How to become a freelance makeup artist

Want to spend your days helping people look their best for special occasions, or transforming actors for film or stage? We’ve covered how to start a career as a self-employed hair stylist, but here’s our guide on how to become a freelance makeup artist.

Building your own business means you’re able to specialise in the type of work you find most interesting. That might lead you to focus on helping brides look their best for weddings, or creating aliens and zombies for blockbuster films.

And with the massive interest in beauty advice on social media, there are plenty of opportunities to find potential clients or build profitable side lines by sharing your knowledge and experience.

Why become a freelance makeup artist?

If you enjoy transforming how people look, then becoming a freelance makeup artist could be your dream career. Along with the flexible benefits of self-employment, working for yourself also means you have more control and freedom over the type of work you do.

The majority of employed roles will mean working behind a beauty counter or possibly in-house at a hotel or production company. But with the majority of makeup artists working on a freelance basis, you’re able to specialise in a wide range of areas. So, you can explore your talent for faking bruises, premature ageing, or replicating the techniques of famous celebrities – and get paid for it.

Freelancing also means you can choose your working hours and location. As your reputation grows, you may want to invest in a studio, spend more time on other areas of your business, or take on employees. Or you might choose to offer your services part-time around other work and life commitments, giving you the chance to meet people and earn money at the same time.

And while being responsible for your income can be stressful, it’s also hugely rewarding. It’s also been made easier and more popular by the huge growth in beauty tutorials on Youtube, the popularity of hobbies including cosplay, and specialist websites and apps which try to help match clients with makeup artists and other beauty professionals.

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What skills and qualifications do freelance makeup artists need?

You don’t need to have any formal qualifications to become a freelance makeup artist (unlike for hairdressers). And it’s certainly possible to become successful being entirely self-taught. Although this does take a large amount of talent, self-promotion and luck.

Completing academic or professional courses, or having experience via an apprenticeship, will help you to stand out from other freelancers, and provide a good basis for your reputation and skills.

Colleges, universities, creative arts schools and beauty academies all offer training to levels ranging from a BTEC Level 3 or City and Guilds diploma up to a BA degree in makeup for film and TV or fashion and media.

The higher the level of qualification, the more that will be required in terms of exam grades and previous study, or work portfolios. You’ll need to check the specific course details to ensure that you have everything required.

Alternatively, you could start with an evening class or course that’s open to anyone, and doesn’t require previous experience. Whether it’s tuition on a particular product or technique, or a longer syllabus, it’s important to research the provider. If you’re comparing makeup schools or beauty academies, make sure to check the range of courses on offer, whether they’re accredited, and what facilities and support are provided.

If you’re not sure about whether a course is worthwhile, try asking anyone already working in the industry or ask the provider about the experience of previous students. Some examples of schools and academies with strong reputations include the London Academy of Freelance Makeup (AOFM), the Delamar Academy, the London School of Beauty and Make-up (LSBM), or the Glauca Rossi School of Make Up. Obviously if you want to focus on the film industry, it makes sense to choose schools and courses with a stronger reputation in that area, and the same is true for media, fashion or weddings and events.

It’s also possible to earn as you learn by taking on an apprenticeship, and you can find more details and opportunities via the Government website. Or you can find a huge range of online courses available through tuition sites such as Udemy, but as always, check who is offering the training, and what you can expect to get for your money.

Whether you decide to pursue qualifications or develop your skills in a more self-taught environment, it’s important to at least understand basic healthy, hygiene and safety rules to ensure you’re not putting clients at risk. And the legal and age restrictions on certain procedures and treatments.

Getting training and certification for health, hygiene and safety will not only reassure potential clients, but it will help you to avoid breaking the law or invalidating any insurance cover during the course of your work. You can find relevant information via the NHBF trade association for hair, beauty and barbering.

How much can you earn as a freelance makeup artist?

If you become a freelance makeup artist, your income will vary depending on your skills, specialisation, the reputation you build, and the hours you’re able to work. This means any figures provided below will be broad estimates of what’s possible as you develop your career.

Earning much more, or less, is also a consideration. If you become the in-demand artist for celebrities, your potential rates can be much higher. But freelancing also means there’s no minimum guaranteed income. So, if you’re running low on clients, you’ll need to find ways to attract more people to your business.

The average income for freelance makeup artists in the UK is estimated at £22,337 (Glassdoor), or £30,600 ( This is higher than the £18,232 offered by Indeed or £22,946 from Check-a-Salary, which also includes employment salaries.

As a rough guide, a senior, head or lead make-up artist can earn around £320 for a day of editorial work, £450 per day for prestigious fashion shows, or around £390 daily working on a major feature film (Prospects), with recommended minimum rates for film and television work provided by the PACT and BECTU unions.

These income figures won’t include any money that you might earn from recommending products, especially if you earn affiliate referral commission from your website or social media activity, or the potential savings from receiving free supplies and equipment if you endorse them or become an ambassador for brands.

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What equipment do freelance makeup artists normally require?

Every freelance makeup artist will have their own preferences when it comes to brands and tools, and what you choose will depend on your specialisation. But it’s a good idea to build up a selection of the basics to cover most occasions. And investing in quality, long-lasting products will often save you money over the long-term, as well as giving you potentially better results.

This doesn’t mean you need to spend huge amounts on the most expensive brands before you get started, and it’s often possible to build out your kit on a budget by shopping around. Just don’t be afraid to invest where it makes sense, and ensure everything is covered by your business insurance (along with Professional Indemnity insurance and Public Liability Insurance, which offer cover for legal claims made as a result of negligence, mistakes, injury or damage).

Some of the typical kit for makeup artists include:

  • Brushes
  • Primers, foundations, concealer and counter tools.
  • Eyebrow tools
  • Lash tools
  • Lipsticks, lip balms, liners and glosses
  • Blending sponges
  • Setting sprays
  • Makeup remover, wet wipes, cotton buds
  • Cleaning products.

Other useful items depending on how and where you work will include a makeup chair and portable lights, along with towels, headbands, and a toolbelt to keep your most used items close at hand.

As you build experience, your makeup kit will evolve as you learn which tools and brands you find essential. But if you’re just starting out, a variety of kits are available from various sources to provide many of the things you need to support your learning and experimentation.

How to find clients, and build profitable side businesses, in beauty and makeup

It’s important to set boundaries when you’re looking for clients, to ensure you’re not taking on work that you’re not comfortable delivering.  Unhappy clients can be a major stumbling block for any new freelancer, especially if they share their opinions with other people.

But the flipside is that referrals can be hugely valuable. Make use of any contacts you have through your education, personal network, or in your local area. Get to know models, photographers, wedding planners, hairdressers, and wetting or event venues in your neighbourhood, and start building connections.

Online job boards will have potential clients looking for freelance makeup artists, but you’ll need to be proactively working to stand out from everyone else on the service. Alternatively, services like Blow Ltd match on-demand beauty services for clients with vetted professionals.

But building your portfolio will be key to building your reputation and client list. Having your own website or blog will help potential customers find you, and collaborating with hair stylists, fashion consultants and freelance photographers in your area can help to deliver high quality professional images.

And if you’re able to build a popular website or social media profile, this opens up options for additional income. Simple steps include advertising, or earning an affiliate commission on products you use and recommend. This can be extremely lucrative, particularly if you’re offering makeup tutorials and guides on Youtube, Instagram, TikTok and other hugely popular image and video services.

The popularity of beauty influencers and experts means you’ll face plenty of competition. But if you can establish yourself in a particular niche, it could also give you the option to develop paid courses yourself. And if you’re attracting millions of views, there are opportunities in licensing your brand or selling your own products in the future.

More support and resources to become a freelance makeup artist

Researching other freelance careers? Why not check out our other guides:

And you can get support and help if you’re starting out with self-employment, or still in the early stages of building your career, with the IPSE Incubator. The 12-month programme is currently free with IPSE membership. And it includes advice, events, webinars, networking and more, tailored to anyone just beginning their freelance business.