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Where Makeup Artists Work & What They Do

Here we look at the various sectors where makeup artists work, including film, television, theatre, fashion, beauty and retail. We look in particular at the media makeup artist, outline the general duties, the key skills needed, and what the hours and working conditions are. 

Get Started

Before you can apply for a makeup trainee position, you need some solid training. There are several options for those wanting to be a media makeup artist, including:

  • A specialist course in media makeup at private training provider – there are private makeup schools offering a variety of beginner courses. Some are short and intensive, others are longer.
  • A college or university course in media makeup – there are various qualifications available in makeup, but related subjects can also be good. For example, things like fine art and sculpting are good for prosthetics.
  • Getting taken on by someone you know – if you are lucky enough to have a friend or relative already in the industry, they may take you on and train you up.

Personal Skills Needed

  • Artistic ability – and being able to work with your hands. Know colour theory and understand basic facial anatomy and proportions.
  • Pay attention to detail – you need to work to specific designs and replicate them on subsequent filming days. You need to watch actors on set and monitor their hair and makeup, noticing if anything changes.
  • Health and safety knowledge – you must work safely, not only for yourself, but to keep those around you safe. Working to a good hygienic standard is important.
  • People skills and teamwork – you can work with everyone from those who are nice to those who are really awful. This where people skills come in. You also liaise with other departments, so good communication is key. Be good-natured and don’t get involved with petty politics or back-biting.
  • Organisational skills – a production needs a lot of organisation to run smoothly, efficiently and to keep on top of tasks. 
  • Time management – you need to be on time to a production. You also need to work to a tight time frame getting actors ready. No one will thank you for being late or constantly going over your prep times. 
  • Being flexible and ready for anything – things are always likely to change or happen during a shoot or a live show. Nothing is rigid and set in stone so you must be able to deal with last-minute changes or problems with a cool head and good humour. 
  • You are generally freelance – this means you’re self employed and have to maintain business accounts, as well as pay tax as required by the law in your home country. So a good book-keeping skills and basic record keeping are important.

Main Tasks

Your actual duties will depend on what level you are at. However, there are some tasks that everyone has to be able to do:

  • Researching and designing – whatever the production is, there is always research to do, be it period hairstyle and makeup, casualty effects or special effects. 
  • Preparation – a makeup department needs to prep to be ready to do the job at hand. Likewise, they constantly need to be prepared for changes. Stock needs keeping an eye on and maintaining. Wigs and facial hair, prosthetic pieces and all such things need prepping ready for use.
  • Breaking down a script – meaning any references to the characters are noted and considered as part of the design. Normally the head of department will do this, but it’s important for the whole team to understand the story days and character development.
  • Creating the required looks and styles – you have to work to the head of department’s requirements, creating the makeup and hairstyles as specified. You may work on principal actors (once you are experienced enough) or background artists. Theatre actors generally do their own makeup, unless it is a specialist makeup. For theatre, you will be mainly washing, setting and dressing wigs.
  • Maintenance – 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.
  • Continuity – taking photos and making notes for future reference, to ensure that scenes set on the same story day have continuity of how everyone looks. 
  • Cleaning up – a makeup working environment needs keeping clean, as do all the tools and equipment. The actors may need cleaning up at the end of filming, especially if they have had prosthetics applied. Work sections need keeping clean and topping up with fresh supplies of things like tissues and cotton buds. Wigs and facial hair need cleaning and washing. Wraps, towels and face cloths need to be laundered.


  • For film and TV work – film and TV location work usually means working long hours for several months straight, followed by 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 provide a more regular schedule, but it will still involve working long hours.
  • For theatre – you generally start work in the afternoon and work until after the show goes down. The size of the production and the amount of wigs to set and dress will dictate when you turn up for work, and a show normally finishes by 11PM or so. If there is a matinee show, you will need to be there in the morning to prep. There are normally eight shows over six days a week.

Working Environment

  • For film and TV work – you work in a studio, on set or on location. A studio is a purpose-built building for filming, like a news studio. You also could be on set or location. Sets and locations can be anywhere in the world, inside any sort of building or you could be outdoors in all weather conditions.
  • For theatre – you work in a wig room. These rooms are often cramped with bad lighting and ventilation. Back stage can be narrow with lots of trip hazards to be aware of. If you are on tour, you will have to pack everything down and move on every week or so.

Career Path

No matter what training you do, you start out as a trainee. You have much to learn about working in the real world. A training course shows you the theory, but you now have to put this to use on a real production. Expect to be a trainee for at least two years – you have much to learn and need to build up your skills.

With experience, you work up to being an assistant, then a makeup artist, crowd supervisor and, eventually, a makeup designer, if you wanted to. Not everyone wants to be head of department of course.

There are specialist skills, or example, prosthetic makeup and body art – you may wish to work exclusively in one of these areas.

Job Prospects

The competition for jobs is fierce so networking is important, as is having a thick skin and a positive attitude. Ultimately, there are not enough jobs for everyone who does a makeup course. You need to:

  • Build a network of contacts.
  • Send out your CV to makeup designers and production offices.
  • Build a good portfolio showcasing your abilities – you could have an online portfolio. Keep it varied and only showcase your very best work.
  • Have a business card to hand out.

Makeup Artist for Fashion Industry

Working in the fashion industry includes preparing models for photoshoots, live runway shows and advertisements. 

  • Specialist fashion makeup courses – you don’t need a film and TV makeup course, as it is a different working environment. There are both private and college courses that look at fashion makeup.
  • Hair and makeup are often separate, 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 modelling agencies, fashion labels or magazines.
  • You take direction from the client (for example, the fashion label) and create makeups in accordance to the look required.
  • You need a high artistic flare and ability – fashion work requires a high artistic ability, with a keen eye for detail. You could be doing anything from natural to fantasy. A knowledge of period styles is useful. 
  • Keeping up with latest trends and fashions.
  • Knowledge of how lighting affects the appearance of makeup is useful.
  • Ability to work quickly under pressure is essential for live shows. Being prepped and keeping cool under pressure is important.

Freelance Makeup for Beauty & Weddings

The beauty industry includes doing weddings, proms, makeovers, hen parties and other special occasions. The makeups are for private clients and usually take place in their home or at a venue. Portrait photoshoots take place at a photographer’s studio.

  • Specialist beauty and wedding makeup courses – there are courses that introduce you to the world of beauty makeup and hairstyling.
  • The makeup looks range from natural to glamorous. Camouflage work may also be required in covering tattoos or skin pigmentation issues.
  • Have a good range of products – to suit all skin types, tones and ages. Likewise, if you do hair, you need all the styling tools and equipment.
  • Good business acumen is a necessity to market yourself. For example, advertising your skills in wedding magazines and at wedding fairs. Setup a website with good quality photographs of your work and outline your services and prices clearly.
  • You need strong people skills – and to be able to communicate efficiently. You need to do proper consultations in order to understand the client’s wishes. Build up a book of styles and makeup looks to show clients, as a picture can often clarify things better than words.
  • You need to be fully mobile and have the necessary kit and equipment, like a portable mirror. You also need to be properly insured.
  • You often work solo and freelance – meaning you are self-employed and have to keep accurate business accounts and pay tax.

Working in Retail Makeup

The retail sector includes working in a makeup shop, a department store counter or concession, and a salon or spa.

To work for a makeup brand in a shop, you do not need to do a makeup course necessarily, as you will be trained in-house. A short course in basic makeup or similar may be useful. To work in a salon or spa, you typically need some formal training in beauty therapy or cosmetology. Some countries may require that you have a license.

  • Customer skills – retail work involves answering customers’ questions, giving makeovers, demonstrating application techniques and selling the products (often on a commission basis). You have to able to relate to people.
  • Salon and spa work involves performing facials, doing skin consultations, recommending makeup products and doing makeovers.
  • Makeup looks normally range from natural through to glamorous. The work is along similar lines to the freelance beauty makeup artist, including things like weddings, proms and other special events. Camouflage work may also be required in covering tattoos or skin pigmentation issues.
  • Good working practices are essential – wash your hands, disinfect brushes and keep the makeup clean.

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4 thoughts on “Where Makeup Artists Work & 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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