Can You Wear Makeup In Prison?

By Prison Insight Staff

Updated: September 24, 2019

Before I went to prison, I never left my house without makeup. As an adult, American woman, putting on makeup was just part of my daily routine, like taking a shower and getting dressed. The thought of going somewhere without makeup never entered my mind.

I don’t need to explain how important makeup is to the majority of women in this country, as it is a multi-billion dollar industry and the products cover numerous shelves everywhere from Walmart to Sephora. From enhancing our best facial features to covering blemishes, makeup is a gift from God, and I’ve seen some of my girlfriends drop some serious cash on a variety of products.

But, like I’ve said before, everything changes when you go to prison. As soon as you are placed into custody, you are no longer treated as a human being, and it feels as if everything is taken from you. They don’t care how you look or if you have access to makeup or not. So, let’s tackle today’s blog topic: can you wear makeup in prison?

In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:

  • Can you have makeup in prison?
  • How inmates get creative with makeup

Can you have makeup in prison?

Believe it or not, most commissaries in women’s prisons do sell makeup, but the products are extremely limited. In the prison I was incarcerated in, they sold cheap liquid foundation and tinted moisturizer, mascara, and horrible shades of lipstick.

There were three different shade options for white and hispanic girls and two different options for black girls. I should note that the vast majority of inmates at WERDCC were white, which is why there were more shade options for them.

I have heard people ask why in the world female prisoners need access to makeup, and the reason is because it contributes to self worth. It makes you feel normal. You have control over absolutely nothing when you are an inmate, and if you can maintain your appearance in some way, it definitely helps your mental state.

How inmates get creative with makeup

Because all you can buy on commissary is foundation, mascara, and lipstick, many of the women in prison get extremely creative with their makeup. They will use sharpies or pencils as eyeliner or M&M shells soaked in water as a lip stain.

You can make some nice eyeshadow with colored pencils crushed up and mixed with baby powder or glitter from greeting cards mixed with vaseline.

Beauty magazines like Cosmo are huge in prison. Everyone tears out the perfume samples right away, and the colors on the magazine pages can be used for makeup (or artwork). Pink and red colors on advertising (T-Mobile ads work really well) can be used as blush. Seriously.

You just put a little baby powder on your cheeks and then rub the pink or red color from the ad over your cheekbone to create a sheer blush.

Instant coffee grounds also have multiple uses for many female inmates’ beauty regimen. You can mix the grounds with lotion to create a foundation if you can’t afford it at the commissary, or you can use the grounds as an exfoliant.

Baby powder can also be used as a dry shampoo and setting powder for your makeup.

I should mention that using other items as makeup is against the rules. Some officers don’t care, but others make it their mission in life to punish any woman they see walking around with sharpie eyeliner. The punishment was usually a CDV (conduct violation) or extra duty, but if you constantly broke this rule, the punishment could be a lot worse.

Some of these makeup tricks are not very safe. Using a lead pencil as eyeliner is not a good idea, but women do it all the time. They will rub the tip of the pencil on the wall to loosen up the lead and fatten the tip, and then apply it on their eyelids. Do not try this at home, it could cause some serious damage.

When I was locked up, I always bought foundation and mascara. Then, I started buying the lipstick because even though it was a hideous color for my lips, it worked well on my eyelids as a shadow.

However, I was locked up for four years, and by the end of my sentence, I had gotten to the point where I just really didn’t care about makeup. I’m lucky to have really good skin with no acne or blemishes, so I started wearing less and less makeup because I had no one to impress, not even myself, when it came to my looks.

I’ve been home now for more than two years, and I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve put makeup on since I’ve been home. This isn’t a normal thing, I can tell you that. I’m the exception to the rule.

Most womenㄧas soon as they get out of prisonㄧgo straight to the store to buy new makeup and “put their face on,” so they can feel like a human again. I’m still working on feeling like a person again after four years in prison.

It’s taking me longer than most, but I do my best to just tackle it one day at a time.

Are you surprised that commissaries in women’s prisons sell makeup? Let us know in the comments below.


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  • I love this story!! Thank you, im watching orange is the new black and had to Google if women really get make up in prison I personally would definitely go for the make up!

  • Makeup also helps with morale and productivity. The commissary should contract with a low-priced, good line like ELF or Wet n Wild, offer more options and expand the rules a bit. Maybe they could partner up with (Dollar Tree).. It would help everyone, I bet. Natalie, I enjoyed this article. Best Wishes.

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