The bodies fished from the Ionian Sea are barely cold and already fans are clamoring for a new season of The White Lotus. But really, who isn’t dying (pun intended) for more? Between the show’s seaside backdrop, meme-able characters, and snappy script, there’s a reason HBOMax’s latest scripted juggernaut dominates conversations — and Twitter feeds — every Monday morning. Of course, a large part of the show’s success is just how visually stunning it is, from the exotic resort locales to the colorful clothes and beauty looks worn by the main characters.
The nails and makeup on The White Lotus, in particular, manage to feel at once very trendy as well as individually tailored to each character. Effectively illustrating their motivations, personalities, and even storylines through details like nail polish color (consider Portia’s distinctly Gen Z shade of chartreuse vs. Harper’s restrained, classic oxblood), or sultry, piled-on eye makeup. Under the careful direction of Rebecca “Bex” Hickey, the show’s makeup department head, there’s an entire world within The White Lotus’ best beauty moments, and Hickey’s giving TZR an up-close look at exactly what it entails. Ahead, insider secrets from The White Lotus’ beauty department — just in time to tide you over ‘til Season 3.
“I always want to create characters you can look at and say, ‘I know that person!’” Hickey tells TZR, explaining that each female lead has her own collection of colors, techniques, and motifs that helps bring her to life. Hickey says she starts the planning process by going through the scripts, taking notes, and talking with the show’s costume designer, Alex Bovaird, for a closer read on the characters. “Her fitting photos are super helpful, and we have a lot of conversations about character looks. Mike White really trusts us to do our thing so there is a lot of creative freedom,” she adds.
Each character’s look is meticulously crafted, with a single lipstick shade providing nearly as much narrative exposition as the script itself. Hickey explains that even makeup finishes play a part in the story — Aubrey Plaza’s Harper, for instance, wore matte eyeshadow for all of her eye looks. “Harper is a bit hardened in a way,” Hickey says. “She is natural but not dewy — her look is all neutrals.” It even translated into her manicures, one of the most eye-grabbing nail looks on the network. “We decided on an OPI rust color nail that is unexpected but still a little tough,” the makeup lead shares.
A full 180 from Harper’s reserved aesthetic is breakout star Haley Ly Richardson and her love-her-or-hate-her character, Portia. Already a lightning rod for debate over her sartorial choices, her TikTok-friendly makeup and nails were just as colorful as her delightfully wacky wardrobe. “Portia is young, carefree, and experimental,” Hickey tells TZR, emphasizing how the team wanted to translate her fun-loving sense of fashion into her beauty looks by going for bright eye colors and fresh, dewy skin.
“We kept it modern by using mostly one color tone on the lid and rimming it with black liner.” Hickey explains that colors like greens, blues, and pinks are still quite unexpected on film, making them so fun to experiment with. “We loved Kosas 10-Second Shadow, Anastasia Beverly Hills eyeshadow, and Pat McGrath pigment shadow palettes to create some depth on the eye. Danessa Myricks was used when we wanted some intensity or glitter, and UZU eyeliner to finish it off.”
Keeping in-step with Portia’s larger-than-life look is Jennifer Coolidge’s Tanya, the consummate diva in smoky, sultry eye makeup regardless of time or place. Hickey describes her look as “classic drama,” marked by big, bold eyes, strip lashes, and tons of cheek-chiseling contour. Tanya also relies on a forever-favorite for her lips, which Hickey reveals as MAC’s Whirl lip liner with a pinky gloss layered over it. “Press-on French tip nails are her thing, which we thought was perfect for Tanya,” she adds.
On the more relaxed end of the spectrum is Meghann Fahy’s Daphne, an unexpected favorite of many viewers. Describing her overall aesthetic and vibe as sweet and likable, Hickey explains that they kept her beauty look realistic by keeping constant through-lines in her makeup and nails. “I think most women wear the same look daily, so we kept her blush consistent, [with] the same few lip colors, and always a gem-colored eye,” she tells TZR. Finally, her “pale pink Essie nails gave classic, girl-next-door vibes.”
A novel’s worth of backstory packed into every manicure, it’s no wonder the show enjoyed such exceptional ratings — with so much going on, it might take several rewatches to fully appreciate. Fortunately, with speculation that Season 3 is at least a full year away, there’s plenty of time to take it all in.