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.