Makeup not just for Halloween, but medical training, too


Ghosts, goblins and other monsters are created with costumes and makeup every Halloween, but a different type of makeup is used year-round to provide medical education.

Simulation centers provide vital, hands-on training for health professionals. In some cases, trained medical actors will perform as patients who might represent a routine exam scenario or a complex trauma case. Moulage is the art of applying mock injuries or other symptoms with makeup to train members of the military, as well as emergency and medical professionals.

And, as Jason Howland reports, it’s a useful skill that provides realistic training at Mayo Clinic.

Watch: Using moulage makeup for medical training.

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These might look like the contents of an ordinary kitchen cupboard, but they’re not.

“People are always curious when they open my moulage cabinet in the back, and they see cocoa powder (and) Jell-O,” says Amy Lannen, who works at the J. Wayne and Delores Barr Weaver Simulation Center at Mayo Clinic in Florida. “And they’re, like, ‘What are you doing here?’ And I actually have to write the words ‘do not eat’ on a lot of my stuff.”

“I train actors, and I do special effects makeup,” she says. “Moulage is art. It’s the art of making something look realistic — even though it’s not actually happening. So we can make someone look like they have a gash on their forehead or a black eye — even though they’re not in any actual pain.”

The authenticity of the moulage makeup is important.

“If you walk into a room and you say, ‘Hey, learner, the person in the room has a bruise on their face,’ saying that versus that learner walking into the room and actually seeing a bruise on the person’s face has a totally different impact on that learner,” Lannen says. “If they walk in and they see a bruise, their brain processes it. They believe it, and they can treat it in a way that feels natural to them rather than trying to remember fake symptoms.”

“One of the cool things that I’ve made that really grosses people out is what we call ‘pus pockets.’ And, so, it’s a single piece of Bubble Wrap (and) a single bubble from large Bubble Wrap. We pull the air out of it, and we fill it with a mixture of lotion, yellow food coloring and a little bit of water. And we inject that into that bubble. And then we put it under a piece of fake skin. And so the learners can incise the skin. They can squeeze and drain the cyst. And they can actually remove the cyst wall because the bubble stays in there. But it’s really funny because I know it’s lotion, but the learners don’t. And, so, it’s one of those things that makes me laugh because it really grosses people out.”

These realistic medical simulations play a vital part in training health care providers.

“I have a lot of fun with it because I know that I’m directly impacting patients through all of the learners that come to the Sim Center,” Lannen says. “So I’m not treating patients, but I’m helping their treatment get better by doing what I do in Sim.”

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