Beauty Lessons We Learned from Soap Operas

Aly Walansky
Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Many of us grew up with soap operas buzzing in the background — our moms and grandmas watching their “stories” as we did our homework after school. In many cases, we went on to be just as enamored with soaps as the generation before us. Most curious of all are the soap opera heroines — those beautiful stars who would have perfect hair and makeup always — from car chases to sex scenes to their death bed. We figure we had a lot to learn from them!

Makeup is not just a look, it’s a transformation.  
Makeup is so much more than a seasonal palette or a day or nighttime look, and this is especially true if you are a daytime heroine. “Makeup has the role to transform the audience’s perception of any given character by subtle changes in pigment and application,” says Gail Johnson, president of True Promise Beauty, who served as the hair and makeup department head for Spelling Entertainment’s “Sunset Beach” and “Passions” soap operas. “It’s our job as heads (wardrobe, set, FX, hair & makeup, props) to plan ahead for the many twists and turns in our character’s changing role and to do so on a physical basis to aid that actor’s transformation. If production has just hired a sweet-faced actor who will shortly turn into a conniving, back-stabbing harpy who will cause pain and chaos in our script, we will slowly adjust her makeup application to reflect those character flaws to aid in our actor’s transformation right before the audience. These changes can be done by color, as well as by  altering the actor’s features to convey the personality change.” Makeup is transformation if done properly.

Sweaty chases don’t have to mean smeared makeup.
“An old trick that I learned from professional dancers was to use pancake makeup (on face and body) by wetting with witch hazel instead of water. The witch hazel would set the makeup and make it waterproof. Some people can sweat through anything, but it did do the trick for a good while,” says LuAnn Claps, a professional makeup artist who worked in the makeup department on NBC’s “Another World” from 1994-1996.

It’s all in the eyes.
Johnson says if you study a soap actor’s eyes—and how they are made up—you will see what the audience sees. Most expression is communicated through the eyes. The most recent non-soap example of effective makeup is Angelina Jolie as “Maleficent.” The glowing, iridescent green labradorite color of her contact lens coupled with the brilliantly subtle nose prosthetic to give her face not only depth but, more importantly, convey a slightly “sinister” bend to her character. “Do you see the power of pigment and sculpting? That’s what makeup is: the power of light and dark to transform a human face,” says Johnson.

Steamy makeout sessions don’t have to ruin your lipstick.
“To keep lipstick on during many kissing takes, we would apply lip liner only to the lips, no creamy lipsticks or glosses. Coloring in the entire mouth, then pressing the mouth very hard with tissue and applying again,” says Claps. A light layering effect would keep the lip color on the starlet’s mouth (for the most part) and not transfer to the man. “Truth be told, there is a lot of touching up that goes on if there are multiple takes involved. Sometimes an actress’s face would be so sensitive to her leading man’s beard or five o’ clock shadow (even if we had him do a close shave right before the scene) that she would immediately look like she took sand paper to her face!” Claps says in those days they used a lot of the matte powder bases that were completely opaque. If you wet the sponge, it would go on like a thick cream and then dry to a matte finish so you didn’t need to powder over it.

In soap opera land, there is no natural look.
Ever feel like your day mandates “dressing down”? No makeup, hair up, yoga pants?  If you take a cue from soaps, that day will never happen. It’s different from film and primetime television in that every character—even a blue collar worker or a drug addict or even someone with a terminal disease—has to look their best, always. The pressure! “The viewers did not critique the incongruity. It seems they expected to see their favorite characters always looking their best… even at their worst!” says Claps.

Pretty on the outside, definitely doesn’t mean pretty on the inside.
Never judge a book by its cover. Just because a person is stunning on the exterior doesn’t mean they aren’t ugly on the inside. Sometimes the biggest villains were the most beautiful actors, says Claps.

Read more: Beauty Lessons We Learned from Our Favorite TV Shows

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