Where Makeup Artists Work and What They Do

Here we look at the different sectors or industries where makeup artists work, including film and television, photographic, theatre, retail and beauty. There’s an overview of the job duties, the hours and working conditions associated with each one, giving you a bit of an insight into where makeup artists work and what they do.

Job Duties

A makeup artist’s job duties and responsibilities depends on the sector or industry that the artist works in, how experienced they are and the position that they hold.

There are some skills and knowledge that embrace all sectors, job grades and places where makeup artists work. Things like artistic ability, health and safety, good working practices, basic facial anatomy and proportions, skin care, understanding colour theory and working with people.

Job Prospects

Job prospects for makeup artists varies from sector to sector, but on the whole there are not enough jobs. Many people who set out to work as a makeup artist give up due to lack of regular paid work. The entertainment industry (film, television and theatre) in particular is difficult as there are far too many people competing for only a handful of jobs. Working in retail, beauty or the service industry (salons and spa) can provide a more stable and regular source of work and income.

Working Hours and Conditions

Working hours and conditions depend on what area you work in. The entertainment industry involves long (and we mean long!) hours for weeks at a time, then weeks and weeks off. Retail, salon and spa work will provide more regular and balanced hours.

Entertainment work involves going to different locations and studios, working in all sorts of conditions from cramped and cold, to spacious and well equipped. You could be up a hill in the heat, the cold or the pouring rain! If you work with private clients (e.g. weddings), you’ll have to travel to each one, taking all your kit and equipment (including lit mirrors) with you. You have to be robust and reasonably fit – lugging kit and equipment around all hours needs a bit of stamina!

If you want to stay put, working in a shop, salon or spa should provide more normal working conditions, as anyone working in a retail environment would expect.


Wages depend on (yes, you’ve guessed it!) what sector you work in, how experienced you are, what your grade for that job is and the budget available for makeup wages. Film and TV may pay more, but there’s no security in work, whereas pay per hour in a salon or spa may be less, but you should have peace of mind in a guaranteed and regular wage.

To find the going rates for your country, check with the relevant union or guild (e.g. BECTU in the UK). If you want to work as a freelance wedding artist, look online at other wedding makeup artists’ websites for rates (bear in mind their experience as solid experience allows someone to charge more).

Working in the Film and Television Industry

  • This involves working in a purpose-built studio or being “on location”. Locations can be anywhere in the world inside any sort of building or outdoors in all weather conditions.
  • You normally work in a team and ensure that all actors, performers, presenters and guests have suitable makeup and hairstyles before they appear in front of the cameras.
  • The hair and makeup has to be maintained throughout the working day. This involves “standing by” on set to carry out touch-ups before a shot is taken or during a break for live TV.
  • Hair and makeup looks vary tremendously, depending on the type of production – natural (e.g. newsreaders, presenters), special effects (including prosthetics), casualty effects (injuries), glamorous, fantasy, period and ageing.
  • Other duties include recording and maintaining continuity, liaising with other teams and cleaning up at the end of the day, including the actors.
  • Film and TV work usually means an irregular work schedule, working long hours for several months straight followed by months at a time without work. You may have to relocate temporarily for the duration of the production.
  • Television studios that employ a regular makeup team may have provide a more regular schedule, but equally long hours per day of work.
  • You are generally freelance, meaning you’re self employed and have to maintain business accounts and pay tax as required by the law in your home country.

Working in Theatre

Where makeup artists work - setting wigs for theatre

Setting wigs for a theatre production

  • Makeup artists are generally not employed by a theatre to do makeup, except for specialist makeups. The performers generally do their own makeup.
  • The main work in theatre is in the wig department – setting and dressing the wigs as designed for each character. Therefore, strong hair skills are essential.
  • You have to be able to work quickly under pressure during a show, as some have quick changes of a character’s wig or makeup, or to deal with problems that can happen during live shows.
  • The wigs are prepared in a dressing room set aside as the “wig room”, and are often cramped with bad lighting and ventilation. Back stage can be narrow with lots of trip hazards to be aware of.
  • Work is regular once you get work on a tour or long-running show until the tour/run ends.
  • For tours, the whole show has to pack down, move and then set up again in the new venue every week (or couple of weeks, depending on the schedule). This can involve extra long hours.
  • Hours per day are not as long as film and television, and the lower wages reflect this.

Working in the Fashion Industry

  • Makeup artists working in fashion prepare models for photo shoots, live runway shows and advertisements.
  • Hair and makeup are often done by separate teams/artists, so you tend to specialise in one or the other. To work in hair, a background in hairdressing is essential.
  • You work independently or as part of a team for modeling agencies, fashion labels or magazines.
  • You take direction from the client (e.g. the fashion label) and create makeups in accordance to the look required.
  • Fashion jobs generally require a high artistic ability, keen eye for detail, knowledge of how lighting affects the appearance of makeup and sometimes being able to work quickly under pressure (like backstage at a live fashion show).

Working in the Wedding and Beauty Industry

  • The beauty industry includes doing weddings, proms, makeovers, hen parties and other special occasions, usually for private clients in their home or at a venue. Portrait photoshoots take place at a photographer’s studio.
  • The makeup looks range from natural to glamorous. Camouflage work may also be required in covering tattoos or skin pigmentation issues.
  • Makeup artists in this sector have to have good business acumen to market themselves (e.g. advertising their services in wedding magazines and at wedding fairs) and strong people skills.
  • You’ll need to be fully mobile and have the necessary kit and equipment (e.g. mirror).
  • Often work solo (recruiting assistants when needed) and are freelance, meaning you’re self-employed and have to keep accurate business accounts.

Working in Retail and the Service Industry

  • Many makeup artists work full-time in retail, selling makeup products in stores, in the cosmetic sections of department stores, and at cosmetic events and shows.
  • Retail work involves answering customers’ questions, giving makeovers, demonstrating application techniques and selling the products (often on a commission basis).
  • To work in retail, you don’t necessarily have to go and do a makeup course first, many brands will teach you in house.
  • Others work full- or part-time in salons and spas, building a dependable clientele over time.
  • Salon and spa work involves performing facials, skin consultations, makeovers and recommending makeup products.
  • To work in a salon or spa, you typically need some formal training in beauty therapy or cosmetology – and some countries may require that you have a license.
  • Makeup looks normally range from natural to glamorous. Camouflage work may also be required in covering tattoos or skin pigmentation issues.

So, that’s where makeup artists work and what they do in a nutshell! The area you choose to work in depends on what you want to do, and what opportunities there actually are – also consider your lifestyle. If you like having a regular wage, normal hours and a social life, then don’t do film and TV!

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4 thoughts on “Where Makeup Artists Work and What They Do

  1. Hi im an arabian makeup artist but im at college in edenvale i really need a job please any one can help ? Im 18 years old

  2. Helpful stuff and to the point. The ‘finding a make-up school’ post was good too – sarcastic ! 🙂
    (meant nicely!! made me laugh – i know there are lots of sh****y courses out there… unfortunately i did one – taken in by the gloss)

    1. Hi Jenna – thanks for your comment. Oh, that’s a shame if you did a “bad course”. Sadly, MU has become trendy and courses have popped up everywhere. There are good ones, but yes some people are good at “gloss”. Remember, a course isn’t the be all and end all of a MUA, nor does it a MUA make, so don’t let a bad experience taint your future 🙂

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