When planning out your career, it’s normal to think long-term and have an endgame goal to strive towards. Whether you’re only considering a career as an MUA or already a working professional, it’s natural that you may want to know what sort of money this career path can potentially bring you.

Though there are many different avenues you can explore, we’ve put together a list of 4 of the highest paying jobs you can have as a makeup artist, as well as additional factors worth considering.

Note: All salaries described in this article are in US Dollars.

makeup artist touches up model's face on set of photoshoot

1. Movie/Celebrity Makeup Artist

Technically, these are two separate makeup jobs, but since they’re part of the same world, we figured we’d list them together. With the highest average salary, movie MUAs can typically earn approximately $88,200 annually. Coming in as a close second, celebrity makeup artists can find themselves earning an average of $85,930 per year. Wow!

As a movie makeup artist, you’ll responsible for how the actors and actresses appear on camera for each scene. Given that everything is in HD these days, the importance of what you do to make the actors look good (or bad, if the scene calls for it) is a huge responsibility not taken lightly. A celebrity makeup artist, on the other hand, will tend to work with the stars in a more day-to-day settings. Your talents will be used to prepare your client for events like red carpet appearances, concerts, galas, fundraisers, private parties, etc.

2. Special Effects Makeup Artist

Whether it’s for TV, movies, fashion, photography, or theater, there’s no shortage of talent needed when it comes to good SFX makeup. That being said, SFX makeup requires specific skills and training. You can be a master of regular makeup application, but not have a clue what you’re doing the moment prosthetics come into the mix.

girl with smokey eye makeup covered in gold body paint

If you’re interested in pursuing this route, it’s imperative that you study SFX makeup; learn the different types of products, what they do, how to apply them, how to create the look from them, how they react to the human body, etc.

The reward will be worth it, though! On average, a SFX makeup artist can rake in upwards of $66,800 to $75,000 a year!

3. Independent/Freelance MUA

Many makeup artists wish to branch out and start their own, independent business. This can be a great source of income! Though your rates may be a bit lower in the beginning (i.e. could be as low as around $20,000 annually), as you build your resume, portfolio, and clientele, you’ll be able to start charging more for your services. The average freelance MUA can makeup upwards of $64,000 per year. The top 10 percent can even earn six figures!

That’s part of the beauty of being a freelance entrepreneur: you can charge whatever you want! If your services are worth the price, then as you prove yourself, your clients won’t hesitate to invest their money into you and your talents.

MUA working on female client's eye makeup

4. Brand Makeup Artist

What if you don’t really have any interest in the glitz and glamor of the Hollywood industry, or care much for sci-fi and fantasy makeup? What if you don’t want your own business? Does this mean you’re doomed to earn minimum wage for the rest of your life as an MUA?

Not at all! Another option you can look into is becoming a makeup artist for a cosmetic brand. NAS, for example, pays their top makeup artists approximately $24.00 an hour – and you don’t even need a cosmetology license to apply for their company! (Though looking at a past job ad they’d posted on Indeed, their expectations are still mega high.)

Even companies like Sephora offer opportunities for eventual growth. Yes, you may start off at minimum wage in the beginning. But with time, as you work your way up the ranks and prove yourself, you can potentially earn as much as $50,000+ per year as a manager.

Other Factors to Consider

Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that the salary of a makeup artist isn’t an exact science, nor is it concrete. What one person makes in a year doing a job may not be what another makes in that same year, doing the same job. There are tons of external factors that will affect the amount of money you make, such as:


If you want to be a movie and/or celebrity makeup artist, then living where the action is only makes sense. But even beyond that, where you live in the world and how well that economy is doing will play the biggest part in how much you get paid.

While it’s still totally possible to be a successful MUA in a smaller town, it’s statistically proven that bigger cities will often times amount to a bigger paycheck. The flip side, of course, is that larger cities have a higher cost of living. So remember to factor that into your calculations!

happy girl posing on bridge in front of large city


Keep studying at accredited makeup schools, taking foundation and specialty courses, and soaking up as much cosmetic information as you possibly can. Remember: there will always be more you can learn, so be open to learning it! You’ll be expanding your skills and making your resume even more impressive. There’s no downside!

Earning your stripes

Everyone would love to be able to be the best in their field from the get-go. But until you’ve worked for a while, gotten experience under your belt, built your brand, and established a solid reputation, the chances of landing a lucrative job in such a competitive industry are really low. You have to be prepared to put your time and effort in. It may take a while (sometimes years), but if it’s truly the goal you wish to aim for, it’ll be worth the wait.

Networking and Social Media

In the makeup industry, it’s not always what you know, but who you know, too. Attend functions, benefits, movie screenings, etc. Make use of whatever is at your disposal to help you create connections with others in the industry. As you continue to build your portfolio and hone your skills, keep in mind that being both personable and social media savvy plays a huge part in getting your name out there.

Put the time and effort into not just your website, but the social media platforms you have a presence on. Publish regular content, and make sure it’s always your best content. Use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever your preference is, to reach out to those whose work you admire. Maybe there’s a vendor you’re interested in working with! Learn how to best brand yourself on the internet, and be amazed at how far it can take you on the road to success.

MUA showing client her eye makeup

Those who say that money can’t buy happiness are usually the ones who never had to work a day in their lives to get it. Fact is: money matters, and having it is awesome. Of course, in the makeup industry, it does have to be first and foremost a labor of love. The passion for the craft has to be your #1 driving force behind what you do, otherwise you’ll find yourself disappointed when you aren’t immediately rich after your first appointment.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do what you love and make a good living off of it, too! Go forth knowing that in this industry, such a thing is very much possible!

Want to build your SFX makeup resume? Enroll in QC’s leading online Special FX Makeup course today!

Author Sarah-Lynn Seguin

More posts by Sarah-Lynn Seguin

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