Geisha Makeup 101

[Student Post]

Hey everyone! It’s Rumi again and for this week, we’ll be talking about the traditional makeup of a Geisha.

Giving off an ethereal and enigmatic look with the contrast of pale white skin, midnight-black hair, and stark red lips; Geishas are immediately recognized by their very unique makeup that has not changed for over centuries. Have you ever wondered how they achieve this look? It’s actually a very delicate process that takes a lot of skill and time, and watching a geisha do their makeup is like a performance in itself.

Geishas use a special type of wax called bintsuke abura for their base to make sure the makeup is long-lasting. It also creates a protective layer to preventsctp0200-trainee-geisha-tokyo-japan-quiapo-127 their skin from getting irritated by the amount of heavy makeup on their skin. After this, they apply a white paste made from oshiroi(white talcum powder) using a special bamboo brush, starting from their neck to check the consistency first. Both geisha and hangyoku(trainee) leave their nape uncovered, with a shape of “v” or “w” outlining the bare skin. What many people don’t realize is that contouring has actually been a technique done by geisha since the beginning. Before completely applying the white paste to their face, they would apply red makeup around their eyes to accentuate the nose bridge. After completely applying the white paste they sponge it down to create a smooth finish.
sctp0200-trainee-geisha-tokyo-japan-quiapo-125

In the past, majority of geishas would completely shave off their eyebrows because they would draw them a bit higher, but nowadays they would either glue it down or simply paint it a bit higher up and in a straight line. For hangyoku they would draw it with a slight curve, similar to a half-moon, to show youthfulness. Before, the eyebrow and eyeliner makeup was made from charcoal, but now they also use modern makeup brands. They also apply a modest amount of red eye shadow around their eyes, and accentuate their eyebrows with red makeup too.

A geisha would not be complete without the iconic petite red lips. The red lipstick called beni is made from steamed safflower petals. A geisha would have her upper and lower lips painted, and a hangyoku would only paint her lower lip. They do not fill in their lips western-style, and instead draw it smaller and just a bit fuller for the lower lip to create the image of a flower bud.

Check out the photos below to see Fukagawa geishas applying their makeup together.

Trainee geishas doing their makeup togethertrainee geishas doing their makeup together

Difference between maiko (hangyoku) and geisha
Difference between maiko (hangyoku) and geisha

Watch out for our next post as we spill some secret beauty tips and skincare routine of Geishas!