Make Up Artist Careers: Job Description & Salary

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a makeup artist? Read about real job duties to get the truth about your career prospects so you can decide if becoming a makeup artist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Makeup Artist

A makeup artist, also known as a cosmetologist or personal appearance worker, applies beauty products to the faces of customers and clients. Take a look below at some of the ups and downs to being a makeup artist.

PROS to Becoming a Makeup Artist
Opportunity to work on high-profile film, theater, musical and entertainment projects*
It's possible to receive additional payment through commissions and tips*
Good job prospects due to the need to replace workers*
Self-employment and small business opportunities (nearly half of personal appearance workers were self-employed as of 2012)*

CONS to Becoming a Makeup Artist
Top-paying salons have a lot of job competition*
Regular exposure to various chemicals used in beauty products can cause irritation*
The job requires workers to remain on their feet for extended periods of time*
Makeup artists must often book clients on weekends and evenings*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description

A makeup artist or cosmetologist must meet with a client and briefly discusses what services she or he is looking for. A client might ask for opinions or suggestions on fashion and beauty. In response, makeup artists typically recommend products suited to the customer and apply them as necessary. Cosmetics that a makeup artist might work with include lipstick, blush, rouge and eye shadow.

In a theatrical setting, a makeup artist alters a performer's appearance to fit within the parameters of a script. These makeup artists might apply foundation that cuts out the glare from camera lights, or they might completely transform a performer into a creature or an alien.

Some positions as a makeup artist can involve other duties like hairdressing, pedicures, manicures or massages. You also typically must perform various tasks related to running a business, such as ringing up purchases, accepting payments, answering telephones and cleaning up work areas. Various employment settings for makeup artists include spas, merchandising stores, salons, fitness centers, resorts, playhouses and movie sets.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that cosmetologists made an hourly average income of about $13 as of May 2014, which made their average annual salary nearly $28,000 ( Cosmetologists who were in the top ten percent of wage earners during that time earned around $45,000 yearly. The highest-paying regions for cosmetologists were the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Washington, Delaware and Virginia.

According to the BLS, makeup artists specializing in performance and theatrical work averaged about $29 per hour as of May 2014, which amounted to almost $60,000 annually. For this specialization, the highest-paying states were New York, California, Georgia, Texas and Nevada. Some of the top-paying theatrical and performance makeup artists earned $115,000 or more every year.

Career Requirements


A GED or a high school diploma is normally required to become a makeup artist, and you may also need some vocational training. Certificate and associate's degree programs are available for cosmetologists, estheticians and makeup artists. The length of the program can typically span from nine months to two years. During your program, you could learn about makeup techniques for actors or runway models and practice matching makeup to a client's skin tone. You'll also study skincare regimens and hair styling. You might want to make sure that your school is accredited by an official organization like the National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences (


All 50 states require personal appearance workers to receive licensure. The specific qualifications depend on the state you're planning on working in, but you typically must be at least 16 or 17 years old and hold a high school diploma or GED. You also usually must complete a state-approved training or apprentice program. You then need to pass the licensing examination, which normally includes both a written portion and a skills demonstration. You'll need to renew your license periodically.

What Are Employers Looking for?

Employers prefer makeup artists with flexible schedules to ensure that weekend and evening shifts can be covered, since customers often wish to receive makeovers during those times. A friendly attitude is an important trait that employers often look for in makeup artists, since creating a warm and welcoming environment can help lead to repeat business and customer loyalty. Take a look at what some employers requested in a few and job postings from March 2012.

  • A store in Miami seeks a makeup artist who is goal-driven and has at least 3-5 years of experience in cosmetics.
  • A Missouri spa is looking for a makeup artist willing to participate in product training. Employees must fill out daily paperwork and work regular night shifts.
  • A salon in Connecticut seeks a makeup artist with at least two years of previous sales experience and knowledge of how to use salon computer systems.

Standing Out as a Makeup Artist

Makeup artists work in an industry where new fashions often replace older styles. By reading beauty magazines, you can learn about the latest trends and techniques used in your trade. This can allow you to stand out among peers who may not remain current in the field.

Another way to stand out as a makeup artist is to develop skills in business management, reported the BLS. You might earn an associate's degree in business with a focus on cosmetology or beauty. You can also earn a degree in salon management. By learning how a business operates, you can take on other administrative duties besides just makeup application. When your employer looks for supervisors or managers, you could be a prime pick over your peers if you can show proof of your managerial skills.

Alternative Vocational Options

Nail Technician

If you want to work in a different area of cosmetology, you could become a nail technician. Manicurists clean, cut and polish fingernails and also attend to clients' hands, while pedicurists focus on feet and toenails. In some cases, a nail technician might provide nail extensions and give massages. The BLS reported that manicurists and pedicurists took in an average income of about $22,000 as of May 2011.

Massage Therapist

If you like the social aspects of being a makeup artist, but you want to work in a different area of the beauty field, you might become a massage therapist. In this occupation, you can help others by manipulating a person's muscles and skin. Massages can help reduce stress, decompress muscles, treat pain and rehabilitate injuries. Most states require these types of therapists to receive about 500 hours of postsecondary training in the field. Massage therapists earned an average annual salary of approximately $40,000, according to BLS figures from May 2011.

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