Exploring this Job
You can learn more about mortuary cosmetology by checking with local funeral homes, cosmetology schools, and salons. Most professionals are willing to take time to explain their work to students who show an interest. However, the extent to which they can show you the work they do may be limited. In order for an individual to observe cosmetic preparations on the deceased, the decedent's family must give permission. Many families may not be willing to do this. Families are especially reluctant to grant permission to a class, whether it is a high school vocational class or a cosmetology class, to be present for their loved one's preparation. You may have better results approaching a mortuary cosmetologist or funeral home director individually and stating your interest in the field.
Making the deceased appear as they did in life—the way their families want them to be remembered—is no small task. Occasionally, mortuary cosmetologists are asked to perform cosmetic services on a person they knew, often a client. But more frequently, mortuary cosmetologists work from a photograph provided by the family. Each situation is different—the quality of the photograph, difficulty of the style requested, conditions of death such as illness or trauma, and chemicals used in preparation of the body can all make the mortuary cosmetologist's job easier or more difficult.
Sterilizing and embalming chemicals used by funeral home personnel add to the dehydration process that occurs on a body, making the hair very dry and brittle. Also, the hair of decedents who were on medication before their deaths can be very thin and fall out easily when the cosmetologist attempts to cut or style it. In addition to these factors, the simple fact that the person who is being styled is in a horizontal rather than vertical position can be a challenge to a beginning mortuary cosmetologist.
As with most health care and funeral professionals, the initial experience dealing with the deceased usually evokes uneasiness. However, as mortuary cosmetologists gain more experience, the knowledge of the comfort they may provide to a grieving family generally helps offset their own discomfort. Also with experience comes a natural focus on the task at hand. Most mortuary cosmetologists are too busy to dwell on morbid thoughts; rather, their focus is on doing their job well for the sake of the family and the memory of the deceased. In general, mortuary cosmetologists do not handle the deceased beyond the preparations they are asked to make to the hair, face, or nails.
Requests for desairology services for deceased men are infrequent. On occasion, mortuary cosmetologists may be requested for a deceased man, based on the family's request or a trauma or illness requiring camouflage makeup.
Because the pores open after death, a transparent pancake makeup is applied to all deceased—men and women alike—in preparation for viewing. This makeup is generally applied by funeral home personnel, not the mortuary cosmetologist.
Most jobs are paid on a commission basis. In many cases, the funeral home bills the deceased's family for all services provided, even if the funeral home didn't directly provide them—including cosmetology services—so the family has just one bill to worry about. This also is done because the Federal Trade Commission requires funeral homes to disclose their fees to consumers on a general price list. The list includes the category "Other Preparation of Body," which means any preparation made to make the body presentable, including dressing, placing in casket, hair cutting, styling, and makeup.
Mortuary cosmetologists find clients in many different ways. If a mortuary cosmetologist has a relationship with a funeral home, the funeral home director may recommend him or her to a client who inquires about such services. Other clients may hear about a mortuary cosmetologist from their own beauticians, who may not provide such services. Also, mortuary cosmetologists seeking clients may find that having a Web site and an online presence that shares information about their services is helpful, as well as listing their services in the yellow pages under funeral services and leaving their business cards with salons who don't have their own mortuary cosmetologist on staff. Mortuary cosmetologists often work as traditional cosmetologists in salons, malls, department stores, nursing homes, and beauty supply stores.