Skin, Vampire

Skin, Vampire

(pop culture)

The vampire is a revenant, the recently deceased raised to a new existence as the undead. As such, the vampire has been described as extremely pale—the paleness being a sign both of lack of blood and the lack of sunlight. The deathlike appearance is often accompanied with sunken eyes and the withdrawal of skin around the teeth. (This paleness and related characteristics refers to vampires of European origin. African vampires were not, for example, revenants.) Jonathan Harker would summarize his description of Dracula‘s face by noting, “The general effect was one of extraordinary pallor.” The pallor would temporarily leave the vampire immediately after feeding. In European folklore, the bodies of suspected vampires would appear to have “ruddy cheeks” when their body was uncovered. The new color (along with what appeared to be fresh blood exiting the mouth and/or nose) was a sign that the body was in fact that of a vampire.

As the vampire made the transition to the stage, the appearance of the skin occasionally remained an issue. David Skal noted that Bela Lugosi wore a green-hued makeup when he played Dracula in 1927–28 on stage in New York. The color suggested both decay and toxicity. By the time the vampire began to appear in color movies, its traditionally pale skin had been abandoned, as it seemed to be of greater concern that the vampire be able to fit into normal society, even to join the beautiful people. Overwhelmingly, the cinema vampires show no skin characteristics that would set them apart from the humans among whom they live. The primary exceptions are those vampires in the Count Orlok tradition who not only have a deathly pallor but an otherwise odd appearance (pointed ears, prominent rat-like fangs) that would prevent their integrating in normal society.

Among the important exceptions are the works of Anne Rice, whose main vampire character, Lestat de Lioncourt, describes his appearance thusly, “My vampiric nature shows through in my excessively white and reflecting skin, that it is necessary to powder for its exposure to all the objectives, whatever they are.” Before feeding, the skin would be taut, and his veins would protrude somewhat. After feeding it looked more normal. As the gothic movement of the twentieth century emerged, many goths wished to effect a vampire-like appearance, and Lestat was a popular model. The pale skin was created with make-up, and an overall effect established with dark red lip color and heavily applied eye make-up.

The subject of the vampire’s skin was raised anew by Stephenie Meyer in her “Twilight series”. Her vampires are extremely attractive, possessing skin that is hard and cold to the touch, with an alabaster-like appearance. They are normally pale, but will show some ruddiness after feeding. The paleness of Meyer’s vampires does not carry with it a sense of death and decay, as with the revenant. In stark distinction, their skin sparkles when exposed to the sun. This characteristic leads them to avoid the public when the sun is shining and the sky unclouded.


Baddeley, Gavin. Goth Chic: A Gothic Guide to Dark Culture. London: Plexus, 2002. 288 pp.
Meyer, Stephenie. Twilight. Boston: Little, Brown Young Readers, 2005. 512 pp.
Rice, Anne. The Vampire Lestat. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985. 481 pp.
Skal, David J. Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1990. 243 pp.
The Vampire Book, Second Edition © 2011 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.