using a tritone eyeshadow ombre for the top half of my face to get an even smooth effect. The bottom half was done using a thicker white face paint to create a contrasting and textured effect. Lastly, I used a mix of watercolor face paint, eyeshadow and eyeliner to create the details including the line work and shading.”

Williams encourages beginners to improvise: “As a makeup artist, my advice would be to find what works for you and to understand that not everyone works the same way. While fully designing the look beforehand and knowing exactly what you want works for some people, experimenting and testing ideas may work better for you. Find what makes you feel comfortable with your work and create a process for yourself; whether it be drawing out your ideas, printing inspiration images or just going with the flow and trusting your process. Another huge tip I always keep in mind while working is that not every design will be successful. There will be designs that test your abilities and confidence, and you shouldn’t let those get in your way. It takes time and practice and every design, good or bad, is a step in the right direction.”

Little Monster

Minnesota hair and makeup artist Carissa Espey created this so-cute-she’s-scary three-eyed monster look with a combination of paint, glitter and well-deployed rainbow pom poms. When using glitter — a material that’s notorious for bedazzling everything in its path — she advises a bit of creative containment. “Apply Vaseline on [the] desired area, then apply glitter with a makeup sponge, whether it be for Halloween or the basic everyday makeup look.”

Pumpkin Scarecrow

Melbourne-based “makeup ghoul” Little Pretzel serves the spooky with her paints-and-shadows interpretation of the scarecrow at the beginning of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. Follow her lead with a bit of strategic shopping: “I’d suggest getting a palette of water-based face paints — one with the primary colors and a black-and-white so you can mix any other colors,” she says. “Plus a few synthetic paint brushes of different sizes — fine topped ones are great for details, and larger, flat brushes are great for putting down a base color. Dollar stores are good for these!”

She then encourages research and freestyling: “Starting with a Pinterest board of ideas helps me, I collect images that inspire me (artwork, movie stills, other makeup artists’ work, etc.), and then I sit down and just play around until I stumble upon the look. It’s OK to get messy and make mistakes! That’s part of the fun!”

Wicked Witch

HGTV.com managing editor H. Camille Smith went gloriously green to create this spellbinding look. The key to nailing it — and doing so without turning your clothing and everything you touch a similar color — is to use water-based paint held in place with finishing powder. To match the Wicked-good shade deployed on Elphaba, reach for MAC Cosmetics’ Pro Chromacake in Landscape Green (the precise product Broadway and touring artists use), which is activated like watercolor paint and applied with a narrow craft brush. To replicate the ghastly garnishes she’s holding, in turn, check out our full tutorial on concocting a wicked wine cauldron.

SEE MORE: Halloween Party Magic: Make a Wicked Wine Cauldron + Ghostly Garnishes

Bride of Frankenstein

Little Pretzel offers a decidedly glamorous version of another Hollywood classic, in turn, by bringing the drama with spectacular false lashes. She’s also got words of wisdom for recreating this luxe-lidded look: “There’s no need to buy expensive ones (I’m a big fan of drug store lashes),” she says. “Cut them in half (through the lash band) so that they are easier to position. Now you have two sets of lashes! (Or you can still use them together.) Use the short section on your outer eye for a more natural look. The long section will be more dramatic so that’s perfect for Halloween! Add a thin line of lash glue to the lash band. Wait for the lash glue to get tacky before applying the lashes. Once the glue is tacky you should have a few minutes to move the lashes around to find the right position. Use your finger to fan the lashes up rather than letting them droop down (this can make you appear tired). And if you’re careful with them you can clean them with rubbing alcohol or oil-free makeup remover and reuse them!”

Moon Goddess

KC De Castro created this ethereal look with a combination of non-Halloween tools and products, including an eyeshadow palette, white liner for detail work, lip gloss, mascara, concealer and a set of metallic highlighters (check out the full arsenal here) — and all of those elements can be reimagined for other events. Another bonus: creations like this one that focus on the upper half of the face won’t disappear under a scarf or mask.

Ouija Board

Cosmetologist Symphony Brown kept things text-focused (yet undeniably eerie) in this clever occult-themed look, most of which can be accomplished with a mirror and a steady hand (hint: find a photo of a Ouija board and flip it horizontally in Photoshop to give yourself a visual reference that will work in a mirror). With a fine-point liner for lettering, a few golden shadows for highlights and a killer set of lashes, you can be séance-ready in no time. Visit her YouTube channel to watch her assemble other looks on-camera.

Queen of Hearts

Her horror-tinged take on Lewis Carroll’s classic tyrant, in turn, certainly explains why the Queen would have a short temper. An ever-so-slightly-gory look like this one is perfect if you’re new to working with special-effects makeup, since it involves a straightforward application of a line of scar wax or liquid latex to affix the playing cards to your face.

Blue Skies and Fluffy White Clouds

This graphic look has a very personal backstory for Alyee Huston, a Michigan-based blogger and creator. “My inspiration came from my childhood since I loved flying with my dad who was a pilot and had his own small plane,” she says. “We would frequently fly the skies around the state of Michigan from the day I was born. My love for clouds and the sky grew from these experiences and they’ve always carried with me. This look was created with only a few eyeshadows and a liquid white eyeliner.”

Monet's Water Lilies

Susan Marshall, licensed cosmetologist and founder of SLM’s Styling, combined her loves of makeup and classical art in this homage to Claude Monet’s iconic gardens at Giverny. Susan’s got a degree in theatrical hair and makeup, but amateurs shouldn’t shy away from attempting an impressionistic effect like this. Consider that the look is built one daub at a time, work slowly from a reference image and remember that “Water Lilies” is a series of 250 paintings, not a single image — so your effort is bound to look something like at least one of them.

Beautiful Betta

“I used water-based paints to create my fish,” creator Angie Jae explains. “Please only use skin-friendly paint! (I personally used the Mehron Makeup basic Paradise palette).” She also used an oil-free primer on her face and an eyeshadow primer on her lids to help everything stay in place longer.

Ready for a master class in creating this look? “When painting your betta fish, start with outlining the body. Then work on your fins outwards from your outline. Focus on the base color(s) of your fish first. Then add some dimension! Using white mixed with your base color will create various shades for your highlight. Using black/gray mixed with your base color will create your shadows. Take your time building up the fins. Then you can fill in the fish’s body with your base color and add little squiggles in a highlight color to create your scales. Also a swipe of iridescent eyeshadow over the body makes for a nice touch!”

(Not So) Itsy Bitsy Spiders

Artist Jeann Clyle Torres nailed this look by both adding a shadow effect beneath the creature creeping up her cheek and implying that it might have company in a minute or two. She used Careline Graph-Ink Liner — a water-based formula with a precision felt tip — to create both the large spider’s body and legs and the legs peeking out from between her lips. You can create the drop shadows, in turn, by applying black pressed powder or dark grey eyeshadow with a round craft brush.

Rosy Unicorn

New Jersey-based makeup artist Emaan Khawaja went for a mythical look with the use of everything from primer, concealer, foundation and a contouring kit to a gleaming array of shadow, blush, glitter and blenders. More is certainly more when it comes to reimagining yourself as a unicorn, and this costume is all about experimenting with shimmer and shine for a dimensional, ultrafeminine effect. Want to DIY your own horn? Find our step-by-step tutorial video here.

Butterfly Eyes

Want proof that you can teach yourself pro-level looks via the magic of the internet? Consider Emma, who created these magnificent monarchs with inspiration from another self-taught artist using Snazaroo paint and an array of accessible cosmetics (find her full product list here). Follow Emma for behind-the-scenes videos of how she creates her looks — and if you’d like a beginner butterfly tutorial, we’ve got you covered.

SEE MORE: Halloween Makeup Tutorial: Butterfly

Luxurious Leaves

Artist James Apo used a combination of eyeshadow palettes, face paint and cleverly-deployed foliage to create this look (proof positive that upcycled greenery can have high-concept new life as a Halloween accent). Like Emma, he credits artists like him with giving him inspiration for his designs — and like many of the creators featured here, he’s stylish evidence of the fact that a deep dive on Instagram can be a fruitful way to stimulate your imagination. As he did here, use finer details to frame your face, then blend down into your neck to create a cohesive look—and be sure to grab a 3D accent (or several) to make your work come alive. Speaking of accents…

Rainbow Connection

…is cotton batting the Halloween costumer’s secret weapon? We would argue that it is. What Apo lost in depth perception here he unquestionably gained in dramatic impact. Once again, affixing a simple accent with spirit gum takes his design, inspired by fellow artist Lance (and accented with white eyeliner and a kaleidoscope of shadows) from striking to sensational.

Sea Witch

Las-Vegas-based artist Racquel, in turn, demonstrates that you can let the materials you encounter guide your hand. Tasked with creating a sea witch look for a friend’s project, she didn’t have an inkling of the final result when she started out. Instead, she drew inspiration from materials she found at her local craft store. “I went into this blind but used my imagination completely,” she explains. “For the ‘scales’ I used fishnet leggings and I just brushed some loose pigment over that. For the brush that’s meant to resemble seaweed, I found a small package of it that was meant for decorating and cut it up. I wanted [the look] to be as realistic as possible! I usually do creative eye looks, so I added that to bring the whole look together.”

Silence of the Lambs

“Scary” often translates to “gory” in modern Halloween makeup, and we love how artfully Sarah Bryant, aka Sarah LouWho (a beauty-blogging hypnotherapist!) nails the former without relying on the latter. “I always try to create simple makeup looks for Halloween that make a bold statement,” she says, “and I think Silence of the Lambs traumatized us all just enough to do that. I recommend using water-activated paints for makeup looks, they make removal and any corrections much easier. This entire look was created using Mehron’s Paradise paints.”

Sinuous Scorpion

Trans makeup artist and hairstylist Nikki Chamling created this gorgeous, graphic tribute to Scorpios with Sugar Cosmetics’ Gloss Boss, a high-shine, super-pigmented eyeliner that evokes the gleaming black body of an arachnid. Chamling then used NYX white liquid eyeliner — a perennial costume makeup artists’ favorite — to add details and highlights.

Big-City Skeleton

Exhumed bones are plenty frightening, but they’re so seldom fashionable. Enter southern California-based makeup artist and hairstylist Morgan Silva’s little brother, who sat still for her expert brushes and looks cool enough to take off with his friends whenever he likes. To spookify a sibling (or yourself) in a similarly spine-chilling way, find our skeleton makeup tutorial below.

GET THE HOW-TO: Halloween Makeup Tutorial: Skeleton

Sweet Scarecrow

Boca Raton-based makeup artist Nathaly G “only used regular makeup” to transform herself, as she puts it, so “if you have orange shadow, black liner, white liner and foundation you have everything to recreate this look.” Bonus points if you can scrounge up a few silk leaves or a well-loved straw hat, as she did — and even more bonus points if you pair them with a plaid flannel shirt or coveralls (which are both thematically appropriate and sound awfully cozy for late October).

Bolts From the Blue

Jasmine Roach tried her hand at a look originally created by James Charles (the beauty YouTuber and makeup artist who became CoverGirl’s first male ambassador in 2016). “I created this look using the James Charles palette [by Morphe],” she explains. “I used every blue color for my eyes, and even the black shadow on my lips and eyebrows. To get the lightning bolt look, I used a NYX white liquid liner.” She urges newbies not to sweat the details: “It’s okay if you have a shaky hand because lightning bolts aren’t perfect. My hands were even shaky, too!”

Puzzled Expression

Los-Angeles-based makeup artist Natalie Aliksanian explains that her graphic creation “was one of my earlier looks when I first started doing one of these 100 days of makeup challenges.” [On Instagram, makeup artists task themselves with posting creative images or videos for 100 consecutive days.] “At the time, I did not have the budget to buy or make costumes, so I got crafty and started thinking out of the box to create looks that would not require a costume.” Her constraint is our gain. Executed with a flash of inspiration and simple liner, it’s a Halloween-ready look you could wear with anything.

Hello, Dolly...

“My daughter is obsessed with dolls, so when I asked her what I should do and her response was ‘a dolly’ I thought I’d go with the classic broken doll look,” says Waterford, Ireland-based makeup maven Kayleigh Jordan. The process was equal parts creation and negotiation. “It was hard to keep her still for sure but I let her look in the mirror every few minutes and because she could see the process it kept her engaged and excited. Having some snacks also helped.”

...And Hello, Dalí

Wolverhampton, UK-based makeup artist Mollie Rose attributes her surrealist look (complete with a magnificent, clavicle-based nod to The Persistence of Memory) to good old-fashioned cabin fever. “During lockdown, I was lacking in any kind of artistic inspiration or creativity, so I came up with the idea of being sent ‘briefs’ whereby my friends would send me various topics or concepts and I would sit down with my brushes and see where I ended up, which kept my creative mind ticking and excited. This Salvador Dalí look was the final outcome of one of those briefs, using mainly body paints and a collection of reference images. I wanted to combine his notorious persona and features in with elements of his artwork.” In other words, get by with a little (initial) help from your friends.

Owl She Wrote

Los-Angeles-based makeup artist Lisa Prather references an image of the animal she’s creating to identify its key characteristics. “For the owl it’s the perfectly round yellow eyes and the subtle texture of their feathers,” she says. She also emphasizes the importance of the right color palette. “It’s the difference between looking like a parrot vs. an owl! And I’ll always use a combination of both traditional makeup products and specialty face paints to create depth, dimension and contrast for animal looks."

To create your own version of her look, “start with a full face of foundation and a little contouring as your base. Then layer your eyeshadow from darkest to lightest, keeping it rounded at the corners. Add a heavy pop of yellow liner to the bottom lash line, and below the brow bone to pop against the neutral tones. Finish off the eyes by creating a feather-like mask around the eyes using eyeshadows and face paint. You can add crystals or glitter for a little extra glam!” Wise words, indeed.

Walking Tall

Turn yourself into a giraffe by using a small, round brush and dark brown makeup (we like NYX SFX Créme Colour in Brown) to create medium-sized, irregular spots across one side of your face. If you’ve got white eyeliner, you can use it to create a bit of dimension with those spots, like Nashville-based makeup artist Marissa Seymour did here. If you’ve got a crudité platter or a bunch of fresh parsley, even better: just hold it above your head and take a casual nibble every now and again for effect.

GET THE HOW-TO: 3 DIY Animal Looks Using Drug Store Makeup

Going Wild

This beginner-friendly technique is also perfect for a last-minute look, since it redeploys tools you might have in your arsenal already. Use bronzer or blended-out liquid makeup a few shades away from your natural skin tone to create a golden tone along your hairline and across one cheek and side of your forehead, then set it with a bit of powder. Then create small, irregular “C” shapes with a dark brown eyeliner pencil (be sure to have them point in all directions, to create the varied look of a leopard’s or cheetah’s spots), use a black pencil to line the bottom of your nose and your upper lip — and that’s it! You’re set for a roaring good time.

GET THE HOW-TO: 3 DIY Animal Looks Using Drug Store Makeup

Creepy Ragdoll

Practice your best "dead-eye stare" for this Nightmare Before Christmas-inspired Sally ragdoll look. Artist Traci Hines used eyelash glue and black yarn scraps to create oh-so-realistic "stitching" along her cheeks and forehead. Snag our step-by-step tutorial below.

GET THE HOW-TO: Adult Halloween Makeup Tutorial: Creepy Ragdoll

Poison Ivy

The enchanting comic book and feature film villainess, Poison Ivy, will forever be a Halloween costume classic. Shop your makeup bag to recreate Traci Hines' glam garden goddess look seen here, then take it to the next level with a handful of poisonous, sparkling green leaves. Get the step-by-step instructions below.

GET THE HOW-TO: Adult Halloween Makeup Tutorial: Garden Goddess

Glam Dark Fairy

Adults with a flair for the dramatic can take the typical fairy costume for a walk on the dark side with this step-by-step makeup tutorial. Note: This look calls for optional special effects contacts that require a prescription in the U.S. If you’re thinking of trying a pair, call your eye doctor first.

GET THE HOW-TO: Adult Halloween Makeup Tutorial: Glam Dark Fairy

Under the Deep Blue Sea

Grab a pair of fishnet stockings and shimmering eyeshadows to mimic this mystical mermaid Halloween costume. Finish with faux pearls and seashell embellishments for a look that screams "siren of the sea."

GET THE HOW-TO: Adult Halloween Makeup Tutorial: Mermaid

Capitol City Vixen

May the odds be ever in your favor this Halloween. Don your best curly blonde wig and follow our step-by-step instructions to recreate this Hunger Games' Effie Trinket-inspired look.

GET THE HOW-TO: Adult Halloween Makeup Tutorial: Capitol City Vixen

Lion Cub

Transform your favorite kiddo into the king (or queen) of the savannah with a combination of water-based face paint — that’s the blended yellow and orange base you see here, as well as the white whiskery area — and embellish with black and white beneath their eyes and around their lips. Think you might be able to get a few more details in before the growling starts? Use brown eye shadow and a blending brush to add definition on either side of their nose and a bit of texture between their hairline and their face. Has your crowd gone wild already? Fret not — that’s the point, no?

GET THE HOW-TO: Kid's Halloween Makeup Tutorial: Lion

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