Typical nape make-up
Today, the traditional make-up of the apprentice geisha is one of their most recognizable characteristics, though established geisha generally wear full white face makeup characteristic of maiko only during special performances.
The traditional makeup of the tiro geisha features a thick white base (originally made with lead or rice powder) with red lipstick and red and black accents around the eyes and eyebrows.
The application of makeup is hard to perfect and is a time consuming process. To avoid dirtying the kimono makeup is applied before dressing. First step, a wax or oil substance, called bintsuke-abura, is applied to the skin. The second one, white powder is mixed with water into a paste and applied with a bamboo brush. This white makeup covers the face, neck, and chest, with two or three unwhitened areas (forming a "W" or "V" shape) left on the nape, to accentuate this traditionally erotic area, and a line of bare skin around the hairline, which creates the illusion of a mask.
When foundation layer is applied, you should take a sponge to pat all over the face, throat, chest and the nape and neck to remove excess moisture and to blend the foundation. Draw the eyes and eyebrows. To darken eyes traditionally was used charcoal, but today modern cosmetics are used. A geisha eyebrows and edges of the eyes should be coloured black. Maiko also applies red around her eyes.
The lips are filled in using a small brush, and the colour comes in a small stick, which is melted in water. Then they add a crystallized sugar to give the lips lustre. More rare will a geisha color in both lips fully in the Western style, as white creates optical illusions. For maiko the lower lip is colored in partially and the upper lip left white and newly full-fledged geisha will color in only the top lip fully. In general, most geisha wear the top lip colored in fully or stylized, and the bottom lip in a curved stripe that does not follow the shape of the lip.
On the first Maiko stage of training they sometimes color their teeth black for a short period of time. In Japan this practice used to be common among many different classes of women, but survives only in some districts, or even families.
Almost constantly, a maiko wear this heavy makeup for the first three years. When they are first initiated as the maiko, they are helped with her makeup by either her "older sister" (an experienced geisha who is her mentor) or the "mother" of her geisha house. Then they learn to apply the makeup themselves.
Then maiko change their make-up to a more subdued style. They become mature, and the simpler style shows their own natural beauty. The mature geisha will still apply white make-up for formal occasions. If geisha is over thirty, the heavy white make-up is only worn during special dances which require her to wear make-up for her part.