So You Want to be a Makeup Artist...

Makeup has always been popular, but in recent years it seems to have blown TF up with the surge of YouTube beauty gurus and the wealth of information that's easily available now. That leads to more people becoming better at doing their own makeup, and beginning the crossover into professional makeup artistry. However, I come across countless Instagram accounts where the bio states that the person is a "self-taught professional MUA"... but then there's literally nothing but selfies on their page. If you're not getting paid for doing makeup on other people, and the only thing you can show is how well you wing your own eyeliner, I hate to break it to you but you're not a makeup artist - you're an enthusiast. So if you really want to begin a professional career doing makeup, there's a few things you'll want to do first.



I cannot emphasize this enough. In Tennessee, you must have a cosmetology or esthetics license in order to do makeup and get paid for it. Straight from the Tennessee State Board, which makes the laws for things such as cosmetology:

62-4-108.  License required to practice or teach. 
      Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, no person shall practice, teach or attempt to practice or teach, cosmetology, manicuring, aesthetics, or natural hair styling in this state without a valid license issued by the board pursuant to this chapter.
     (1) "Aesthetics" means any of the following practices:
          (A) Massaging, cleansing, stimulating, manipulating, exercising, beautifying or similar work with hands or mechanical or electrical apparatus or by the use of cosmetic preparations, antiseptics, tonics, lotions or creams;

          (B) Placing or applying artificial eyelashes; or

          (C) Giving facials, applying makeup, giving skin care or removing superfluous hair by tweezing, depilatories or waxing;

Do people follow this? No. I know a number of people who are makeup artists and not licensed. If State Board were to find out, they could be given a hefty fine, and perhaps worse if they were caught doing it again. Will State Board find out? Eh... probably not, but if you care at all about making this your career, you'll follow the law, not only to educate yourself but also just to cover your ass. If you give someone pink eye, all they have to do is call the board and let them know you've been practicing without a license, and boom! your career is over. Also, keep in mind that not every state requires a license, so if you plan on moving soon definitely check out the laws in your new state.

(The exception to this is makeup counters - people working in retail settings do not have to be licensed as they're essentially "demo-ing" the product and only the products are being paid for, not the application.)

Secondly, read everything you can about sanitation. The main thing is: 99% alcohol is NOT effective at disinfecting. Per the CDC, 70% - 91% isopropyl alcohol is best to use. Any higher, and the alcohol evaporates much too quickly and merely freezes the bacteria. It is a common misconception, and even The Makeup Artist Handbook says to use 99%, so no wonder this myth gets perpetuated. But use 70%.

Most artists know this, but use disposable applicators such as mascara and lip gloss wands. Do not reuse sponges. They harbor bacteria, no matter how much you think you've sanitized it. It's best to use disposable, or stick with brushes.


Speaking of brushes... CLEAN THEM after every client (duh). Preferably, you'd have enough brushes to not have to worry about cleaning in between clients if you're doing a party, but this is not always possible, especially when you're just starting out. Bring a brush cleaner and 70% alcohol with you in your kit, and when you get home, wash with either a specified brush cleansing soap, or baby shampoo. It is important to note that soap and water do not sanitize. You can spray them with alcohol but there is a chance it will dry your natural hair bristles out over time, if you use brushes with natural hair.

Use a spatula to scoop out creams, and never ever double dip. I also like to wash my hands as soon as I get to the client's home. It's part of the little touches of customer service to put them at ease and let them know my hands are clean. Kevin James Bennett, pro makeup artist, also suggests using individual alcohol wipes instead of hand sanitizer. If you go to touch your cell phone or anything outside of your kit, re-sanitize your hands. This is one thing that was drilled into my head in esthetics school, because when you take the State Board licensing test, they will penalize you if you absent mindedly touch something such as your hair or even your sleeve without sanitizing afterward. Better to be meticulous than not.

Those are the basics, but always do your own thorough research. You may run into contradicting information occasionally. For example, in one of my pro groups it is often argued as to whether or not sponges are sanitizable. Some artists say they reuse their sponges and have had no issues. Others point out that it is illegal in some states to reuse sponges because you cannot disinfect them, so you should be using disposable. I always prefer to go with a better safe than sorry method and use disposable, or I gift the sponge to my client if I'm going for the non-disposable option. 

On to the fun part! Your kit. It should be clean. Clients don't want to see foundation caked all on the inside or applicators not in containers when you open your kit. Make them feel rest assured they chose the right artist who is going to give a shit about their health and well being. I don't care how good of an artist you are if you and your kit look dirty. Appearance goes a long way and is part of good customer service.

As far as what goes in it, I will write another blog post about good options for a beginner, because all the info out there is a bit overwhelming and sometimes it takes trial and error. I am forever finding new products to add to my kit, and getting rid of items I hardly touch anymore, even if they used to be my holy grails. Building a kit is expensive. And it takes time. And you'll probably be rotating items in and out of your kit until the day you retire. I'd say the most important thing to invest in is a foundation palette, that way you're not turning down work because you can't color match someone, and you're not relying on the client to have their correct shade and a decent foundation to use.

So now you're licensed, you're educated on proper sanitation practices, and you've started building your kit. Now it's time to put in the work. Practice on everyone! It's very important to get familiar with various skin tones and types. As a makeup artist, you'll come face to face with so many different people - many of whom do not know how to take care of their skin, so you'll need to know what to do in each case. It takes time and experience to get it down, and you'll probably mess up along the way but that's what learning is for. Practice on friends and family as much as possible, and you'll probably do a lot of free work at first. You can charge a small fee for your time when you first begin but you need to let the client know you are inexperienced and still learning. It's really uncouth to claim you're a "pro MUA" when you're not. I've seen people put up Facebook ads calling themselves a pro makeup artist, but charging $20 a face and the client has to bring their own foundation. Just... don't do that. Be upfront with your skillset. People will appreciate that much more than they will if they think they're getting the Dior treatment with an E.L.F. budget.

There are many other aspects of being a makeup artist, as essentially one day you'll be a business owner - which brings a whole other set of issues such as taxation and insurance - but these are the beginning steps to get you there. Good luck, always believe in yourself, and don't shy away from hard work.