Whether you’re a beauty industry expert or have just graduated from cosmetology school, you’ve likely considered the perks of working as a freelance makeup artist.
But once you’ve decided to start a freelance career as a professional makeup artist, you’re going to need to invest in one absolute essential: your kit.
Yep, even beginners need a stellar makeup kit to make it in the world of weddings, special events, and photoshoots. It’s what separates the would-be MUAs (that’s beauty industry-speak for “makeup artist”) from the MUAs pulling in six figures or more a year.
While product preferences vary — and you’ll learn along the way which makeup lines and brush brands work best for you — you’ve still got to start somewhere. Here’s what six professional makeup artists and beauty industry experts say every freelance makeup kit must have in tow.
What Every Makeup Artist Should Have in Their Kit
A Set of Quality Brushes
“The first thing you should do is, get a good set of brushes!” says Krista Frias, a makeup artist and cosmetologist at Apothecarie Salon in New Jersey. “It’s not always necessarily how great or expensive your products are, it’s often more about what you’re using to apply the products.”
10+ year veteran professional makeup artist, Theresa Novicky, agrees. Though Novicky doesn’t tend to recommend one brand above another — if you’re looking for your brush brand soulmate, it’s very personal! — she says that all beginner makeup artists should steer clear of cheap brushes. Yes, even if you’re on a budget!
“I used drugstore brushes for a long time, but the issue with drugstore is that they don’t last. Our brushes take a beating because they have to get washed and disinfected after every use. This loosens the glue, and [cheap brushes] break and shed.”
And speaking of cleaning, your freelance makeup kit is also going to need…
Proper Sanitizing Products
“When dealing with people’s skin and face, there are bound to be germs and bacteria,” says Courtney Buhler, the CEO & Founder of Lash Pro Academy. “It’s a big part of your job as a makeup artist to keep your clients safe by properly sanitizing your tools and replacing expired products.”
Novicky agrees and also recommends keeping a set of disposables on hand to keep things separate, sanitized, and clean. “I get mascara wands, lip wands, cotton rounds, Q-tips, and tiny spatulas for scooping out lipstick or anything that’s in a jar or pot.”
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The 11 Golden Products for Beginner Professional Makeup Kits
Unsurprisingly, every makeup artist has an opinion on this, but most can agree that there are about a dozen types of makeup and tools that you should build into your first professional makeup kit.
“My mother and I have both studied cosmetology and worked as makeup artists, so we often like to debate which items in our kit we consider to be must-haves,” says beauty blogger David Gray of Talking Tan. For recent grads or those trying to start a side hustle as a freelance makeup artist, Gray says these are the ones they both agree are the “absolute essentials that you must have in your makeup kit”:
- Primer for skin and eyes
- Foundation — inclusive range (see note)
- Contouring palette
- Lip liner
- Basic lipstick colors
- A brow kit
- Setting powder
- Setting Spray
“It doesn’t hurt to throw a pair of cotton pads and tweezers in there, either,” says Gray. But he urges first-time makeup artists to air on the side of simplicity — at least to start. “My main advice for someone building a freelance makeup kit for the first time is to know when you’re overdoing it. I love makeup so much, so it can be hard to choose which palettes to take with me, but it’s always better to go with your gut so that you don’t get overwhelmed. Too much choice isn’t always a good thing.”
Note: Don’t Skimp on Shades of Foundation
When you’re on a budget, keeping it to essentials is a must. But that said, you should include a wide range of foundations to match all skin types.
“The most important thing for a makeup artist’s kit is a global selection of foundations and concealers, at least with the ability to mix them and match shades,” says Mandie Brice, a makeup artist with celebrity experience and a recent author of her own makeup book, “There are so many horror stories of artists in very professional situations who don’t have foundation or complexion makeup to match all of the models, and it is shameful!”
A Good Makeup Light
“Don’t even think about booking a client until you have one,” says Novicky. “And please don’t use a ring light — this casts a filter on your client’s face. I’d hate for them to walk outside and the makeup not look the way it looked in your chair.” Instead, she recommends a key light from The Makeup Light.
Include Some Deep Cut Knowledge, Too
Makeup artist, Essie Button’s product list closely resembles Gray’s (Her pro tip on primers: “There’s a primer variant for every skin type, and I suggest your kit includes one for dry skin and one for oily skin”), but she adds that knowing where your product ingredients come from — and how they affect different skin types —is a must-have as well:
“Product knowledge is a big one for me. As fun as makeup artistry is, you need to understand that you are also responsible for someone’s skin,” says Button, “You want to be informed enough to answer a client’s query, which displays your confidence in your art and puts the client at ease knowing they’re in good hands.”
Other Tips for Starting a Freelance Makeup Kit
Beyond the list of products, our makeup artist pros also had some thoughts on budgeting for a freelance makeup career — including the makeup kit must-haves worth the splurge, how to properly organize your set, and…the add-ons you can go right ahead and skip. Here are a few of their professional makeup kits do’s and don’ts.
“Try to get everything as condensed as possible,” says Novicky. “Learn how to depot — that’s taking things out of their original container and putting them in a smaller more condensed palette. I’ve depotted all of my lipsticks. Warning: Once you start depotting you will become obsessed!”
Don’t: Buy Every Shade of Everything Ever
“Many new makeup artists think they need to break the bank and stock up their shelves with every color of every brand and product,” says Frias, “That couldn’t be further from the truth! You are an artist. Artists mix and blend to achieve the color or look they want. Get creative when mixing your shades and you’ll be surprised at how much you love the results!”
Do: Invest in Quality, Multi-purpose Products
“If you use products that are not high quality, not only will you not get the same results for your clients’ makeup looks, but clients could also experience adverse reactions due to questionable ingredients,” says Buhler. But she also gets the need to budget wisely and, like Frias, recommends thinking about ways to put fewer products to more uses.
“If you feel overwhelmed with how many products and tools you think you need to include, try to find things that serve more than one purpose,” she says. “For instance, look for brushes that can be used for multiple application purposes or cosmetics that can be used for more than one area of the face. This will help cut down on how heavy your kit is, as well as how many products you have to dig through during an appointment.”
Don’t: Buy from Big Name Stores
“Steer clear of retail stores like Sephora or Ulta. You will go broke very fast, and there’s so much packaging with these cosmetics because they are made to stay in a vanity and look pretty,” says Novicky. “Unless you get a deep discount at these stores, it’s not worth it. You need makeup that fits in a travel bag. This will also keep you efficient — and you want to be as efficient as possible!”
Do: Go Dutch
“If you’re in beauty school and have a classmate buying a kit at the same time, splitting items and de-potting them into smaller containers (like vuesets, small plastic foundation pumps, Z Palettes) is really smart because it cuts your costs down, and you can organize your kit into a smaller, easier to carry version,” says Brice, “And, you don’t have to worry about your products expiring before you use them up!”
Don’t: Be Afraid to Show Your Personal Taste
“One of the best things that you can do is take your personal favorite palette/s with you,” says Gray. “It adds that personal touch and gives you a boost of confidence without you even knowing it.”
Do: Be a Little Extra
“I also recommend carrying some basics in terms of hair and wardrobe (like a couple of combs, hair spray, some hair elastics, a lint brush, safety pins),” says Brice. “It is always wonderful to be a good team player and overdeliver on set.”