Outlander's Makeup Magic: How Do They Make it Look so Natural?

Written by: Karen K. Rutledge


This 2017 Droughtlander has us all hanging by a teeny, tiny thread. Obsessenachs around the globe are trying to pass the time to the September premiere by:

• re-watching,
• re-reading,
• looking for other time-worthy books,
• hanging with the cast,
• celebrating World Outlander Day, and
• swigging every last dram on social media, desperate for any Season 3 tidbits like photos, fan art and the quacky—oops I mean wacky—video announcing that filming officially wrapped on June 16.

Re-watching (my solace of choice) led me for the umpteenth time to my favorite episode, Season One's “The Way Out,” which in turn led me to Claire’s surgery and the firelight-bandage-check-eye-sex scene. I was struck yet again by those simply stunning faces, seemingly with very little makeup—no small feat in HD filming—and up popped the memory of Mary and Blake's podcast with Krstyann Mallett, head of makeup and prosthetics for the show.

Those prostheses, particularly Jamie's back scars, started me thinking (you could smell my hair burning, right?) about how gorgeous almost everything else is on this show. It's all so unique—the locations, music, costumes and makeup. But it's the makeup thought that stuck with me for days. Predictably, down the Google search rabbit hole I went to learn more. 

Maybe you’re curious about what I found down this particular Outlander rabbit hole or maybe you simply agree that Jamie and Claire are JHRC gorgeous. Either way, come take the jump with me…

In Real Life  Telegenic Quotient 10/10

What did I find down my Outlander makeup Google rabbit hole? I found interviews, infomercials and makeup tutorials, which I then discussed with other Obsessenachs and, frankly, anyone who would listen. I asked each one, “Am I the only one who is continually amazed at how incredibly stunning our Outlander characters look on screen?” Because let’s face it: Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan are striking individuals with extraordinary God-given features, no question there. The same is true for other actors like Laura Donnelly, Claire Sermonne, Lotte Verbeek, Sophie Skelton, Richard Rankin and Stanley Weber. And, from what we've seen so far, the same is true for the new cast members of Season 3.

Indeed, IMHO Outlander has the most beguiling cast on American TV since Miami Vice in the 1980s. Well, there was the adorable Jim and Pam duo from the American version of The Office and no doubt you have other favorites, too.


But surely even beautiful people are human, after all, and must have at least a freckle or two that require “enhancement,” right? Fairly quickly in my quest, it became clear that I underestimated the responsibilities of hair and makeup artists. My biggest "aha" moment? Realizing that a big part of the Outlander allure is what my friend Evy describes as the “no-makeup makeup” look.


TV Magic

Because even the most telegenic actors need enhancements, especially in HD filming, hair and makeup artists are an integral part of the holistic team required to make a successful TV series. I’m convinced, however, that the Outlander team has magical superpowers on par with the stones at Craigh Na Dun.

Of course, they do have a leg-up with the brilliant source material of Diana Gabaldon. And they have a good plan that encompasses other critical elements—setting, music and costumes—each led by a professional and worthy of individual study. But how do these makeup artists do it?

Part of my curiosity stems from my own version of the “natural” look. I've always been mystified by how easy it seems for some people to effortlessly enhance their looks with all sorts of mysterious products. Not me, I’m solidly on Team Tanya Hennessy—easily intimidated at a makeup counter, clueless and indecisive when ordering online, and, let’s face it, not really caring most of the time.

Glamming it up for me means tinted vs. regular Neutrogena moisturizer with SPF because my dermatologist said so, a touch of MAC eye shadow that a makeup artist hired for work photos once told me is perfect for me, Merle Norman mascara because it's one of the few that comes off with water, a few brushes of the Clinique powder shade from my first-ever makeup counter makeover many moons ago to diminish freckles and other spots, Medicated Chapstick that was my one and only true find on my own and that I layer with whatever lipstick hasn’t gone rancid and, on truly special occasions, a little Aveda eyeliner that I picked up in my recent second—and last—makeover. I do have one saving grace that I hold in regard above all else, a hair straightener. With hair tamed by it and a little mascara, I feel ready for any day.

You can imagine my surprise, then, to discover in my Googling a hair and makeup handbook that, of course, covers hair and makeup basics, as well as special effects. I wasn't surprised to find additional sections on legislation and health & safety because of what I've heard in the news. I was surprised, though, to find a section labeled Postiche, an unfamiliar term. (You knew that means wigs, right?)

Other mysterious sections (to me anyway) focused on skin types and structure, facial anatomy and color theory (think color wheel and saturation, brightness, tint). At least the color ones sounded familiar, from the photo enhancement tools I play with on my iPhone. Other sections featured primers, moisturizers and foundations and mineral, airbrush and hydro proof. I found entries on eyelash curlers and makeup brushes (there are lots, made of different materials, and they each have a special purpose). Whew, no wonder I've been mystified for so long!

[BTW, I loved the section on set etiquette for trainees. It covered everything from arrival and parking to filming terminology, which includes DFI (you'll want to read about that; it must happen a lot to have its own acronym). What it basically boiled down to is—learn everything about makeup, of course, but also about the particular set where you will be training, including the coffee and tea station. Then, and maybe most importantly, when on set, stand still, be quiet and pay attention because you never know when you’ll be called upon to get coffee or tea or, if you’re lucky, maybe even freshen up someone’s makeup in between takes.]

So, I am now even more in awe of Outlander makeup and hair artist Annie McEwan and her team of hair and makeup artists. I’d love to have them over for High Tea. I’d go all-out Rachael Ray—press linens, buy flowers, bake scones, make their favorite jams and even figure out what crème fraîche is all about—and then I’d shamelessly charm them out of their best no-makeup makeup tips.

They do get to glam it up and use fun techniques with ’60s Bree and Gillian and with Claire’s exquisite eyeliner. That almost seems easy, though, when compared with their use of the same tools to create the 18th century Scottish Highlands natural look.


There’s MORE

I don’t mean to underplay the other fascinating makeup elements of Outlander. Take the incredibly realistic prostheses, like Jamie’s back scars, scabs, and other little things that they put on an actor’s skin. Kristyan Mallet discussed these with Mary & Blake in that Outlander Cast podcast that took me down the rabbit hole in the first place. Then there’s the hair styling and coloring, including beards and over 400 wigs.

Just imagine the challenges of taking Ms. Balfe’s naturally straight locks (which I openly covet!) and producing a curly hairstyle that holds up in the Scottish wind and rain (hint, there’s perm solution involved). And just how many shades of red does it take to turn Mr. Heughan’s self-described natural 'dirty blond' into Jamie’s lovely locks? Only his hairdresser knows for sure (obligatory ’60s throwback nod to Clairol) but the Outlander hair and makeup artist that works this particular magic surely includes “all the colors of red and gold mixed; copper and cinnamon, auburn and amber, red and roan and rufous all mingled together” as described in Voyager by Ms. Gabaldon. (If you covet Jamie's hair color or just really appreciate it, you might enjoy this gem I found on Jamie’s “highlights and lowlights,” Part 1 & Part 2.)


I also found a fun twist in The Making of Outlander: The Series: The Official Guide to Seasons One & Two by Tara Bennett. Unlike Ms. Balfe's straight hair that requires TV magic to turn into Claire’s curls, Sophie Skelton has naturally curly hair, the opposite of Bree’s long, straight locks. Oh, what a tangled web!

And we’ve just scratched the surface thinking about Jamie, Claire and Bree, or as Jamie calls her, Breeanah. Has anyone counted the TOTAL number of major and minor characters in the first two seasons? Think of all the time and attention for them plus all those extras! It takes an incredible amount of research, talent and time.

Then there’s all the additional Season 3 characters played by a new crop of yet more JHRC gorgeous actors. I think you’ll agree the crew continues to nail the “no-makeup makeup” look casting strategy with the first two who come to mind—Lauren Lyle and John Bell. Then there’s Cesar Domboy, Wil Johnson, Hannah James and Tanya Reynolds... and the list goes on.


On a related note, in envisioning the Season 3 locations and scenes, I’ve tried to picture the cast with suntans that would be inevitable when spending time at sea and on an island. I wonder if the makeup artists got by with bronzer or maybe some lotion concoction. Could it be that they used those full-body spray-on booths?

(Note to self: more questions for High Tea. Maybe they’ll have hair straightening tips I’ve missed or some fake tan advice that works for pale skin.)

In Real Life  for the Rest of Us

Now, where were we? Oh, yes, back to my Google rabbit hole results. What tips did I find for us who just might, at some time, try our hand at makeup magic and explore the no-makeup makeup look? The Outlander cast and makeup team play it close to the vest, but you can find tidbits if you’re willing to do the research.

For example, Makeup Artist Julie Kendrick encourages drinking lots of water and keeping blush handy on the set. Some of her favorite items are:

• Sheer Cheek Gel by Pixi

• FX Pallet by Skin Illustrator

• Mens Range Skincare by Decleor

• Sable Eye Shadow Blender No. 16 by Tina Earnshaw

Makeup Artist Anita Anderson knows how to bake a mean wig, puts stock in good lip balms and, according to her Twitter feed, recommends organic sunscreen. The cast and crew probably went through a ton in South Africa.

What about the Outlander stars? Do they have any tips for us? Well, yes, they certainly do.


Ms. Balfe suggests getting sufficient sleep and cleansing our faces each night before bed. Hmmm, where have we heard that before? Mom’s always right, ye ken!?!

Most of the tips out there from Mr. Heughan are on fitness, like his My Peak Challenge program with a charity, fitness and nutrition trifecta. I did find two good ones, though. You might already know that he is a firm believer in lip balm, but did you know he recommends rehydrating masks?

There are plenty of recommendations available from other professionals and some from people we know and love. Here are some of my faves.

I love the glowing, radiant natural look of Outlander Cast’s own host, Mary Larsen, who uses Younique products. She created two videos about how to recreate Claire's natural look and her more Jackie-O ’60s look. You can connect with her at minutewithmary.com or on Facebook.

And who doesn’t appreciate a good online tutorial? Google ‘no-makeup makeup tutorial’ and you get tons of results. I liked these two.

That’s a Wrap!

For their series Season 2 cover photo, STARZ gave us an Outlander setting from the Paris dinner party, a feast fit for a king. The incredible Season 1 and 2 work the cast and crew have produced has given us viewers a VISUAL feast—the misty, green Scottish Highlands, the grandeur of Paris, two seasons of diverse but astounding costumes, and an incredibly alluring cast of characters.

Whatever you may call it—neutral, natural, bare-faced, etc.—Outlander pulls it off in impressive and spell-binding style. Glad to have this glimpse of what's on our Outlander Season 3 horizon. Wonder what that cover photo will be like? Can't wait for September!


In the meantime, all this research and re-watching has me willing to give the no-makeup makeup look a real try. I’m going to start with what’s in my makeup drawer as it’s fairly full from previous trips to intimidating American mall makeup counters from New York to Seattle.

What about you? Are you interested in creating your own Outlander look? 
If you already have a look, no-makeup makeup or otherwise, any product recommendations to share with us?

*Headline image courtesy of the talented Geno Acedo

10 comments

  1. LOVE your article. Was witty and had a TON of information in it. I too I'm amazed at the "natural" look that all the cast have in ANY scene. To keep them looking so wonderful in sun, rain, wind..etc is a job I'm sure, but make-up does it peefectly. Have a great day..

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  2. I love the close up on Cait's face in the redcoat deserter attempted rape scene. You can see all her freckles and she looks luminescent. She has such great skin.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, we do get to see through the makeup veil on occasion. Such professional work!❤️

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  3. Thanks, Diana! Hope your day is lovely as well!

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