How To
Become A
Make Up Artist

How to Become a Make Up Artist

A makeup artist uses cosmetics combined with artistic skill to enhance a person’s appearance, bringing out their natural features and hiding flaws. They may also use artistry to create special effect makeup for films, television, fashion and theatre.

It has become increasingly popular to aspire to be a makeup artist with the rise of image focused social media. Instagram has a limitless supply of celebrity images and people want to replicate their looks. YouTube tutorials have changed the face of the business and offer inspiration to those who seek a career as a makeup artist.

Most professional makeup artists work on a freelance basis,  so your income will depend on how often you are able to work. A full day’s work on a television drama, for example, could earn you around £210.

Hours are long and irregular. The work is mainly indoors, in dressing rooms, television studios and on film sets, often carrying around all your equipment and cases. Television and film location work can be outdoors, which can mean working against the elements in all seasons. Working on location or on tour can also require periods living away from home.

If you choose to become a makeup artist you must be strategic in your decisions to gain success. As any celebrity makeup artist will tell you, they got to where they are through conscious and deliberate hard work, effort and training.

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Becoming a makeup artist: training and development

The image of a makeup artist conjures up a jet-setting life that epitomises glamour – creating looks for some of film and fashion’s most iconic faces. Certainly this is possible, however there are many different areas for makeup artists to work in.

Some makeup artists choose to work in salons and spas, whereas choose to do makeovers and sell cosmetics in department stores. Bridal makeup is another popular and lucrative choice.

Many makeup artists choose to work in a freelance capacity and spend time ‘on the road’. Other fields that hire makeup artists include news and broadcast, theatre, film and television and the music industry.

A passion for makeup is obviously key to starting to train to become a makeup artist. Second to that you need to practice by experimenting with different cosmetic looks on yourself and your friends.

Most professional makeup artists will be highly trained, so gaining industry recognised qualifications to at least Level 3 is essential for the skills and knowledge you need. Work experience while you train is vital to build a portfolio, such as offering to volunteer at local theatres. By finding work experience you can also network and build a useful contacts list that will help you once you have completed your training.

There are a number of makeup artist courses which offer to train you in many different professional skills and processes.

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VTCT Level 3 Diploma in Makeup Artistry

The VTCT Level 3 Diploma in Makeup Artistry is a substantial vocational qualification that will prepare you for a career as a makeup artist.

There are no formal entry requirements but a good command of written and verbal English language is required.

This course covers the following areas:

  • Applying makeup

  • Fashion and photographic makeup

  • Media makeup

  • Camouflage makeup

  • Airbrush makeup

  • Promoting products and services

This qualification will develop your knowledge and understanding of relevant anatomy and physiology, health and safety, client care and cosmetic products and equipment.

The content of this diploma is based on the beauty therapy National Occupational Standards (NOS) and is recognised by the UK’s leading professional association, the British Association of Beauty Therapy and Cosmetology (BABTAC).

Holders of this qualification are eligible to become a professional member of the British Association of Beauty Therapy and Cosmetology – the UK’s leading membership organisation and insurance provider for professionals working in the beauty industry.

BTEC Level 3 Diploma in Production Arts (Makeup)

This diploma will provide you with the skills you will need to apply makeup effects for the performing arts, and is an ideal starting point if you are intending to pursue a career as a makeup artist. 

  • 4 GCSEs at grades A*-C or 9-4, ideally including English and maths


  • Performing Arts BTEC Level 2 Diploma at Merit level with Functional Skills/GCSE English and maths at grades A*-C or 9-4

This course can cover the following:

  • Production arts workshop
  • Makeup for performers
  • Full body makeup for performers
  • Special effects makeup
  • Making prosthetics and their use

ITEC Level 3 Diploma in Fashion and Specialised Makeup

ITEC qualifications are arguably the best way to start a career in the beauty industry if you want to travel, as they are recognised in over 33 countries worldwide.

It is recommended that applicants should have achieved a level of education equivalent to five GCSEs at grade A*-C or a Level 2 Diploma in Beauty Therapy prior to commencing the course. However, exemptions may be made for adult returners with experience of the workplace.

This course can cover the following:

  • Application of photographic make-up

  • Application of character makeup

  • Camouflage makeup

  • Creating an image based on a theme

  • Designing and applying face and body art

  • Applying individual permanent lashes

City and Guild Diploma in Hair and Media Makeup at levels 2 and 3

CIBTAC Qualifications have been recognised worldwide for over 35 years. Designed specifically for the Academy of Beauty Training, these qualifications will open you to global opportunities – perfect if you’re looking to work while travelling.

This qualification is suitable for anyone from 16 years old or over. There are no prior qualifications needed.

You will cover:

  • Client care and communication

  • Body art design

  • Eyelash and brow treatments

  • The art of photographic makeup

  • The art of colouring hair

  • Apply skin tanning techniques

  • Make and style a hair addition

Colleges work with local employers who provide demonstrations and talks and work placements

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Personal portfolio

Upon entering the industry as a makeup artist, building a portfolio will work the same way as a C.V does in other job applications – showing off your previous work and style to employers is crucial. This will help you to stand out in your interviews.

You can have two types of portfolios – print and online.  An online portfolio reaches more people and can be viewed at any time.

Your portfolio should consist of various styles:

  • Natural, flawless makeup

  • Editorial makeup

  • Experimental makeup

  • Beauty makeup

  • Bridal makeup

If you create a printed portfolio,  use a professional looking leather binder for taking to client meetings.

For online portfolios you could hire a local web designer to help you put your site together.  Do not use social media to host your portfolio – it looks unprofessional.

Hire a professional photographer to take photos of your model shots and also photos of you at work.

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Apprenticeships offer one of the best ways to earn while you learn in the UK as they often lead to full-time employment directly after completion.

Apprenticeship Programs

Apprenticeships provide structured training as a makeup artist with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £105 per week, but you may well be paid more. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and previous experience.

Learning Approach

An apprenticeship allows you to work alongside other makeup artists which greatly speeds up your learning. By shadowing experts you can get invaluable knowledge and tips and see what their working day is really like.

For many employers, an apprenticeship is considered the best way of learning as you then start your job with a solid foundation of work experience.

Entry Requirements

Depending on the apprenticeship provider, entry requirements may vary.  Typically, 5 GCSEs between A and C grade are preferred and these can be in any number of subjects.


The current minimum wage is £4.81 per hour for an apprentice. Typically, apprentices will work for a minimum of 30 hours per week, including one day of training which is also paid. You will also get an allowance of 30 days holiday per year.

Essential Skills

Becoming a makeup artist not only demands creative ability. It is a client-facing role so good communication skills are essential, as well as:

  • A polite, tactful manner

  • Stamina, patience and concentration

  • The ability to work well under time constraints

  • Meticulous attention to detail


Antisocial hours might test your ability to focus on the task if you are overtired – the ability to concentrate is crucial. Working to an experimental stylistic fashion brief is one thing, but doing a bride’s make-up for her wedding day demands that no mistakes are made on one of the most important days of her life. The bride will often have a clear idea of what she wants and errors are not acceptable.

Creativity and imagination

Some jobs will require you to follow a strict brief, whilst others will give you artistic licence and a free rein on your creativity. If you are creating a look for a character for stage or screen, you will need a vivid imagination. In this case you may want to sketch out your ideas on paper or with create a visual inspiration board.

Good communication and people skills

Dealing with individuals’ makeup directly requires the communication skills to get a look that the customer is happy with, while being able to put across your own expertise effectively. This is particularly important if you are working in the sensitive world of bridal makeup.

Willingness to learn

Fashion changes constantly. New products come and go and trends and techniques are constantly evolving. You will always be learning. Keep up to date with new trends, the changing seasons on the catwalk, celebrity and social media images. Be open and willing to learn from others, as well as from your own mistakes.

Attention to detail

A makeup artist has to pay close attention to detail in overseeing continuity and creating symmetry, with good dexterity and a steady hand. The makeup artist’s work will often be under public scrutiny on TV, film, and theatre set. A bride’s expectations are high and her makeup has to be immaculate. Likewise, celebrities on the red carpet are under public scrutiny themselves and so their makeup has to be flawless.

Job Opportunities

Work is often on a contractual basis, so many makeup artists are freelance. As with many creative careers, makeup artists rely on building contacts through networking. You can start networking through offering free work experience while you train. Once clients trust you and know you are reliable, they will then recommend you to others.

Media makeup – film, television and theatre

Working in film and television will come with its own unique challenges, but offers great opportunities for growth.

Fashion and photography makeup

Makeup and the fashion industry go hand in hand. Every photoshoot and catwalk show will have one or multiple makeup artists. There are plenty of jobs for makeup artists to assist on teams for some of the most renowned makeup artists in the world, including Pat McGrath and Charlotte Tilbury for fashion week. Adding fashion week experience and established names to your C.V  will appeal to various top makeup agencies in London.

Print and digital media

In the media you will be working with models and photographers for shoots to be used in fashion magazines and websites. This also ties in with high fashion, where you’ll work with designers and catwalk models for live shows, with images shown in glossy magazines and fashion blogs.

Local commerce

If you prefer more sociable hours and don’t want to travel, there are plenty of opportunities to work at department store makeup counters, plus spas and salons.

Bridal makeup

The bridal makeup industry is profitable, with plenty of opportunities and brides willing to pay for the best. Getting the bride and wedding party ready is an important job and you will be employed to do trials before the big day.

Special events

Special events often require a makeup artist on hand. Whether it be a celebrity birthday party, awards ceremony, film premiere,  business functions, or political event. the attendees often need a professional make-up look.

TV and film

You will work with actors and actresses, often travelling the world and working outside in all weather conditions.

Special effects makeup

Special effects training will allow you to transform people into whatever is required – whether that be a science fictional character in a film, or a gruesome injury on TV hospital drama. Part of a work day in this area may involve casting moulds of body parts and creating complex make-up looks for horror or fantasy movies.

Stage makeup

A job in stage makeup allows your creativity to shine through. The makeup here is heavy and anything but natural as the audience will be viewing the performers from a distance with stage lighting. The makeup plays a huge part in convincing the audience of character authenticity.

Medical esthetics

Medical esthetics focus on improving cosmetic appearance including using makeup to hide things such as scars, wrinkles, skin discolouration, acne and spider veins. This can significantly improve your customer’s quality of life, psychological well-being and confidence.

You can also work for cosmetics companies as a sales executive or consultant.

Mobile working

Due to the nature of the work being freelance on a contractual basis, you will be required to be adaptable in location. Often work will be in various TV or film studios, theatres, or on location.

Entering the Industry

In entering the industry as a makeup artist, building a portfolio will work the same way as a C.V in other job applications. With a portfolio full of incredible images, potential employers  will know that you are professional and experienced.

In entering the industry as a makeup artist, building a portfolio will work the same way as a C.V in other job applications. With a portfolio full of incredible images, potential employers  will know that you are professional and experienced.

A portfolio will:

  • Allow you to showcase different looks and styles
  • Give you control over where your career goes as you can control the images – allowing you to get new work and direct your career
  • Display to people that you are capable and professional
  • Prove that others recommend you. In the back of your portfolio, you can give a list of references

Building contacts and networking is also crucial in building a sustainable career.

Income and working life

A makeup artist needs to be personable to put the client at ease. Clients will expect a makeup artist to be up to date with current trends, products and fashion within the industry. Maintaining your collection of makeup and replacing old items with new ones is an essential part of the routine. On a slower work day, you can spend the day researching different makeup looks, updating your portfolio and ordering new supplies and products.

Throughout the course of a typical day as a makeup artist, you may be expected to:

  • Answer emails and enquiries
  • Talk to clients to determine what type of artistic look is desired
  • In TV/film – read scripts, research and sketch make-up looks
  • Communicate and work with others within a styling team, such as hair and wardrobe
  • Apply makeup in a timely manner with retouching if needed
  • Give makeup lessons
  • Do bridal makeup trials
  • Carry out any invoicing or accounting as required
  • Prepare your makeup kit – washing brushes and re-stocking – ready for the next day

According to the National Career Serviceyou’ll usually work on a freelance basis as a makeup artist and be paid a fee for each contract. Rates will depend on the type of production you’re working on and what you can negotiate.  

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All programmes have been carefully designed to motivate people who want to improve their skills to be the best that they can be…

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