The Makeup Artist Behind ‘Empire’ Dishes on Men’s Grooming Tips

Empire stars Jussie Smollett, Bryshere Y. Gray, and Trai Byers. (Photo: Instagram)

With the fall television season in full swing, there are few shows buzzier than Lee Daniels’s Empire, a hip-hop infused primetime soap opera of sorts that’s been hailed by some as the black Dynasty. There’s plenty of intrigue, backstabbing, glamour, and music to boot and much of the magic resides in the stellar cast, headlined by Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson. But before music empire don Lucious Lyons (Howard) and his three sons, Andre, Jamal and Hakeem (played by Trai Byers, Jussie Smollett, and Bryshere Y. Gray respectively) step in front of the camera, they first stop by the Karen Lynn Accottato’s makeup chair.

The Chicago-based makeup artist — Empire shoots in the Windy City — has been in the industry for 30 years, working primarily in television, film, and commercials, and has seen just about everyone come through for various projects. In fact, she’s even worked on President Obama during his Senate and presidential campaigns. Here, Accotatto, who is also a Dove Men+Care ambassador, dishes on the products she uses on the Empire set, and how the grooming differs for each of the male main characters.

Terrence Howard plays Lucious Lyon on Empire. (Photo: Instagram)

Lucious Lyon

“With any of the characters, skincare is imperative. With men you have to be able to do natural makeup really well and it starts with the skin. So many men don’t even wash their face. After cleansing, I like to use the Dove Men+Care Ultra Hydrating Cream because it leaves a matte finish. Shine is a distraction on television.  

Depending on if the guys need it, we will use an eye cream. I like the ones by Dermalogica — they have so many and for any occasion. Or we’ll literally use ice or cold spoons. I also like the Klorane eye patches.

We don’t use primers on the guys, but we will use concealer for a blemish. I prefer the ones by MAC and Dermacolor. It’s very important to match the skin and those brands are great for both texture and color selection.

Rarely do we use foundation but if somebody is very tired looking, then we’ll use a water-based foundation. It absorbs into the skin and looks very natural — it’s similar to a tinted moisturizer. I like the MAC Pro and Kryolan Dermacolor products. There’s this Japanese line called Koh Gen Do that has great skin colors, especially for ethnic skin. You have to be very aware of undertone and both Asian and African American skin can go yellow, orange, or red. You have to avoid the pinks and a lot of the products out there have so much pink. Koh Gen Do has such a range of yellows. For powder, I use the Dermacolor Fixing Powder, which is waterproof and smudge-proof. You can also buff it out so you can’t see the powder on screen.

We also have a barber on set and we’ll use the Dove Men+Care Hydrating Shave Gel with an electric razor. Because the guys tend to have curly hair on their face we use electric because it works better. If they have a sex scene, we might shave the body. This coming season Terrence is the most natural of any of the characters though. He’s in jail. He’s not clean-shaven. You’ve got to respect the character.”

Trai Byers plays Andre Lyon on Empire. (Photo: Instagram)

Andre, Jamal, and Hakeem Lyon

“We do a lot of the same on all the guys, but with the sons I might use the Dove Men+Care sensitive line because they break out more. I also love the Dove Men+Care Deep Clean Face Scrub. Their jobs include performing under hot lights and sweating and that leads to clogged pores and this breaks it up. I’ll also use a hot towel to steam the face, although Jussie prefers a cold towel because it calms and tightens the skin.

Hakeem Lyon, played by Bryshere Y. Gray is known for his highly designed hairstyles. (Photo: Instagram)

We do groom eyebrows. Bryshere has little cuts in his eyebrow — it’s made for Hakeem the character. You do have to be careful to not over-groom the brow; otherwise it starts to look too feminine. I love the Anastasia Beverly Hills brow products. Make Up For Ever also has brow gels and MAC has eyebrow products for nearly any hair color — redheads, blonds, and all types of brunettes.

Jussie Smollett plays Jamal Lyon on Empire. (Photo: Instagram)

The facial hair is very important on Jussie and Trai. Jussie has a very tight beard and sideburns — it’s about trends. The full beards are going away into a tightly coiffed and clean look. With Trai, he’s clean cut. His look is very CEO. For clippers, we use the Wahl Clippers 5 Star Series. You can do everything with it.

Hakeem is also the hot rapper, so the hair is a really big deal. We try to do a different design for each episode.”


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