How to Become a Makeup Artist



Makeup artists can enhance, transform, and remedy our complexions, restoring a healthy glow and improving our overall appearance. These beauty professionals often focus their careers on a specific area of makeup, such as theatrical, bridal, and special effects. In many states, they are licensed as estheticians, allowing them to provide skincare services, such as facials and waxing.

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Makeup artistry is now in demand, with everyone from actors and public figures requireing these services in order to be camera-ready, to everyday people looking for professional makeup for a wedding or black tie event.

Makeup artists may work alone or as part of a team or hairdressers and stylists, particularly for fashion shows and magazine/catalog shoots. Most makeup artists work in a freelance capacity, with the majority working for the entertainment and fashion industries.

Makeup Artist Jobs: What to Expect as a Makeup Artist

Makeup artists are generally called up to enhance physical features and create a flawless appearance, although makeup artists who perform work for editorial/high fashion or for theater and film productions may work in special effects, which includes expertise in areas such as prosthetics, airbrushing, light bending, and high definition.

Because of the wide array of settings in which makeup artists may work, job duties may vary quite a bit. In fact, freelance makeup artists may find themselves performing different duties almost on a daily basis.

What remains constant from setting to setting, however, is the need for makeup artists to maintain and prepare the tools of their trade, including makeup brushes and cosmetic palettes. Before beginning their day, they ensure that their tool kits are organized and adequately stocked and that their tools and have been properly cleaned and sanitized.

Makeup artists must also clearly listen to the needs of the customer or client as to ensure the makeup job is expertly completed according to preferences or specific needs. A makeup artist’s client may be a spa or salon customer, a bride on her big day, a theater or film director, or a fashion designer. Makeup artists often initiate a preliminary client consultation to ensure the details of the upcoming job are well-defined.

The job of a makeup artist often includes applying cosmetics such as:

  • Primer
  • Foundation
  • Concealer
  • Powder
  • Blush
  • Eye shadow
  • Eyeliner
  • Lip liner/lipstick

Makeup artists, through the application of cosmetics and through the use of contouring, highlighting, and shading techniques, accomplish the intended goal or objective.

How to Become a Makeup Artist

Makeup artists are recognized by most states as licensed cosmetology specialists and must therefore be licensed to perform their services. However, the only state to offer a makeup artist license is Louisiana.

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Before you get too confused, makeup artistry is recognized as a component of esthetics by most state boards of cosmetology; therefore, if you want to become a makeup artist, chances are you will need to be licensed as an esthetician to do so.

But there’s one more twist: some states regulate makeup artists not through an esthetician license, but through other avenues. For example, in Florida, makeup artists must achieve a facial specialty registration through the Department of Business and Regulation as to practice makeup artistry.

A number of states, such as Delaware, require makeup artists to possess a state license when practicing in a salon setting only; therefore, makeup artists working at makeup counters in department stores or as freelance theater or film makeup artists may not need to possess a license. Because this language is often unclear, you are always best served by contacting your state board of cosmetology for clarification regarding practice requirements.

To become a licensed esthetician and therefore practice makeup artistry, you will first need to complete an educational program or apprenticeship that is recognized by your state board of cosmetology. Each state sets its own standards for licensure; as such, approved programs in esthetics may look distinctly different from one state to the next. For example, to become a makeup artist in Washington D.C., you must complete an esthetics program of at least 600 hours, while in Arizona approved programs are 500 hours in duration.

Upon completing a recognized program of esthetics, you will be required to take and pass state examinations before you can qualify for licensure. Most states also have minimum practice requirements, which generally include being at least 16 years old and having completed at least the 10th grade.

Makeup Artistry Schools

If you plan to become a makeup artist in a state that does not require licensure, you will likely still want to pursue a program designed to prepare you in all aspects of makeup artistry. Makeup artistry programs may be found through cosmetology schools, vocational schools, junior colleges, and dedicated makeup artistry schools, and a number of programs are offered online.

A makeup artistry program likely includes study in:

  • Business operations/marketing skills/management
  • Color theory
  • Contouring/blending
  • Cosmetics/product ingredients
  • Customer service
  • Face shapes and face structures
  • Makeup tools
  • Sanitation, health, and safety

You may also discover a wide array of advanced makeup artistry programs that focus on specific areas of this beauty profession, such as theatrical, high fashion, or special effects. These types of programs are ideal for practicing makeup artists who want to specialize their careers on a specific area of makeup artistry.

A Career in Makeup Artistry

Your career in makeup artistry may include working out of a studio or salon, working in the wings of a Broadway musical, or working for some of the biggest names in fashion at New York’s Fashion Week. Your job may include perfecting a bride’s makeup, demonstrating makeup application techniques in a popular department store’s makeup counter, or working in sales, distribution, or even new product development at one of our nation’s cosmetic manufacturing companies.

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In other words, a career in makeup artistry is one of bountiful opportunities.

With a state license (if necessary) in hand, you may choose to work under the mentorship of a seasoned industry professional as to learn about the makeup artistry business from the ground up. You may also choose to take the time to learn about the many facets of makeup artistry and which one suits you best. Upon choosing a makeup artistry niche, you may then decide to pursue additional schooling or training.

As a new makeup artist, you will likely be required to show your clients or potential employers your work. Therefore, a portfolio showcasing your talent is usually in order. For most makeup artists new to the industry, a comprehensive portfolio that displays your skill diversity is usually a smart move.

Most makeup artists also showcase their work via a custom website. As you develop your skills, your portfolio, resume, and salary should grow. In other words, it is quite common for makeup artists who have made a name for themselves to charge more as their client list and experience grows.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the mean, annual salary for makeup artists in the U.S. was $66,330, as of 2013, with the top 10 percent in the field percent earning more than $121,910.

The BLS also reported that makeup artists in the motion picture and video industries earned the highest salary of all makeup artists, averaging about $88,010 annually.

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