Aging Gracefully – Applying Old Age Stage Makeup with PNTA Makeup Expert Jon Barber

Okay, confession time …  I suck at stage makeup …

When I was a young performer I was often cast in roles written for older actors.  This meant that I needed to sit down in front of the dressing room mirror, rummage through my crappy makeup kit, and try to figure out how to look older.  I studied the textbooks, (remember, this was pre-internet), but inevitably my makeup began and ended with some stiff, grey colored hair spray and crows feet so tiny they wouldn’t read beyond the actor sitting next to me.

When I had the chance to write my first “How To” for B.I.T.N., it was a no-brainer. I think there are probably many young performers, (as well as those Directors who have to do makeup on their young performers), who struggle with this.  I wanted to put something together that I would have appreciated back then.  A simple, step by step guide on the fundamentals.  No rubber noses, no wigs, no fake teeth.  Just a clear guide to the basics of creating age and character with only stage makeup.

And when B.I.T.N. partnered with Seattle based Theatrical Supply Company PNTA, (Pacific Northwest Theatre Associates), the planets had aligned.  PNTA offers the most comprehensive line of makeup products I’ve ever seen offered by a supply house.  I need to stop here and thank them.  PNTA was completely open to doing this tutorial.  In fact, PNTA’s resident Makeup Artist, Jon Barber, wholeheartedly jumped onboard, even supplying a model, the lovely Seranine.  One of PNTAs very knowledgeable Agents, Alex Wren, set up some terrific lighting in PNTAs demo area for this tutorial.

So here we go.  Take a deep breath.  We’re gonna get through this together.  It’ll be fine.

(To make things even better, thanks to a generous grant from The Lindquist Foundation, we have some shiny new video equipment.  So we have posted a 30 minute video of this article.  Click here to go to our VIDEOS section, click on the preview and you’ll be directed to the video).



“the challenge with Character makeup, or age makeup,” says Jon Barber, professional Makeup Artist, “is finding the line between too much and too little. “The line between realism and cartoon. What may look big in the mirror, may be completely gone when you take a step back.”

Jon had pre-arranged his makeup and tools on a small table just off to one side.  For this project, Jon pointed out exactly which products he planned to use, and why.  All the products Jon used are available through PNTA.


  • Ben Nye Theatrical Crème Foundation –  Jon recommends using a Crème Foundation that closely matches your own skin tone.  If you will be performing under heavier stage lighting, he suggests actually going one or two shades darker than usual, to avoid the chance of your skin washing out.
  • Ben Nye F/X Crème Colors – Jon uses a combination of Ben Nye Crème colors to achieve the bulk of the old age application.  These include;
  • Ben Nye Character Shadow – Used for the application of contour lines.
  • Ben Nye Ultralite – Used for Highlight lines.

Jon also used a variety of Ben Nye makeup pencils to achieve more detailed effects including;

  • Black/Brown Eyebrow pencil
  • Maroon Lip Liner
  • Character Shadow Crème Pencil

To add more character, Jon utilized a series of Ben Nye F/X Crème colors to create secondary effects including grey hair, skin discoloration, sun exposure, liver spots etc.;

  • Ben Nye Capillary Stipple
  • Ben Nye Age Spot
  • Ben Nye Liver Spot
  • Ben Nye Freckle Stipple
  • Ben Nye Silver Grey Temporary Hair Color.  

Finally, Jon incorporated Ben Nye Colorless Luxury Powder to set the finished makeup.  Jon used a series of low-cost, disposable Ben Nye tools to apply the makeup including;

  • Custom Flat Brushes in various widths
  • Latex Sponges
  • Stipple Sponges

KEEP IT CLEANSnapshot_15

Prior to starting, Jon used a small knife to scoop out small amounts of each makeup to be used, and spread them carefully on a small mirror.  “I do this for a couple of reasons”, Jon told us.  “First, its more sanitary.  When you’re applying makeup to your skin, especially if you’re working from a kit that you will be using multiple times, removing only the amount of makeup you will need keeps the makeup bacteria free.”  “Second, by separating only what you need to avoid the potential of mixing, and ruining the individual colors.

With all the pieces in place, it was time to begin the transformation …


After making sure that Seranine had thoroughly cleaned her face, Jon, using several small latex sponges, first applied the Crème Base.  “It’s always good to follow a natural path”, Jon said.  “You need to be mindful of the character you are playing.  Sometimes, simply emphasizing existing lines and creases will be enough to get the job done.  “Start with that roadmap first, you can build upon it later to add the character details.”


Once the Base had been applied, Jon asked Seranine to make faces; literally. “By scrunching, expressing, emoting, squinting and squeezing your face the fine lines of your own face will appear in the foundation,” Jon explained, “This provides a good blueprint / map for where to go to start the wrinkles, lines and such.”


Using the Ben Nye Character Shadow and a thin brush, Jon begins by following the natural lines of Seranines’ face. “We’re using the Character Shadow to emphasize the fine lines”, Jon explains.  “A lot of this may feel counter-intuitive, since what we typically do is use makeup to de-emphasize.” 

“With SFX makeup, you are adding the unconventional.  Start with bold lines, a bit strong at first, we can buff this out if needed.” “It’s easier to start with the larger details then go back and add the fine details afterward.  That’s why I started with the laugh lines, the chin, and the larger wrinkles on the forehead and deeper pockets under the eyes.”

“I didn’t start with crow’s feet or  the tiny fine lines”, Jon points out, “If we start with the finer details it’s easy to trap yourself into not going far enough, or you might find yourself adding too much fine detail.”


“Remember, you’re not emphasizing the beauty features, but more character aspects”.


With much of the facial lines outlined with shadow, Jon now turns to the prominent facial features such as nose and lips, (We’ll get to the eyes in a bit, you still need them).


As Jon explains, “As you age, your lips have a tendency to get smaller, thinner.  You can achieve this effect by taking a brush and applying contour, (shadow), right over the bottom half of the lower lip”.

Some smaller, vertical contour lines add wrinkles on the lips.  To do this simply take the flat edge of the brush and create vertical lines top and bottom of your lips.  Not too many, or the result will more closely resemble a skeleton.



“The nose is a touchy subject with Stage Makeup”, Jon says.  “With aging makeup, it’s important to remember that your nose is a part of your body that continues to grow and change as you age.”


“If you add shadowing on to the wider side of the nose, it helps to create the illusion that the nose is larger.” Adding a small bit of shadow underneath the nose will also help to create the illusion of a larger nose.


“We want to blend the shadows and the highlights separately”. Jon says.  “This avoids the possibility of blending the two colors and winding up with a “muddy” look.


 Jon uses small sections of latex sponge containing a small amount of the original base color and lightly dabs the bold shadow lines.  “This will mute the lines somewhat,” he explains”, and make them appear as though they are not laying on top of the face but under the skin.”


With the shadows now properly blended and subdued, Jon turns to the next step in the process; adding the Highlights.  Using the Ben Nye Ultralite and a thin brush, Jon begins by applying the highlight lines just next to the shadow, (Contour) lines.

Snapshot_48 “You want to highlight the peaks of the features that we just receded with the shadow.  This helps to highlight the techniques you’ve just done and make sure they will read from the stage.”



“You can elongate the top lip slightly to help to emphasize the thinner bottom lip you have already created using the shadow over your own lower lip.  This shrinks the lips even more.”


“Areas like the forehead have more wrinkle capacity.  It’s easier to crinkle your forehead and apply highlight right over the tops of the peaks created.”

(Okay, now’s the time to work on your eyes … )




“To make them {eyes} appear older, unlike regular beauty makeup, instead of opening the crease, you can “cut it short”, Jon points out.  



Starting at the inner end of the brow, cut a short diagonal crease using your shadow color.  This will give you the droopy, hooded eyelid       that occurs with age.




To help emphasize the hooded eye, add a tight highlight just in the inner corner of the eye.





With the highlights applied, it’s time to blend these separately.  Use a series of clean latex sponges.Snapshot_62

“You definitely want to avoid mingling the shadows and highlights”, Jon cautions, “It will muddy up the hard work you’ve done up to this point.” 




“The thing about age makeup is that symmetry is not critical.  Remember, this is not beauty makeup.”


Now with the blending of the major makeup complete, Jon wanted to show us some more detailed effects.  “Reading into your specific character can be your guide to added effects”, Jon says.



Using a piece of Stipple Sponge and Ben Nye Freckle Stipple, Jon applies subtle sun damage.


“This is not blended”, Jon says, “And it’s applied over major peeks of the face; the forehead, cheeks and nose, that would normally receive more sun exposure.”


Using a small brush and the Ben Nye Character Shadow, Jon adds some liver spots to Seranines makeup.  Again, his placement was based on those areas of the face that would be more exposed to the sun.  Once he had applied the spots, Jon went back with a dark brown pencil and outlined each spot, making them pop out above the face makeup, and read much stronger from the stage.Snapshot_99Snapshot_88







Snapshot_93  “Adding redness or discoloration using more lively tones adds the illusion of age on more sensitive areas of the skin”, Jon says.  Using the Ben Nye Capillary Stipple and a small brush, Jon adds a red tone under the eyes and at the corners of the mouth.



Jon then uses a latex sponge and applies a small amount of the Crème Base along the bottom of the line of red below each eye, “You should blend this just a bit, to ensure it doesn’t appear to be sitting on top of the skin.”



With the makeup complete, it’s time to powder and seal it.  Jon recommends Ben Nye Colorless Luxury Powder.ben nye powder  “There’s a lot to love about this powder”, Jon says.  “The Colorless powder holds your makeup together without changing the tint.”

“The other thing to love is that Ben Nyes Powders are spherically milled, not flat, so onstage it helps refine the look, penetrating the creases, not laying over them.”




When you are greying your hair, you can glean an idea of realism from your own gene pool.  Think about the grey hair in your own family tree.  Is it dull grey?  Is it more Silver?  Is it subtle or plentiful?

“For Grey hair, Ben Nye offers a wide variety of color,” Jon says, “From snow white, silver-grey, dark grey, ivory, etc.  Choose a color that would mimic your own grey, or that closely matches your characters age.”


Jon begins with the eyebrows.  “For eyebrows I use a toothbrush.”  He dips the brush lightly into the mixture.

“When coloring the eyebrows, just lightly brush the top layer of hair. You can always add if needed but a little will go a long way.”



For adding color to the hair on your scalp, again Jon cautions that less can be more. “Work with as little of the product at one time to avoid a mess.”


“The dye is mercurial.  The silver-grey by Ben Nye contains actual silver pigment, which will catch the light.”


“When you apply the color to the head, get as close to the roots as possible without touching the scalp”, Jon explains, “The hair dye is thin, and it’s easy to wind up with blotches of silver on your scalp if you’re not careful.”

With the hair dye complete, its time to take a step back and see the results …



“With this type of makeup,” Jon explains, “you can usually achieve fifteen to twenty years of age,” Jon says.  “If your character has specific traits, or is much older, that’s when you would get into more complicated makeup applications like prosthetics or latex stretch and stipple.”


… See, that wasn’t too bad, was it?  To see the complete line of Makeup products PNTA has to offer, you can click here  to be directed to the PNTA makeup section.

If you have specific questions or want more information you can contact Jon directly at




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