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How to Become a Makeup Artist: putting eyeshadow on

How to Become a Makeup Artist: Everything You Need to Know

Last updated: September 6, 2019
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So you love using makeup products. You know how to create different makeup looks from smokey eyes to nude and natural looks. You instinctively know which colors would suit different skin tones. And you know a professional makeup artist is the career path for you.

What you don’t know, however, is how to become a makeup artist. You’ve spent countless hours applying makeup on yourself and you’ve even created different looks for all your close friends and family for special occasions. What you’re interested in now, is taking your skills to the next level: help others look great and earn a living from doing it.

The good news is getting into the makeup industry doesn’t have to be complicated. In this article, we’ll give you seven simple steps you can take to become a successful makeup artist.

Makeup Artists and Cosmetology

Being a makeup artist (MUA for short) can be all about makeup application or creating special effects makeup.

However, if you want to make a career out of makeup, it makes sense to broaden your expertise by becoming a cosmetologist — someone whose knowledge extends beyond makeup techniques to hair, skin, and nail care. It’ll not only improve your employment opportunities but also broaden your client base if you’re planning to go freelance.

Some makeup artists, especially those who work in a beauty salon, are also estheticians — skin care specialists who help ensure that their client’s skin is healthy both through using the appropriate makeup and implementing strategies to combat the effects of sun exposure and aging. Estheticians can also help with spa treatments such as salt or sugar scrubs, body wraps, and hair removal.

How Much Makeup Artists Earn

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time cosmetologists or makeup artists earn around $24,830 a year. Thanks to population growth, the employment outlook is also pretty optimistic with figures expected to grow 13% from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations.

If you’re looking to earn more, you could consider becoming a theatrical makeup artist in the motion picture and video industry, where the average salary is around $70,000 a year. You’ll earn even more if you’re based in New York, where the average annual income is closer to $80,000.

If you prefer more flexible hours, or if you would rather work for yourself, it’s also possible to be a part-time or freelance makeup artist. You can expect to earn between $11 to $30 per hour depending on the type of makeup services you offer and where you’re based.

How to Become a Makeup Artist in 7 Steps

makeup flat lay: makeup brushes, eyeshadow, and eyelash curler

While being a makeup artist can be hard work — you’ll usually be on your feet all day — it can also be extremely fulfilling. Depending on the type of makeup you specialize in, you could work at a department store makeup counter by helping customers to look and feel beautiful, or you could be on-set at photo shoots, creating specific looks for advertising campaigns.

1. Follow Other Makeup Artists on Social Media

This will not only give you a good introduction to the world of makeup. It’ll also provide you with inspiration for different makeup looks and keep you current with trending looks.

Many makeup artists on social media will also provide online video tutorials, which are one way to learn more about makeup artistry and techniques.

2. Attend a Makeup Artistry School

At the end of the day, nothing beats undergoing an in-person training program. There are several options when it comes to makeup training. Depending on your preferences, you could enroll in a beauty school, cosmetology school, or a makeup course in community college.

The type of training you choose will depend on what you most want to learn and the type of services you wish to offer when you’re a makeup artist.

Studying in a beauty school and taking makeup courses tend to be faster options, as they tend to offer programs specifically on what you’re looking for — applying makeup.

A cosmetology program in a cosmetology school, on the other hand, is a more rounded education and takes longer — around nine months. This is because you’ll learn more than makeup application. You’ll learn anything and everything related to hair, skin, and nail services.

3. Become a Certified Makeup Artist

You can’t necessarily start working immediately after you’ve attended makeup school and received the necessary skills and knowledge. Depending on where you live, you may need either a makeup artist or cosmetology license in order to offer makeup services. It costs around $150 on average, and you’ll need to have some form of makeup training and pass a number of exams to be licensed.

4. Practice Makes Perfect

how to become a makeup artist: eyeshadow palette
It doesn’t matter whether it’s makeup, sports, or a new language — if you want to be good at something, you need to practice. So, be sure to give your makeup kit a good workout by using it as often as you can on as many different people as you can.

Self-applying makeup requires a completely different technique than applying it on someone else, so it’s important to practice.

Try to practice on a variety of skin tones, eye colors, face shapes, and ages. This will better reflect what it’s like to take on actual clients.

If you start to run out of friends to practice makeup on, here are some other places you can try to hone your skills:

  • Work at the cosmetics counter of your local department store or pharmacy.
  • Be part of a local theater group.
  • Intern or apprentice for a more experienced makeup artist.
  • Offer your services on Craigslist: Bridal makeup services are always in demand, as is makeup for high school proms or grad events.

5. Assemble Your Kit

As you practice, note the makeup equipment you often use — brushes, makeup products, tools, etc. — and make sure you have them on hand every time you’re on the job. You’ll look more professional and organized if you’re not constantly losing or forgetting your equipment.

6. Build a Portfolio

Nothing beats showing people what you can do, so as you’re practicing your makeup techniques, take some quality before-and-after photos. You may want to consider investing in a decent camera. But if your phone camera is your only option, make sure the photos are well-lit and clear.

Print some of your favorite photos, and take the time to display them nicely in a folder so you can present them during job interviews or client meetings. Remember to include as much variety as possible so potential employers or clients can see your broad range of skills and styles.

However, don’t limit your portfolio to print. Even if you have no interest in becoming a social media star, you should consider creating an online portfolio of your work to promote what you can do (which brings us to the next point).

7. Market Yourself

One of the most effective ways to get work is to establish a good reputation as a makeup artist.

You could start by writing a beauty blog where you share how-to techniques on a variety of makeup looks. By adding your own opinion on the many different beauty topics, you’re establishing yourself as an expert on all things makeup.

You may also want to consider setting up a Facebook page or Instagram account to further promote your skills.

You can also create business cards so you can be found by different clients: theater groups, wedding planners, beauty salon owners, friends, family, and so on. This is also where your online portfolio comes in (be sure to include the web address on your business cards) — if people are thinking of hiring you, it’s far more likely they’ll take a look at your website before picking up the phone to ask you to show them your work.

It’s Time to Become a Makeup Artist

heart made of red lipstick

As you can see, becoming a makeup artist can be a simple process — all it takes is dedication and passion.

If you want to be a freelance makeup artist, remember that it may take a while to build up a full-time clientele. So while you’re doing that, consider making it your side hustle as you establish yourself in the industry.

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