How to Become a Professional Makeup Artist: Tips and Advice

If you’re a self-described makeup addict, become giddy with the thought of walking into Sephora, and love perfecting your makeup skills in your free time, it’s probably safe to say that makeup art is something you’re passionate about.

It’s also a skill that is highly sought after. A professional makeup artist can draw in an enviable income, depending on his or her skill level and talent. Makeup artists aren’t just for Hollywood celebrities, either. Makeup artistry, in fact, is so well-respected that a makeup artisan serious about his or her craft can turn it into a professional career.

What Is a Professional Makeup Artist?

What Is a Professional Makeup Artist?

Just as an artist might use paints, oils, and canvas to complete his or her work, a professional makeup artist uses makeup as the medium and a person as the canvas. Professional makeup artists are highly skilled and trained in the application and artistry of makeup, and some even use prosthetic makeup for special effects. They apply makeup on others for theater, television, film, fashion, magazines, and also the modeling industry.

Whether they serve as a freelance makeup artist or one who is hired by a company, these professionals are instrumental in helping create the look a client is looking for. For special effects makeup artists, they might dabble in horror or Halloween looks. General makeup artists tend to work more with bridal parties, clients preparing for photoshoots, and clients who will be attending a special occasion.

For skilled artists, makeup artist jobs may not be that difficult to come by. Those who have built up a reputation, clientele, and portfolio tend to be well respected within the industry and often receive word-of-mouth referrals.

How Do I Become a Makeup Artist?

Being a makeup artist might sound fun, but there is a process when learning how to become a makeup artist. A passion for experimenting with makeup and hoarding various lipstick colors, unfortunately, is not enough to slap the MUA title on after your name.

The first step is to practice, practice some more, and continue practicing even when you think you’ve perfected your craft. There always is something you can do better or something new to learn. Take a page from your makeup artist inspirations. Do you try to model after Jeffree Star or James Charles? Are you more into Charlotte Tilbury or NikkieTutorials?

Next, you’ll want to complete formal education. This will help with credibility, as well as provide the foundation for a successful career. You could attend one of various makeup artist programs across the country, such as the Make Up For Ever Academy in New York. The school offers a six-month program with a certification upon completion, as well as one- to seven-week intensive programs.

You can also earn a degree in cosmetology from a local community college or trade school. Either option is a great way to ensure you know the basics and beyond, and they will help you prepare for any licensing requirements or exams your state requires. 

Salary Speak

Another fun part — one that goes for any job — is salary. How much do makeup artists make? In short, that answer depends on various factors.

According to the Beauty Schools Directory, as of May 2018, cosmetologists earn a median pay of $24,830 per year or $11.94 per hour. That might not match up with your vision of a makeup artist’s salary, but it doesn’t have to stop there.

Makeup artists who break into theater and performance makeup can earn an average of $72,000 annually, or $34.63 per hour. A general range begins at $32,520 and tops out at $104,040. You might not necessarily expect $100,000 annually for MAC makeup artist salaries or Ulta and Sephora salaries, but breaking into Hollywood or the theater industry might get you there.

There are also likely jobs right in your own community. Simply type into Google, “Makeup artist jobs near me” or “Professional makeup artist near me,” and you’ll likely find job requests or openings. You also might find a local makeup artist whose work you admire; reach out and ask if they’d be willing to let you shadow them or mentor you. The more experienced, the better.

How to Build a Makeup Following

how to build a makeup following

Even with education under your belt, makeup artistry is extremely visual. You’ll want to continue practicing, and you might ask for some models to try some new looks on as well. Building a visual portfolio that potential clients can look through is a great way to draw more eyes to your business.

In today’s day and age, a web presence is a must. Create social media accounts to showcase your business and artistry. Facebook is great; YouTube is a wonderful home for tutorials and time-lapse videos, and Instagram’s highly visual and populated platform is one of the keys to getting your work seen.

The more you expose your work — and the more you are exposed to others’ work — the higher chance you’ll have of growing both professionally and personally. Use great lighting, keep any negative comments to yourself, and follow others in the beauty industry. 

As mentioned earlier, be sure to create a complete makeup portfolio. It’s ideal to have it available both in physical and digital formats. Your portfolio needs to showcase a wide variety of your work so potential clients can get a better idea of who you are as a professional makeup artist, as well as what your style and specialties are.


As with any potential career, what you put into it is what you’ll get out of it. Never sacrifice quality for quantity, take your time to do research and learn more daily about your specialty and the makeup industry, and give yourself some grace. No one ever achieved greatness overnight, but you’ll be well on your way to experiencing the success you’ve always dreamed of if you put in the work to get there.

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