How to Become a Makeup Artist

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated August 23, 2021 | Published February 4, 2020

Updated August 23, 2021

Published February 4, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you enjoy experimenting with makeup and keeping up with beauty trends, a career as a makeup artist may be for you. Makeup artists work with people in a variety of settings and use cosmetic techniques to change how someone looks for special occasions, movie or theater productions or even just their daily life. In this article, we discuss what a makeup artist does, average salary and how to become one.

What does a makeup artist do?

Makeup artists use cosmetic techniques to enhance or alter someone's appearance. Using makeup, the artist will bring out colors, highlight certain features or cover up blemishes.

Makeup artists typically work at places like beauty salons, but they can also work in theater productions, on movie or television sets, with professional photographers or even as a freelancer. They work with their clients or employers to achieve certain looks using cosmetic products and techniques.

To achieve different looks, makeup artists need to consider factors likelighting, the complexion of a person's skin, their hair color, the products they have available and any equipment being used, such as a digital camera or high-definition film camera. Makeup artists can learn how to do this by attending specialized beauty programs and receiving on-the-job training.

Average salary

The average salary of a makeup artist varies depending on a number of factors, including level of experience, location, industry, specialization and quality of portfolios. There is a large variance in the salary range, because makeup artists might work in salons and retail stores that pay hourly wages or they might work independently and be able to charge their own fees as a freelancer. Many makeup artists earn higher salaries by working in television, movies and special effects, and some have even become famous for their high-level skills.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $31.43 per hour

  • Salaries range from $7.25 to $95.95 per hour.

How to become a makeup artist

  1. Get the right training.

  2. Gain relevant work experience.

  3. Create a portfolio.

  4. Look for jobs or become a freelancer.

1. Get the right training.

To become a makeup artist, you will first need to get your makeup artist's certification. The way you do this varies from state to state. In some states, you can specialize solely in makeup artistry and receive a license for that. In others, makeup artistry is combined with other cosmetology subjects, for which you will need to get a full cosmetology license. Some states don't require certification at all. However, advanced training is still recommended so that you can receive the knowledge necessary to be successful in your career.

If you're interested in becoming a makeup artist, you should look up the certification requirements within your state. You can expect to spend about 300 to 600 hours in a makeup training program, or about 6 months. For states that require a full cosmetology license, this takes between 1500 and 2000 hours, or about one to two years.

2. Gain relevant work experience.

Besides formal education, you should also get some relevant work experience if you want to become a makeup artist. Some possible work you can consider includes:

  • Volunteering at a local theater production

  • Working at a beauty salon as an assistant

  • Working behind the counter at a cosmetic supply store

  • Assisting a freelance makeup artist

Performing one of these jobs will allow you to see how makeup artists operate so you can decide if this is a career path you'd like to follow. It will also help you form valuable connections within the industry and help you to improve and expand your resume for future employment.

Related: How to Write Work Experience on a Resume

3. Build a portfolio.

As you are pursuing an education and gaining relevant experience, you should start compiling a portfolio. As you perform makeup jobs for people, you should take high-quality before and after photos. You can then compile photos of your best work into a portfolio. You can also include a brief description describing what work you performed and the look you were going for. This portfolio will help you get jobs in the future or attract freelance clients.

When building your portfolio, be sure you ask the permission of anyone in the pictures. If there is a specific type of makeup artistry you'd like to do, such as stage makeup, you should include more pictures of this kind of work. However, try to show a wide range of your work as well so that employers know what you're capable of.

Related: How to Build Your Work Portfolio

4. Look for jobs or become a freelancer.

Once you have graduated from your makeup program and created a portfolio of your best work, you then need to decide how you want to start your career. Some people choose to look for jobs in their local area, applying to beauty salons or local theaters. Your cosmetology school likely has a program to help new graduates locate jobs, so you should talk to them about what is available. Working at an established business is a great way to start off your career and gain some needed experience.

Others choose to become freelance makeup artists. Going freelance is a great option if you want to have more control over your schedule, want to travel and have a strong drive. Freelancers need to do a lot of work to bring in clients, especially in the beginning. New makeup artists may find it challenging to start with freelancing, but that doesn't mean it's impossible.

Remember that your decision isn't final. You can always start at a local salon and then shift to freelancing after you gain some experience and contacts. You could also try freelancing for a while, and if it doesn't work out, you can use the portfolio you built to help you get a full-time job.

Related: Becoming an Independent Contractors: Pros and Cons

Frequently asked questions

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about becoming a makeup artist:

What additional skills should a makeup artist have?

Makeup artists should work on skills that allow them to better interact with clients and run a business. Strong communication skills are great to develop. Also, it would be beneficial to develop basic math and computer skills so that you can do things like charge customers and market your services online.

How can I attract clients as a freelance makeup artist?

There are several ways you can attract clients if you are starting a career as a freelance makeup artist. The best place to start is with family and friends. Let them know the services you offer and ask them to recommend you to their own family and friends. You can also network with anyone you met while working at previous jobs or while you were in beauty school. Finally, you can market yourself online. Become active on social media in order to promote your services. You can also develop a website where potential customers can see your previous work.

What does cosmetology school cost?

The cost of beauty school varies from school to school. On average, you can expect to spend anywhere between $5,000 and $20,000, depending on the quality of the school, where you are located and the program you are enrolling in.

How should I display my portfolio?

The easiest way to display your portfolio is through a website or a social media account. Creating a basic portfolio website is easy and affordable while also making you look more professional. You can also do something as simple as creating a separate Instagram account and uploading all of your photos there. Choose a medium that is both appropriate for the type of job you want to get and easy for others to view. For example, a website is probably better if you are applying to a high-end salon, while a social media profile is acceptable if you are attracting local clients as a freelancer.

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