Makeup Artist Salary vs. Special Effects Makeup Artist Salary - QC Makeup Academy

Once you’ve decided that you want makeup to be your professional career, your next question is probably “How much will I make?” Though money may not be the most important to you when you’re pursuing your passion, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care if you can earn a living wage.

Here’s how much you can expect to earn as a makeup artist and as a special effects artist!

Job description of a makeup artist

Before we get into the numbers, you need to understand what each professional does. Every client approaches a regular or special effects makeup artist with a specific purpose. The artist must then develop a look that achieves their goals. But, the purpose varies depending on the type of artist.

Regular makeup artists create unique makeup looks to make their clients feel beautiful in their own skin. Sometimes they may have to tell a story with the look. But, their main focus is beauty. As such, their professional makeup kit is stocked with recognizable products: Eye shadow palettes, lipsticks, foundations… the works! However, they have larger quantities of makeup in a variety of different types, finishes, and shades. Not to mention the numerous sanitation and single-use items necessary for hygiene!

Special Effects Makeup Artist Job Description

Meanwhile, special effects makeup artists translate imagined looks by their clients into reality. The idea of beauty comes second (if at all) in the world of special effects. The goal is to imitate aspects of real life (ex. injury) or fantasy (ex. alien-makeup) for story-telling purposes. They work with longer-lasting makeup products that go beyond the face– anything from airbrush makeup to latex prosthetics to fake blood. The special FX arsenal depends on the story of the TV, film, print, or theater production!

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Average makeup artist salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a makeup Artist is $34,000/year. While the special effects makeup artist averages $75,000/year.

Keep in mind that these averages vary depending on a number of variables. The easiest example to imagine? If you do makeup for a celebrity, you can make an average of over $125,000! The same goes for special effects makeup. Depending on the scale of the production, your wages can vary widely.

Factors that affect your makeup salary:

Your salary isn’t always decided based on who you work for. Here are some other factors that affect a (special effects) makeup artist’s salary!


Makeup artists who work in theater and performance can make anywhere from $32,000 if they reside in Illinois or $72,000 if they reside in California. It all comes down to the local industries and demand for the profession. Hollywood demands more media, TV, and film makeup artists, whereas Illinois MUAs will see clients who are just everyday people.

black and gold paint dripping


All makeup artists start with the basics before progressing to advanced techniques. Techniques for brush use, color correcting, and working with skin conditions aren’t intuitive. If you get professional training, you’ll advance more quickly. Professional training can lead to an increased salary. After all, you’ve been trained by actual makeup artists who work in the industry! Your employers can trust your knowledge and technical skill. You’ll also have the confidence that your techniques are all correct!

After mastering editorial looks, bridal looks, and makeup for the everyday client, some choose to specialize further. Specializations could include working for global clientele, airbrush makeup artistry, skincare, and special FX makeup…

Depending on the type of special FX makeup, the aspiring artist may start as a regular makeup artist before specializing. Some techniques require skills that are fleshed out in regular makeup courses. Bald cap application and old-age makeup require a thorough understanding of skin and facial features. Training your eye to know how to select the right colors to compliment your client takes hours of experience and practice!

Special effects artists who want to work with prosthetics should get a certification. You don’t technically need any formal education to work in special effects, but it’s difficult to self-teach! When it comes to elaborate special effects or creating your own prosthetics, you’ll need an industry expert to guide you through it all!

Makeup artist working on a model


Your starting salary will be significantly lower than more experienced artists. Take on most jobs that fall at your feet! Not only will you gain more experience, but you’ll also explore your career options. If you’ve only done bridal makeup so far, why not try doing makeup for theatre? Who knows? It may even be your true calling! Take as many opportunities as you can to refine your skills, build your network, and expand your portfolio!

Once you see positive growth for your business, you can increase your salary. If you’re working freelance, you can decide for yourself. If you are working for a company or behind a beauty counter, though, you’ll have to seek out promotions! If you’re not sure if you’re earning as much as your experience demands, check out this article! Find out how much you’re actually supposed to earn!


The industry you work in plays a role in your salary. If you have a makeup artist certification, the world is your oyster! Most makeup artists, special effects or otherwise, work freelance or start their own makeup business. But that doesn’t mean you can’t work for a company!

Besides freelancing wedding clients, much MUAs work behind a counter or salon. In these cases, you’ll earn a steady wage along with commission. As for freelancing, you can decide between a per-service set fee or an hourly rate. Whatever you do, make sure you have an ironclad contract! When you’re a business owner, you have to look out for yourself!

makeup artist salary working on bride

Special effects makeup jobs are wide-ranging. You can work for film, TV, or theater production companies. The wage varies depending on the size of the project. You can expect to earn more working on the set of Spiderman than you will for your local theater production.

Don’t overlook working with a special FX makeup company! Even if you are the most efficient makeup artist in the world, they won’t hire just you to do the makeup for 30 stage actors just three hours before showtime. They’ll need more than just one set of hands. Working for a company means steady work, and getting to work alongside special FX masters. You’ll also be privy to less-publicized opportunities!

At the end of the day, makeup artist can work wherever they want whenever they want with whoever they want! This flexible and creative career knows no bounds!

Do you have more questions about makeup artist salaries? Feel free to ask!

Author Celina Feng

More posts by Celina Feng

Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Gemma Mannering says:

    The wage of being a makeup artist will depend on what services you offer wether that’s bridal, freelance, sfx, tv or will be completely different for each one and on top of that depends on where you live. I live I. A small town around 45 minutes away from London, now my prices are £20 for a full face and in London your looking at around £60 so the location you live in really differs as to how much you will earn. If you have experience then you can up your prices more as you have. Ore knowledge in what your doing.i don’t add extra just because my target audience is for mums and people on lower income as I want to be able to help everyone feel amazing.

  • Jordan Garcia says:

    I feel assured that I’m making a good choice in increasing the probability of making more money by learning through QC. I eventually want to take my career path down this road of makeup artistry, and it’s comforting to know that it is possible to make a living wage off of it. I’m really excited to continue working through my course so I can start working in the field and gaining experience! 🙂

    • Sarah-Lynn Seguin says:

      It’s definitely reassuring to know that professional makeup artists can indeed make a livable wage – we definitely agree! There’s a common misconception that MUAs can only do their craft as a part-time gig (at best), and that it can never make enough of an income to support being a solo, full-time profession. But for many people, this is totally false! Different areas of makeup artistry can bring in different incomes. Not to mention, there’s a lot of strategy that needs to come into play, too. Sure, a lot of makeup artists may start out working part-time at first. But with the right work ethic and business smarts, there’s no reason why it can’t eventually become the main job!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting! xx

      All the best,
      The QC Team

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