How to be the BEST make-up artist you can be?

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You’ll be forgiven for thinking this post might be about how to do make-up, how to find work, how to set up your business.  Being the best make-up you can be is about setting your own (hopefully high) standards and sticking to them.

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When we train as make-up artist’s, we are (hopefully) taught about health and safety, hygiene, cross contamination.  We are shocked by the fact that cross contamination means transferring people’s natural oil, grease, dead skin and living lice from person to person and it quite often grosses us out.  Throughout your course you make sure that your standards are high and that you never ‘double dip’ any of your products including mascara due to this gross transfer of living things which so easily causes eye infections and can pass on the herpes virus through cold sores. So what happens once your course finishes and you get out into the working world of a make-up artist?

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My first hand experience from working on Film and TV sets, Theatres and Catwalks is seeing ‘other’ make-up artists not being hygienic.  Quite often, they go as far as telling you not to use a disposable mascara wand due to it not working effectively. The more make-up artists you work with who have bad practice habits seem to make it more acceptable for your own standards to slip and before you know it, you are double dipping, cross contaminating and explaining to other make-up artists why this is OK.

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This also goes for hair stylists and hairdressers who don’t disinfect their brushes between using them on different clients.  Just think of all that dead skin, oils, grease and lice they are transferring from person to person. When I questioned a few hairstylists on this, I was told that the heat in the styling wand kills all bacteria which sounded good enough to me.  But thinking further, does this also kill the lice and oils and stop these being transferred from one person to the other?

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So, if it becomes common practice for standards to slip, why does it become acceptable and what can we do to raise these standards?

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In America to work as a make-up artist, you need to pass cosmetology school and get a certificate.  This covers health, hygiene and sets a high standard. In the UK we do not have a ‘body’ overseeing make-up artistry as it comes under ‘a visual art’ meaning that no standard is set which unfortunately results in standards slipping and bad practice.

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See below some of the bad working practices I have witnessed in person;

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  • Quite often, artists use only one hairbrush / comb for six models / performers with no disinfecting in between.  This is extremely common practice and I feel we should let the artists know what happens to see if they would still like us to use that same comb / brush on their hair. – The budget should cover a comb / brush per artist or the performer can bring their own in to be used if the budget really doesn’t cover it.
  • Online Hair & Make-up tutorials (especially by celebrity Make-up artists or those with a huge following.) These reach thousands of people and the artist has a duty to set standards high by having the best practice they can.  People are very impressionable and will believe anything they see / hear so if the make-up artist isn’t showing good practice and is being unhygenic, the message this sends out to others is that ‘this is ok’
  • Make-up demos by big companies – I watched at least four different demos this year at Professional Beauty where the artist, who was a specialist in their field and working for a large company wasn’t being hygenic. Quite often they were using lipstick / liner direct from the product which of course can transfer the herpes virus in the form of cold sore.  When I mentioned this to one of the artists afterwards, she simple explained that people would be buying that product and using it on themselves and that her demo wasn’t based on make-up artists buying the products to use on clients. No matter how good a reason sounds, there really is ‘No Excuses’ Professional Beauty if full of students, new and old make-up artists and impressionable people being mislead by ‘the top’ companies.
  • Of course, we all use social media and quite often go live on facebook / instagram etc.  This live is normally a behind the scenes of what is going on. A lot of lives I watch show the make-up artist using products straight from the palette and will often re-use brushes on many different models.  People are seeing this, looking at the IG account of the person, seeing that they are a highly successful hair and make-up designer for films and TV which all of a sudden makes it acceptable to behave in this manner.  We all have a duty when going live to those people watching us and the message we are sending out
  • Quite often, when working on Catwalks- London fashion Week included, standards slip due to time restraints.  It really doesn’t take more time to be hygienic, use disposables, scrap out product. There really are No Excuses.  Don’t let your own standards slip.

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    I really could give you many more examples but I might not ever stop writing!

So, what can we do to make our standards higher?

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I say set your own standards high.  My working ethos I follow is that if I was happy using something on myself, I am then happy using it on other people.  Recently, a make-up artist said to me that she wouldn’t go in to a restaurant and expect to eat off a dirty plate. The same applies here.
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Educate
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Make-up artists, Hair stylists, Self-taught artists, Models, Photographers, Actors, Directors.  We all have a duty to know what is being used on people’s bodies and to question something we see that we don’t think is hygienic.
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A photographer asked me what he could do to make sure that the makeup artist he works with is of a high standard before they actually work together.  This is a tough one as most of the time you won’t find out until you are on set. I recommend the following;

 

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1.Ask for a copy of their public liability insurance certificate. – If they don’t have one or delay in sending this to you, you should be concerned as to the reasons why.  If an artist can’t be bothered to pay to have public liability insurance, what else can’t they be bothered to do. Just so you know, public liability insurance costs approx £30 per year.  This can go up (mine costs over £200 due to also having my students insured whilst I teach them) You also don’t want to be working with a makeup artist who isn’t insured for obvious reasons.

You would think that it is common ground for any company you work for to ask for a copy of your public liability insurance but it really isn’t at all which I believe adds to the lowering standard we have in the UK (I have only been asked for it once over the last few years even though I have worked in Theatre, TV, Advertising, Fashion and Photoshoots)

Personally  I feel it would be good practice as a make-up artist to offer this up when you get offered a job.  This would definitely set a bell ringing in the ears of whoever is booking you for a job and may prompt them to ask for this from an artist in the future.

Remember, there is no excuse not to have public liability insurance.  If you are a student, your college should cover you. If you are starting out and just trying to build your career, this is the first thing that needs to be in place as you are working on people’s faces.  It only costs £25. A foundation costs £40!
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2. Watch any tutorials, videos, bts photos the make-up artist has used on their social media.  Does this show people double dipping? Using product straight from the palette? Using the original mascara wand that comes with the packaging?  If so, question that artist about it. (Don’t always assume this is them being unhygenic as they might clean and sterilise all products between clients)
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eyelash lice

The scientific bit (prepared to be grossed out)

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As mentioned before, lice / bugs live on our skin.  They are supposed to be there as they keep us clean, eat the dead skin on the surface and help fight infection (This was recently documented on the BBC) No amount of cleaning will make these lice not exist on you so make friends and be at peace.
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Skin is our biggest organ.  It’s main job is the first place of defence against infection.  We have pores so that our skin can breathe and stop bacteria from getting into our bodies.  Our skin produces natural oils / grease to moisturise and stop us from drying out.
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Our skin renews itself every 28 days (this takes 35 days once you hit your mid 30’s) so therefore you need to shred the dead skin cells at the surface of your skin.
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Bare all of this in mind when setting your own professional and high standards as a working make-up artist.
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How to be the best you can be
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Firstly stop listening to people who tell you otherwise.  Set your own standards and live by them. If you cross contaminate and have bad practice, your public liability insurance will be invalid and they won’t pay out, leaving you with a hefty bill that you will have to pay out from your own pocket.
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Respect yourself and respect others.  When working on models / actors, remember that this is their livelihood.  If you cross contaminate and cause an eye infection, you are putting that person out of work.  What happens when you, a freelance artist is out of work? – You don’t get paid! The same for them.
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If you are working for a big company where hygiene standards are not set and people often cross contaminate, stick to your rules.  Don’t let your standards slip or fall into bad practice. If you see another artist do something that really worries you, speak to them or speak to your manager.  Together, we can raise the standards.
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How do I be the best I can be?
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Always use a disinfectant gel on your hands before commencing hair / make-up.  You should do this in front of your client so they can see that you are being hygienic even if you have just washed your hands.
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Some people prefer to use the back of their hand as their ‘pallette’, other artists will use a palette to scrape product on to using a spatula.  If using a palette, make sure this is clean and sterilised between jobs and put in a sterile container. Stainless steel palettes harbours less bacteria than plastic or wood.
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Isopropanol alcohol (ISO) will disinfect, sterilise and kill bacteria.  It also evaporates immediately so you can re-use your brushes / palettes almost straight away.   Ideally you want to use 70% solution as this disinfects and sterilises For more info, read this article (https://blog.gotopac.com/2017/05/15/why-is-70-isopropyl-alcohol-ipa-a-better-disinfectant-than-99-isopropanol-and-what-is-ipa-used-for/ )
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Liquid / cream / stick foundations –  Take out what you need (squeeze the tube, use a spatula to scrape out creams and stick foundation) and place onto a palette.  Use your preferred technique to apply.
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Concealers – Squeeze or scrape out product with a spatula and place onto a palette.  Apply from here

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Powders (eyes, blush, foundation etc)  In America, quite often artists will scrape out what they require onto a palette and use from there.  I don’t know about you but I prefer to use pressed powder so will therefore place my brush directly into the palette.  This is ok to do AS LONG as you clean and sterilise the palette / colour used before dipping in a new brush and using the same colour of someone else.  Simply give it a wipe over with a clean tissue then spray the palette with ISO. This will not affect the performance of the powder, will kill bacteria and will evaporate, leaving your powder dry for your next client.
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Gels (eyebrow, eyeliner etc.) – I know it is tempting to dip straight in with your brush but these products can be scraped out and used and this would be best practice here.  Yes, you can always wipe the surface and spray with ISO too but I do feel best practice would be to scrape out what you need.
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Mascaras – You have a few options when it comes to mascara application;

  1. Use a mascara fan brush.  Scrape off mascara from the wand onto a palette and pick the product up with your fan brush.  You can then clean and disinfect your brush with all other brushes at the end of the job.
  2. Use disposables – for those artists who say disposables don’t act as well as the brush that the mascara comes with, I say you can buy so many different disposables these days that you will find your favourites.  My favourite disposables at the moment are Stacazzi from Kryolan or Screenface. These can also be cleaned and sterilised between clients if you are worried about the impact of plastic disposables on our environment.
  3. Buy a mascara for your client, use on your client and then give the mascara to your client to keep (obviously the cost of this will have to go in to your budget).  If your business is weddings, buy a mascara, use it on their trial, place a white sticky label and write their name on. You can then use this for their wedding day and ‘gift it ‘  to them afterwards.
  4. Use your clients mascara.  Be aware that if you do this, they will need a relatively new mascara as there is nothing worse than applying dried up mascara onto a beautiful make-up for it to crumble and smudge under the eyes.
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Pencils (Eyes & Lips) – Sharpen them (especially in front of your client so they can see you have good work practice) By sharpening a pencil, you reveal a new bit of the pencil each time there for not contaminating.

Lipsticks – Always scrape out of the palette / lipstick / tub and use

Lip gloss – take out what you need onto a palette using the applicator brush.  Use a new make-up brush to apply.
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Liquid eyeliners / pen eyeliners – One of the most tricky ones but remember, there are No Excuses so we can still be hygienic.  It may not be possible to scrape products out and it’s best not to take a new brush and dip in (we always need to dip in more than once) so I have the following solutions for you;
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  1. Use the pen direct and once you have finished using it, wipe with tissue and spray with ISO letting it evaporate before putting the lid on / brush back in it’s container.
  2. Buy a product per client and give it to them once you have used it
  3. Ask your client if they have their own liquid liner
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Sponges – Always use a new sponger per client.  If required, these can be washed in your washing machine at a high heat to kill off the bacteria (I recommend you put these into a pillow case before putting in the wash)

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Make-up brushes – You need to clean and sterilise your brushes after every client.  Do not be tempted to use the same brush on different people if you haven’t cleaned in between.
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  1. If on a job where you need to clean and re-use brushes quickly, spray with ISO and rub onto a tissue to get the remainder of the product out of your brush.
  2. Once you have finished your job, clean all brushes with ISO – Some people will put the Isopropanol into a dish and swirl their brushes around in this before taking them out to dry.  Personally I don’t like this way of cleaning because after just one brush, the ISO ‘murkey’s’ (turns brown) and you are trying to clean all other brushes in dirty water. That just doesn’t make sense to me!  I like to use textured kitchen paper and will put ISO onto that paper and rub my brush on it until clean. Remember, ISO evaporates so no need to dry.
  3. Once a week (depending on how often you use your brushes) they will need a deep cleanse.  This involves sterilising with ISO then washing in water with a gentle baby shampoo. I like to use a lego block (something with texture) to rub my brushes against to make sure that all product has completely come out.  You may find that you have to wash your brushes two to three times this way before they are completely clean (be careful of getting water on the wood part of your brush as this will shrink the wood and can result in the metal coming apart)  leave to dry overnight (turn the big powder brushes over half way through drying) I then sterilise once more with ISO to finish off.
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Done properly, a general sterilisation at the end of the job can take upto one hour, a full deep cleanse can take upto four hours.

Hairbrushes – Spray with ISO or buy Barbicide wipes and give them a wipe down between clients – The same goes for curlers, curling tongs and straighteners.
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Last note – I know that all of this can sound like hard work but there really are No Excuses for poor hygiene. I must admit that writing this has taken my thought to what is happening in the make-up industry with artists working for free with the promotion of ‘published work’ ‘great exposure’ and some artists charging as little as £20.  I feel all of this has an impact on our standards and must be going hand in hand with them forever dropping. You pay for what you get doesn’t always come down to the talent. It comes down to someone being proud of the way they conduct their work, having public liability insurance in place and wanting to look after their client the best way they can.  Hmm…… I feel another blog post coming on!

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PHEW! (longest blog post I have ever written!) – If you made it to the end please get in touch for your gold star! 🙂

I would love to hear your thoughts, experiences (good and bad) and for you to share this post with as many people as you can.  Let’s set an excellent working standard which will make people want to pay more money for people with good practice.

SMA
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Showing 6 comments
  • David
    Reply

    Really great article. I will be sharing this round for sure. When I book a model for a shoot I want to be sure that I am not putting them in harms way by booking an MUA that could possibly give them a skin or eye infection from poor hygiene so having awareness for myself and hopefully all the MUAs that this post reaches will be a great help.

    • SMA
      Reply

      Thank you for commenting. I’m hoping people will find it informative and that it helps to give a better understanding of what people are paying for when they book a make-up artist.

  • Saint-Dizier alise
    Reply

    The pencils !!!! Oh god, the horrors I have witnessed with pencils !! Be it lips or eyes…I have seen people use the same pencils on different persons without sharpening it again (and thus removing the contaminated part)…….uuurrrgh…so gross.

    Thank you so much for the article !!!! Inspired me to set my standards even higer !!

    • SMA
      Reply

      Thank you for commenting – I TOTALLY forgot to write about the pencils! Will update the post over the next few days 🙂

  • Lee
    Reply

    Just a note that only 70% IPA will provide sanitation benefits, 91% or 99% will not.

    • SMA
      Reply

      Thank you for your comment. I did actually mention this in my blog post then posted a link for anyone who would like further information on why 70% works and not 99% (I guess you missed this link, but you are excused as it IS a long read!)
      I will do a separate blog post dedicated to IPA soon. Your input is appreciated.

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