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While the idea of putting makeup on a dead body certainly won't appeal to all people, cosmetologists in the profession describe it as a rewarding, creative career that gives them a chance to help families through the grieving process. Or, as one mortuary beautician described her job in an interview, she is the last person to take care of the people she sees.
There is no standard training path to tend to the makeup, hair and nails of a dead person, also called desairology, but only licensed embalmers, funeral directors and cosmetologists are legally allowed to work with dead bodies. Embalmers and funeral directors often take care of the hair and makeup of the body during the embalming process, but because it takes years of specific, technical training to get a license as an embalmer or funeral director, most professionals who deal exclusively with the deceased person's physical appearance are licensed only in cosmetology.
Cosmetologists working with dead bodies apply many of the basic skills they learned during the schooling required for their state cosmetology license. Such licenses, required by every state, generally require an applicant to have completed a state-licensed cosmetology school, where they learn how to work with hair, skin and nails and practice techniques on mannequins and live subjects. Many schools offer specific courses in desairology.
Cosmetologists who want to branch into the field of funeral home makeup should look for colleagues with experience in the field to mentor them. It can be difficult to get access to a funeral home to watch a desairologist at work or practice on a body that is being prepared for burial because the funeral homes must obtain permission from the deceased's family, which is often difficult.
Most funeral makeup artists get their first experience working with an actual body after they've started their first job. Although some larger funeral homes hire full-time makeup artists, most of them, especially those in rural areas, hire local cosmetologists on a contract basis. The best way to enter the field is to reach out to funeral homes and see if they are in need of your services or to have a client who asks you to perform the service for her after she has died. As you gain experience and contacts, you will likely have more opportunities to work in the industry, earning an average hourly wage ranging from $8.50 to $25, according to 2011 statistics from PayScale.
Elaine Severs is an award-winning journalist who has been writing professionally since 2001. She has written about politics, health, education, travel and general interest topics for several newspapers and travel guides, including the "New York Times" and Insight Travel Guides. She has a Master of Science in journalism from Columbia University.