All About Geisha Makeup History

All About Geisha Makeup History

When someone thinks of a Japanese Geisha, they think of a glorified prostitute or call girl, but this is far from the truth. Geisha’s are entertainers, and they are trained vigorously in art, music and dancing.

Geisha are traditional Japanese female entertainers who act as hostesses and whose skills include performing various Japanese arts such as classical music, dance, games and conversation, mainly to entertain male customers. The most literal translation of Geisha into English would be “artist,” “performing artist,” or “artisan.” Another name for Geisha is geiko, which is usually used to refer to Geisha from western Japan. Trainee Geisha are called Maiko.


A woman entering the Geisha community does not have to begin as a Maiko, having the opportunity to begin her career as a full Geisha. Either way, however, usually a year’s training is involved before debuting either as a Maiko or as a Geisha. A woman above 21 is considered too old to be a Maiko and becomes a full Geisha upon her initiation into the Geisha community.

History Of Geisha Makeup

Geisha and Kabuki makeup are two of the better-known traditional Japanese makeup looks. Japanese women outside of these artistic occupations, however, also used makeup to enhance their features.

The traditional white base makeup was, the red lipstick and red and black accents around the eyes and eyebrows are typical Geisha makeup. The traditional white base makeup was originally made with harmful lead or rice powder.

  • The makeup process begins with application of bintsuke-abura, a special kind of oil.
  • This is then followed with the white powder like substance is mixed with water and is applied to the skin with a special bamboo brush. The white substance covers almost all visible part of the skin, including chest and neck. The nape of the neck has the typical W or V shape of clear skin which has no white makeup. This is especially important part, as the neck is the crucial point of Geisha’s presence. A “w” shapes clear skin is left on a Maiko, while the Geisha has “v” shaped bare skin at the nape of the neck. The hairline too is not painted white so as to give an illusion of a mask. The white powder now used does not contain lead and is not toxic like it was used to be in earlier days.

Geisha's W at the nape of neck

  • After the white base is applied, the excess material is removed with patting of a sponge.
  • Now the eyebrows and eyes are drawn, with traditional charcoal or modern day cosmetics. They used to remove their brows and paint them straight, false eyebrows high on their forehead and coloured them in thick black. The eyebrows and the corners of the eyes are colored black. The Maiko also has red around her eyes, which is another feature in this makeup that distinguishes a Maiko from an established Geisha.

Geisha Red Accents near eyes

  • The lips makeup used to be pretty interesting the traditional lip color has crystallized sugar in it. The rank of the Geisha can easily be identified by looking at her lips. First year Maiko only have their lower lip filled with color. Only a full-fledged Geisha may have her lips fully colored red. It rare to see the lips filled in western-style as it would make the lips look unusually large; the intent is to give the illusion of a flower bud.

Geisha Lips

  • They later to finish off this dramatic look stained the teeth black with a mixture of oxidized iron steeped in an acidic solution. The custom of teeth blackening does not prevail now for Geisha and is now only used by kabuki actors and by Maikos for the week before they become Geisha. Now the practice of teeth staining is rare.

After a Maiko has worked for three years, her make-up becomes more subtle because now she has matured to a point where her natural beauty can be seen. After the age of thirty, Geisha wear the traditional make up only for formal events or special performances and are not required to wear it for all hours.

Geisha makeup is quite an interesting thing to know about. The whole white face, the flowery red lips look beautiful to look at, but doing white face is not an easy thing, at least I cannot imagine it on myself. How about you?

Know more about Geisha makeup, share with us!


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