makeup artist applying lipstick to client

Makeup Careers:

How to Become a Makeup Artist, Salaries, and Professional Resources

Makeup Training > Careers


A makeup artist is one of the last people a bride sees before she reveals herself to her wedding guests. Likewise for an actor walking out on stage or in front of a movie camera. From salons and spas to festivals and fashion shows, a career as a makeup artist can take place anywhere that people seek the transformative power of expertly applied cosmetics.

What Does a Makeup Artist Do?

As a makeup artist, you’ll obviously apply makeup, but some of your most important work will take place long before you ever pick up a brush, a sponge, or an applicator. Like all specialties in the field of cosmetology, makeup artistry is about helping your clients achieve the best version of their physical selves. That starts with thoughtful discussions that let you know exactly what your clients want while reassuring them that their all-important physical appearance is in good hands.

Beyond consulting with clients and, of course, applying and removing makeup, you’ll:

  • Prep your workstation and clients while maintaining and organizing your tools and supplies.
  • Conduct your work within all safety, hygiene, and sanitization standards.
  • Clean, exfoliate, and prepare the skin for makeup application.
  • Select the appropriate colors and types of cosmetics based on factors like your clients’ skin types, outfits, and features, as well as external factors like lighting.
  • Coordinate with hair stylists, nail techs, estheticians, and cosmetologists to develop an overall plan for your mutual clients.
  • Apply and remove prosthetics like false eyelashes.
  • Recommend products, treatments, and maintenance plans for clients.

How Much do Makeup Artists Make?

Makeup artists earn a median annual salary of $69,310, or $33.32 an hour, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2017. That, however, is specific to the entertainment industry. Those in the personal care field make an average of $16.66 an hour. Many makeup artists are licensed cosmetologists, and they earn an average of $11.89 an hour. Many others are licensed estheticians. They earn an average of $15.05 an hour.

What you can expect to earn also depends on where you live. Here’s what the average makeup artist earned in 2017 in the five highest-paying states:

  • District of Columbia: $98,130
  • Illinois: $92,940
  • New York: $77,980
  • California: $74,170
  • Washington: $66,200

Job Growth for Makeup Artists

The BLS doesn’t keep industry-growth statistics for makeup artists specifically, but instead offers projections for the larger field of cosmetology, which includes not just makeup artists, but hair, skin, and nail specialists, as well. The industry is expected to grow by 13% between 2016-2026, nearly double the average for all occupations, which is 7%.

The five states that currently employ the most cosmetologists are:

  • California: 33,570
  • Texas: 28,020
  • Florida: 26,800
  • Pennsylvania: 24,460
  • New York: 23,650

Working as a Makeup Artist

The path to a career in all fields of cosmetology—hair, skin, nails, and makeup—varies considerably based on career goals and the rules and regulations of individual states, but makeup artistry has the most variables of them all.

How to Become a Makeup Artist

To become a makeup artist, you’ll have to earn a makeup artist license—but only in a few states. Some states don’t require you to get any license at all. Others require you to get a cosmetologist or esthetician license. If this all seems confusing, don’t worry, there is a path to follow no matter where you live or what you want to do.

  • Visit your state’s governing body, like the state board of cosmetology, and find out if your state requires you to earn a license and if so, what kind of license is needed for which kind of work.
  • Choose and enroll in a makeup, esthetician, or cosmetology program that satisfies your state’s requirements. If you live in a state that doesn’t require a license, formal training is probably still a necessary step, at least in the eyes of potential employers.
  • Complete the program and all required training and/or apprenticeship hours, then apply for a license from your state board.
  • Take and pass the necessary exam(s). The National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC) administers the exams aspiring cosmetologists and estheticians are most likely to encounter, but your state might require you to pass some similar variation. Visit the NIC Testing Program to get sample tests and more information.
  • Satisfy all your state’s other licensure requirements. Beyond finishing a formal program and passing a test, you’ll have to complete a set number of training hours, which varies by state. You might be able to substitute training hours with an apprenticeship, but some states require a combination of the two.
  • Consider pursuing a voluntary professional certification if one is available in the specialty you’re pursuing.

Makeup Artist Career Options

If you’re a skilled makeup artist, your career options are wide open. You might choose to work in any one of the following careers and work environments:

  • Salon or spa: Spas and salons are among the most common environments for makeup artists like you.
  • Resort or cruise ship: You could seek employment with one of the many luxury hotels, resorts and cruise ships that offer amenities like spa and cosmetology services to their clients.
  • Entertainment: You might work prepping actors and models for appearances in films, on television, or on the theater stage.
  • Fashion: You could apply your trade everywhere from runway shows and photoshoots to private exhibitions and advertising campaigns.
  • Medical and health services: As a makeup artist, you’ll be qualified to work in dermatologists’ offices, hospitals, and other health-care settings consulting with and applying makeup to patients with skin conditions, scars, or other special needs.
  • Sales and consulting: You might work for a cosmetics company or manufacturer applying makeup and consulting with customers at makeup counters, kiosks, or cosmetics stores.
  • Independent contractor: As a freelancer, you might sell your services painting faces at carnivals or prepping bridesmaids at weddings. You’ll be in business for yourself, working on a contract-to-contract basis without the constraints—or security—of a steady employer.
  • Online influencer: The digital age has offered a new outlet for the ambitious freelancer. You might start a blog, YouTube channel, or social media profile dedicated to sharing ideas, educating, enlightening, and inspiring your followers who share your passion for makeup artistry.

Traits of a Successful Makeup Artist

In order to be able to be a successful makeup artist, first make sure that you’re up to the physical rigor—you should expect to stand on your feet for long hours. It also helps to have a passion for art and creativity—the work involves choosing and matching colors, working with shading, and transforming a medium, in this case skin, through shading and accenting.

The work requires the meticulous organization of tools, supplies, and general workspace. Most importantly, however, you should be able to connect with people, be a good listener, and give your clients confidence that you know what they want and that you know what you’re doing.

Professional Organizations for Makeup Artists

As you progress through your training and career, you should stay up-to-date on trends, information, techniques, and news by joining or following the top professional and industry organizations.

  • International Make-Up Association: The IMA is the recognized awarding body for the worldwide makeup artistry industry.
  • International Association of Professional Makeup Artists: The IAPO exists to provide business development and educational services. The membership organization serves both working makeup artists and those who are studying to become makeup artists.
  • National Association of Screen Makeup and Hair: NASMAH is a U.K.-based association for makeup artists specific to the fashion, TV, theater, film, and photography industries.
Career Outlook
Info based on National Averages. Enter zip and program for more exact details.
Hours-required: 1600 Education and hands-on training
Licence Renewal Hours: 1000 Hands-on training
Certification Needed: Cosmetology
State Board Contact:E: P: 1.800.952.5210
Average Salary: $28,770 Annually
Job Outlook: 20% increase Between 2012 - 2022
What do you love most about beauty school?
The connections. All of the girls are so close, they are great. The teachers are awesome and have so many connections and will help you get your career started.
How do you like beauty school?
I love it, it’s a lot of fun! It makes it easier when it’s something you are passionate about. It’s so fun to go to school and always trying new things. They give you plenty time to do you homework at school too!
Can you describe a typical day?

Arrive at 8am and prep for appointments starting at 8:45.

You could have 4-5 appointments in one day doing facials, makeup, skin treatments, waxing, brows, lash tinting. My favorite part is if you don’t have appointments you can do treatments on each other! We give each other facials, makeup and the nail girls do our nails, etc! It’s so fun and we are never bored!

What’s it like juggling work and school?

I work two jobs. It can be busy but I map out the week and it keeps me out of trouble.

What would you tell someone thinking about enrolling?

Just do it! I was pretty nervous at first. I doubted myself b/c I have never been in a program I felt I could succeed. The support and encouragement of the other ladies in the class and seeing how intelligent the teachers were eased my worries. It’s a fun experience! There weren’t “know it all’s” in the class. Everyone is eager to learn and help each other.

Do you feel confident getting a job after school?

Yes! I feel confident and qualified. The teachers are great and positive. They want to set up you for success.

What inspires you?

Instagram. I could scroll all day long. I love art, makeup, clothes, house decor. I love going to Sephora and seeing all the makeup and think about the possible ways to do different things.

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