Make-up Artist

The Job and What's Involved

Make-up artists apply make-up and style hair for performers and presenters appearing on film, stage and television.

The style of work depends on the type of production. It varies from straightforward, contemporary make-up and hairdressing, e.g. for newsreaders, presenters and the public, to more creative and specialist techniques, e.g. for horror or science fiction productions, or for recreating different historical periods.

A make-up artist's work includes:

  • Selecting and purchasing supplies.
  • Doing 'corrective' make-up and hair tidying for television presenters and members of the public who are about to be interviewed.
  • Applying full make-up and hair styling to actors appearing in plays and films.
  • Adapting make-up techniques for subjects of different skin tones.
  • Discussing with directors, producers and lighting departments the overall effect that they want.
  • Researching past styles of hair and make-up for period productions, and working out how to reproduce them.
  • Adding prosthetics such as false noses and scars, wigs and hair decorations.
  • Remaining on set during filming to re-apply make-up and tidy hair as required.
  • Keeping careful notes and photographs of the make-up applied so that, even if scenes are filmed out of order, exactly the same effect can be replicated, and continuity maintained.
  • Assisting with other jobs where required, eg set design or production.

Hours are long and irregular, and include evenings, weekends and public holidays. Make-up artists may work on more than one production at a time, which can lead to back-to-back shifts.

The work is mainly indoors, in dressing rooms, make-up departments, television studios and on film sets. Television and film location work can be outdoors, which can mean working and standing in all weathers. Work on location or tour can also require periods living away from home.

Make-up artists often have to carry lots of equipment and material around with them.

The job may be unsuitable for those with sensitive skin or certain allergies.

The starting salary for a make-up artist may be around £15,000 a year. Make-up artists often have to buy their own materials. Most work freelance and are paid fees per contract or project.

The Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) set minimum rates for independent productions. For an eight-hour working day, a make-up artist should earn between £192 and £211, whilst a chief make-up artist should earn between £317 and £379 a day.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Job opportunities exist in theatre, television and film, with video production companies and with photographers involved in fashion shoots. Most make-up artists working in the UK film and television industry are freelance so there is intense competition for individual contracts. Artists skilled in both make-up and hair styling have better prospects.

Vacancies are advertised on the website,, and in trade journals such as Broadcast, The Stage and Stage, Screen & Radio Magazine. As with many jobs in the performing arts industry, success largely depends on contacts. Once a reputation is established, make-up artists often hear about vacancies by word of mouth.

Education and Training

Make-up artists usually enter the profession through make-up/beauty therapy courses and work experience in beauty/hair salons. Many artists start in film, stage or television as an assistant and work their way up.

There are full-time courses in hairdressing and beauty therapy at various levels, including BTEC National Diplomas and SQA National Qualifications in Beauty Therapy, and Higher National Diplomas (HND's) in Make-up Artistry or Beauty Therapy Management.

Entry requirements for national diplomas are usually at least four GCSE's/S grades. For HND's, entry requirements are normally at least one A level/two H grades, or a BTEC national certificate/diploma.

NVQ's/SVQ's are available in Hairdressing and Beauty Therapy at Levels 2 and 3.

The London College of Fashion (LCF) offers a Diploma in Image Styling for Performance and in Hair and Make-up Styling, as well as other beauty/make-up technique courses. Candidates should contact LCF for further information.

Foundation Degrees in Specialist Make-Up, and Degrees in Costume, Technical Effects and Make-Up for the Performing Arts are also available. Candidates are usually required to have a minimum of five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) and two A levels/H grades in relevant subjects. Many applicants will have completed an art and design foundation course as well.

Typically, applicants must possess normal colour vision and have no skin problems. Experience in make-up work for amateur dramatics is useful.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training is mainly on the job. University and college courses normally include work placements and practical assessment alongside academic work.

FT2 offer a technical training programme for new entrants to the sector, including placements in professional productions and workshops. Applicants must already have achieved both NVQ/SVQ Level 2 in Beauty Therapy and NVQ/SVQ Level 2 in Hairdressing.

The Hairdressing and Beauty Industry Authority (HABIA) offers career and training advice. The National Association of Screen Make-Up Artists and Hairdressers (NASMAH) operates a membership scheme and also provides opportunities for artists to continue to develop their skills.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A make-up artist should be:

  • Knowledgeable about a range of make-up and hair products.
  • Artistic, creative and resourceful.
  • Diplomatic and tactful in order to cope with nervous performers.
  • Confident and outgoing.
  • Able to stay calm under pressure.

Your Long Term Prospects

For the small number of make-up artists who are employed by large organisations such as TV companies, promotion is possible from junior or assistant make-up artist to make-up artist, and from there on to chief make-up artist or make-up designer. For freelance make-up artists, advancement depends on establishing a reputation in the business and progressing onto more high profile productions.

Some specialise in areas such as character make-up, ageing, historical styles or special effects. A few move on to become make-up advisers or lecturers.

It may be possible to work overseas.

Get Further Information

BBC Recruitment, PO Box 48305, London W12 6YE
Websites: and

British Association of Beauty Therapy
& Cosmetology (BABTAC), Meteor Court,
Barnett Way, Barnwood, Gloucester GL4 3GG
Tel: 0845 065 9000

Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph
and Theatre Union (BECTU), 373-377 Clapham Road,
London SW9 9BT
Tel: 020 7346 0900

Hairdressing and Beauty Industry Authority (HABIA),
Oxford House, Sixth Avenue, Sky Business Park,
Robin Hood Airport, Doncaster DN9 3GG
Tel: 0845 230 6080

London College of Fashion (LCF),
20 John Princes' Street, London W1G 0BJ
Tel: 020 7514 7400

National Association of Screen Make-Up Artists
and Hairdressers (NASMAH), 68 Sarsfield Road,
Perivale, Middlesex UB6 7AG

Skillset, Focus Point,
21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB
Tel: 020 7713 9800

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