How To Become a Make-up Artist in 6 Steps (Plus Salary)

Updated 8 September 2023

If creating make-up looks or experimenting with make-up is what you enjoy doing, becoming a make-up artist could be for you. Make-up artists work in various industries and typically work freelance or with agencies. Understanding what this role entails and how to get a job in this field can help you to determine if it's the right fit for you. In this article, we discuss what a make-up artist is, what their responsibilities are and outline a step-by-step guide to how to become one.

How to become a make-up artist

Learning how to become a make-up artist can help you determine if this career is the best option for you. Since the job largely depends on skill, there isn't a set career path to becoming one and some professionals work on a self-employed, consultancy basis. Here are steps you can take to become a make-up artist:

1. Get training

A degree isn't necessary for make-up artists, but other recognisable qualifications can boost their earning potential, so it's important that they choose what course they want to take. Courses are on offer at universities, colleges and via apprenticeships. Private training providers also offer a range of specialist courses, some specialising solely in make-up artistry, whilst others allow students to learn a wider range of skills and techniques. Some professional training qualifications offered by colleges and beauty academies include:

  • Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) Level 3 diploma

  • City and Guilds diploma

  • International Therapy Examination Council (ITEC) Level 3 diploma

  • Vocational Training Charitable Trust (VTCT) Level 3 diploma

  • Makeup Standards Authority (MASA) award, diploma or advanced diploma

If make-up artists want to specialise in a particular industry or develop specific expertise, such as special effects make-up or bridal make-up, there are professional classes or training courses that cater to these. Alternatively, if they prefer to earn an undergraduate degree, some universities offer industry-related make-up courses.

2. Build a skill set

Make-up artists may develop their skills over time through experience and training. It's important to know what skills they require so that they can take on apprenticeships or training programmes that allow them to demonstrate these skills on their CV. Some skills that make-up artists require include:

  • Communication: Make-up artists encounter new clients daily. It's important that you can interact with them and make them feel at ease.

  • Technical: Typically, make-up artists work for a salon. It may be necessary to log your hours on a payroll system and also manage customer payments and market your services on the web and on social media.

  • Creative: Make-up artists need to think quickly and come up with creative solutions to deliver results that are high quality and match elements of a client's outfit or their requirements.

  • Time management: Make-up artists coordinate their schedules with hairstylists, outfit changes and other potential factors. So you may allocate time for your clients and ensure that you meet deadlines.

Related: Best Practices To Boost Your Creative Thinking Skills

3. Consider an apprenticeship

An apprenticeship provides the opportunity to learn valuable skills whilst getting paid. Some individuals choose to work as an apprentice part-time whilst they study for a qualification. Make-up artist apprenticeships are useful for those who have left education and want to gain industry experience immediately. This means that it isn't necessary to have any experience or relevant qualifications when applying for a role as a make-up artist.

Related: How To Write an Apprenticeship Cover Letter (With Examples)

4. Gain relevant work experience

Relevant work experience is the next formal step after qualifying as a make-up artist or even during training. It's a good idea to expand the search to local theatre companies and shops that sell cosmetics to improve chances of finding employment. Work experience provides insider knowledge of how make-up artists operate and what their daily schedules look like. What's more, it may confirm a desire to work in a particular industry. It's helpful to keep in contact with past employers and colleagues, as they can be useful connections down the line when looking for employment. Make-up artists may also be able to use work experience to find and learn from an experienced mentor.

Related: How to write a makeup artist cover letter (with template)

5. Build a portfolio

It's helpful to compile a portfolio of your work that's done during both education and work experience. Portfolios are important, as they highlight skills and potential to employers and clients. You may ask permission from clients before taking high quality before and after photos of their looks. You can then accompany each image with a brief description of the concept and what the client wants. If you plan to apply for jobs in a specific industry, such as special effects, include pictures that highlight these skills. It's also helpful to incorporate other work too to show employers that you have a diverse skill set.

Many make-up artists choose to upload their portfolios online to reach a wider audience. Others decide to operate exclusively through social media and upload before and after looks on Instagram with relevant information in the caption. Social media allows make-up artists to find and interact with clients and share their work.

Related: Becoming a special effects makeup artist?

6. Look for jobs or work as a freelancer

No matter how a make-up artist starts out, they can always change track if necessary. For instance, some make-up artists choose to go freelance once they've established their own following. Beauty academies usually have programmes in place that allow graduates to seek career opportunities in local theatres, shops or beauty salons. Working as part of a business is useful when starting out, as it offers the chance to develop and learn from other professionals on the job. Additionally, some businesses also have a loyal client base, which guarantees some work.

Alternatively, you may choose to work as a freelance make-up artist once you qualify. If so, it's important to register as self-employed with HMRC or set up a limited company. Being self-employed is suitable for those who want more control over their schedule or want to work part time. It's up to freelancers to bring in new clients. They can offer their services to family and friends and ask them to recommend the business to others to create a ripple effect of word-of-mouth business. Remaining active on social media can boost brand awareness and allow clients to view their work.

Related: Freelance Work: Everything You Need to Know About Freelancing

What is a make-up artist?

A make-up artist, also known as a media make-up artist, theatrical make-up artist or make-up designer, is a cosmetics specialist who uses make-up products and artistic skills to enhance or alter a client's appearance. They achieve this through cosmetic techniques that highlight certain facial features and cover blemishes. Make-up artists use a range of colours to achieve different looks according to what a client desires.

These cosmetic professionals usually work in a beauty salon, though some choose to specialise in certain industries, such as on television sets, at weddings or in photography. For example, if working in movie or television production, make-up artists may do special effect make-up looks. This allows them to make someone look older or younger or make them appear sub-human.

Related: How to become a facialist in the UK (with qualifications)

What does a make-up artist do?

A make-up artist has several responsibilities that differ according to whether they work for a company or as a freelancer. However, some general duties include:

  • ensuring that lighting and other external factors are under control

  • determining necessary supplies and keeping inventory

  • working alongside other crew members (if working on set or alongside hair stylists)

  • tracking expenses and finances

  • staying up-to-date with new fashion and make-up trends

  • keeping make-up tools and equipment clean

  • taking into account a client's skin and hair colour and choosing appropriate products

  • paying attention to other customer details, such as costumes or accessories

  • adhering to hygiene standards

  • communicating with clients to understand their needs.

Average make-up artist salary

The national average salary of a make-up artist is £19,318 per year, although this can vary depending on multiple factors. For example, make-up artists with more experience have higher earning potential, as do those who work at television or movie companies. Additionally, some make-up artists work on an hourly pay rate set by beauty salons or retail businesses, which could impact their salaries. Other factors that impact make-up artist salaries include location, portfolio quality and specialisation.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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