What skills do make-up artists need?

August 31, 2023

You might think that being a great make-up artist comes down to applying the right products in the right ways, so that your clients look fantastic. But that’s only one part of the story.

The people who enjoy the most success in this industry are those who can bring several different skill sets together. Natural talent is not enough on its own: you’ll also need to work hard behind the scenes and have the drive to keep learning new things all the time.

This guide highlights eight key areas of skills that are must-haves for every successful make-up artist. We’ll cover some of the practicalities of the job, some of the vital interpersonal qualities you’ll need, and areas of business proficiency that will be especially helpful if you’re self-employed.

Knowledge of products and techniques

Obviously, knowing all the key make-up products and techniques, and how to apply them, is still vitally important. You should have a clear understanding of shading, contouring and light, and how different applications will look in different conditions – and from different angles, too. As for the products themselves, it’s also helpful to understand the chemistry behind them and how different substances will react with each other.

It’s also critical to bear in mind that the make-up industry, like fashion, never stands still. There are new trends emerging all the time, which clients may suddenly demand. Keeping up-to-date with industry happenings and learning new techniques can help you maintain a skill set that’s on-trend.

Understanding of different face shapes and skin types

Every client is different, so it’s vital that you can adapt your treatments and applications to match individual characteristics. For example, variation in skin colour will require different products to be used, while if a client has particularly oily skin, then you might need to cleanse and exfoliate the face before applying anything.

People also have different face shapes, which affects how they will look under varying light and shadow. You’ll need to be able to take this into account when planning a look, and use lights at the right angles to help you deliver on the client’s expectations.

Creative flair and attention to detail

Make-up artistry is not a paint-by-numbers job, and it’s a profession where no two days are the same. The most successful and respected make-up artists are those who have developed a reputation for creative flair, and to bring out a client’s beauty in unique ways.

Part of this is borne out of painstaking attention to detail, where no stone is left unturned in creating a standout look, and every part of a person’s appearance is given the attention it deserves. Even if a make-up job takes hours to complete, one small brushstroke out of place can ruin all that hard work, so concentration and a steady hand are essential.

Cleanliness and hygiene

There are a number of reasons why it’s important to keep your working environment clean and tidy, as well as yourself. Firstly, you’re going to be in close physical contact with your clients for an extended period of time: if you aren’t clean and healthy, then it can make for an unpleasant experience for them. Furthermore, it can open up the risk of allergy or infection, especially for clients that have sensitive skin.

At the same time, keeping a clean working area is also important for health and safety reasons. It reduces the risk of any spillages or accidents, as well as making things look more organised and professional to the client.

Professionalism and business skills

Many of the key skills needed to be a great make-up artist don’t involve any make-up at all. For example, never neglect the value of looking professional. As well as making sure that you’re clean (see above), you should also have hair and clothing that is also clean and tidy. Make sure your hair is tied back and out of the way if it looks like it might interfere with your work; for the same reason, you may want to avoid having long or false nails.

Another way to boost your professionalism is in your business administration. You may be required to handle bookings, invoices, payments, product ordering, and even payroll if you employ other people. For this reason, it’s worth sharpening up your IT skills if you feel you’re lacking in this area.

Communication and listening

Good make-up artistry is mental as much as physical. Clients don’t necessarily just want to look good: they want to feel that they look good, too. Clear, reassuring communication before, during and after any treatment is key to giving them the best possible experience. It’s always important to explain what you’re intending to do (before you do it!), how it works and what the outcome will be.

However, good communication is a two-way street. You should always listen to a client to understand their preferences and what they’re looking for. This is especially the case if you’re giving them options during a make-up session and are making product choices based on their feedback.

Flexibility and time management

Unless you are very fortunate, you’ll need to accept that make-up artistry is not a nine-to-five job. If you’re working in a professional environment like TV and film, then unsociable hours are the norm. And if you’re providing make-up services to members of the public, then you may well be required to take appointments at evenings and weekends, i.e. outside of normal working hours.

As your schedule gets busier, you’ll need to be very organised in keeping a tight schedule, and ensuring that you turn up for appointments on time if you’re working remotely. Running late or forgetting bookings is a sure-fire way to damage your reputation.

Promotion and marketing

If you want to progress in the industry, then you’ll need to take your skills and talents to as wide an audience as possible. Building a personal brand and working hard to self-promote doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but it’s a vital part of moving up in a job market that can often be extremely competitive.

Work hard to build a following on social media, and use that as your platform to show off your finest work. High-quality photos and short videos of your creations on Instagram or TikTok give you a highly shareable portfolio, which potential employers will explore when you’re looking for work. They can also be used as a showcase to prospective clients if you’re self-employed.

Affordable make-up insurance from Protectivity

If you’re working as a make-up artist on a self-employed basis, then it’s vital that you make sure you have the correct insurance cover in place. Even if you’re highly skilled and experienced, there are things that can still go wrong beyond your control or through a simple accident.

Protectivity’s specialist make-up artist insurance covers you against all of the incidents above and more. Our policies encompass public liability; products liability; equipment and stock; equipment hire; personal accident; and even employers’ liability if you hire other people to work for you. Policies start at just £3.44 a month and can be paid for through flexible payment plans, giving you peace of mind without breaking your budget.

Find out more on our make-up artist insurance today.