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Do you need a license to be a makeup artist?

You’ve decided to make the move to begin your career as a professional Makeup Artist, but where do you go from here? Do you need a license to become a makeup artist? What exactly are the requirements to work professionally in this field? These are a few of many questions that will likely arise during the education and business building process of your new career venture, and the exact information you may be looking for is not necessarily easy to find (and will likely not be written in black and white!). Why is this? Each individual state has their own regulations. Therefore, it is important that your own research is done to determine what will be the best educational journey for the type of makeup career you wish to begin, and of course also learning about the specific requirements within your own state that you live in, so you can build your business as a Makeup Artist and practice professionally.

We’re always getting asked (and understandably so!) what being licensed requires and what exactly it means for someone who wants to become a Makeup Artist and apply makeup professionally, as a business, to clients. In this INDUSTRY INSIDER we will cover the ins and outs of becoming a Makeup Artist, which states licensing may be required, and explain the differences between a certified Makeup Artist and licensed Cosmetologist or Esthetician. Each career and schooling path has its own place, so read below to get a better understanding of the journey that is right for you!

What is the difference between a Certified Makeup Artist, a Cosmetologist, or an Esthetician? Below find a basic breakdown of the individual requirements and how they may best apply to the Makeup Artist professional that you are looking to become!

A certified makeup artist will specialize in makeup application. By taking a course from a makeup school (online or in person), you can learn to apply makeup professionally to others, and after completing the course curriculum, receive a certificate of completion that recognizes you as a Certified Makeup Artist, with a mastery in professional makeup application. Specifically, through our Makeup Artist course at Online Makeup Academy, we offer an educational makeup program that is taught by professional New York based makeup artists that have a wealth of knowledge and experience in the celebrity, editorial, and private client freelance based areas of the Makeup Artist industry. As a result, they can offer a unique one on one opportunity to guide you through your makeup artistry education in a strictly online environment (so you don’t have to travel beyond the comfort of your own location [to New York, for example] to receive top tier professional industry experience and teaching). We bring this one of a kind opportunity online and directly to you! If you prefer in person schooling, you can visit our sister based New York location, or find a makeup school near you in your state to apply to learn makeup artistry and become a Certified Makeup Artist.

A Cosmetologist will require a formal educational training beyond makeup artistry to receive your degree. You can find Cosmetology programs throughout the United States and internationally. If you are interested in working with hair, skin, and nails (and learning very little about makeup application in general), Cosmetology may be the right career path for you. A Cosmetologist typically specializes in hair (cutting, coloring, styling), skin (care, treatments, cosmetics), and/or nails (manicure, pedicure, etc.). However, a Cosmetologist’s schooling curriculum will only lightly touch upon makeup artistry and professional makeup application, and many Cosmetologists who are interested in makeup will still seek to receive additional knowledge and learn from a school that specializes in Makeup Artist certification, through continuing education classes, such as the Makeup Artist course offered at Online Makeup Academy, or any other additional certificate based schooling that specifically focuses on the teaching and technical skills of makeup artistry.


An Esthetician specializes in the appearance, treatment, and maintenance of skincare. Similar to the Cosmetology program as detailed above, you will require a more formal educational training beyond makeup artistry to receive your degree. You will not be able to become an Esthetician (or a Cosmetologist!) through an online program, as both specifically require a set amount of in school hours and then working hours after schooling. An Esthetician program is great for an individual who is looking to become a skincare specialist (which could also include applying makeup to a certain degree) in a salon environment focusing on skin care processes (such as facials, micro dermabrasion, and various other treatments). Though, even with this specified training and schooling, you will still learn a minimal amount about actual makeup application, and again, many students who are interested primarily in makeup, will seek to continue their education by following up with a specialized program and certification in makeup artistry, to become a more well-rounded professional.

Now that we’ve covered all of the general bases of the different career paths and schooling that the beauty world has to offer, let’s get down to business and talk about the all-important question: Do I have to be licensed to become a professional Makeup Artist?

In short, the answer is typically ‘no’. However, as mentioned above, this is not written in black and white and can easily be confusing as you try to navigate your way in the industry and establish your business and yourself as a professional Makeup Artist. The Board of Cosmetology (which varies state by state) generally only covers the specific licensing requirements for Cosmetologists and Estheticians, who again, practice both the treatment of skincare and haircare, and do not specifically work as a Makeup Artist. Louisiana is the only state that is an exception, actually offering a direct license to work professionally as a Makeup Artist. Several states will vary, without clear or concise regulations for applying makeup professionally, and not requiring any form of license to work as a professional Makeup Artist. While other states will require a license as a Cosmetologist or Esthetician, even if you only want to practice makeup artistry (and not skin or haircare).

In general, if you are looking to work in the freelance field, most states will not require a license, due to the non-specific terms for applying only makeup on a professional level, and will allow you to work as a professional (freelance) Makeup Artist in the film, television, entertainment, or private client track as an independent business. Additionally, in most cases you do not require a license to apply makeup professionally to sell a cosmetic product (for example working at a makeup counter, or as an independent sales consultant). If you desire to work in a salon environment, you will likely need to possess a license (though there are exceptions in many states if you are only applying makeup in the salon and/or selling cosmetic product).

Below, you will find a list of individual state requirements and the links to their State Board of Cosmetology. We highly recommend that you contact your State Board directly, as each state will have their own individual exemptions by their Cosmetology board, and to receive the most updated information that may apply to the career path you are looking to take as you educate yourself and expand your creative talents to become a successful professional Makeup Artist in the beauty industry!

In most states you are not required to have a license to work as a freelance independent Makeup Artist (specifically in the fashion, film, television, and entertainment industry). Salons typically require a Cosmetology or Esthetician license as you will be working with clients beyond makeup application (including skincare and additional beauty applications) in a licensed salon environment.


Any additional questions, information, or corrections? We are always happy to hear from you, as this is a consistently updated topic of discussion! Please contact us at

INTERNATIONAL: Similar requirements will apply to international certification as those listed above, it is dependent upon your own individual location. Traditionally you will not need a license to professionally apply makeup as a Makeup Artist. At Online Makeup Academy, we are internationally recognized, issuing certifications worldwide, with students from all corners of the world, looking to learn how to apply makeup professionally and become a Certified Makeup Artist to begin their successful career in the beauty industry!

What is Union Membership and what are the benefits of joining a Makeup Artist’s Union? If you are looking to break into the television, film, and theatre world, a Union Membership is something to most definitely consider as you build your professional portfolio and launch your career as a Makeup Artist. Union Membership provides you with opportunities for employment and casting for television and film projects. Many times these are opportunities specifically unique to Union Members, so it is beneficial if you are looking to work in the television and entertainment realm to consider a Union Membership to make the most of your hiring abilities. Though of course, please keep in mind that this is not required, and you are able to work in the entertainment industry, on set for editorial, film, and television without Union Membership as well, it is all dependent upon the specific requirements of the employer that hires you for each individual project.

Union Membership requirements will vary from Union to Union. For example, the most widely recognized Union, Local 706, based in Los Angeles, California ( requires a few specific steps after establishing yourself as a professional Makeup Artist to gain membership into their Union. Some of these requirements are:


  • Hired work in the film, television, or theatre industry [will need to show payroll as proof] for 60 days within 3 individual years over the course of the last 5 years

  • Makeup Artists must pass a color blindness test


  • 30 days’ work within one calendar year with one or more producers in film, television, theatre

For complete requirements for Local 706 Union Membership (West Coast, USA), please visit their website:
For membership requirements for Local 798 Union Membership (East Coast, USA), please visit their website:

All Union Membership requirements will vary depending on the individual Union, for more information about if a Union covers your state, please contact the Union and/or your State Department directly.