Hair and Makeup Assistant

Makeup artists are in demand over a variety of genres in television, from news to soap. To begin your career in the television industry you will most likely be starting out as a trainee or assistant.


Build your CV to show significant low-level experience in any kind of creative hair and makeup styling (eg. theatre, photo shoots, student fashion shows, salon, department store cosmetics counter).


Hone your craft in a paid job at a salon/theatre/wig/SFX makeup suppliers. Start applying for daily or assistant positions on TV productions or crowd room trainee roles on drama.


With a few daily credits under your belt, you can retitle your CV and apply for Hair and Makeup Assistant (Daily) positions in a suitable TV genre production.


The Hair and Makeup Department is headed up by the hair and makeup (H&MU) designer, who’s responsible for the overall design, application, continuity and care of hair and makeup (H&MU) throughout pre-production and production of a programme or series. On smaller (or less stylistically demanding) productions, H&MU artists are at the top of the department food chain.

Once the department is assembled, they are on set through principal photography and are responsible for the application of makeup, styling of hair, adding of prosthetics, wigs and special effects onto principal actors, supporting artists and crowds appearing in any production - working from the creative brief set by the H&MU designer and director. The H&MU Department work closely with the director, costume, camera and production departments. 

H&MU artists are supplied with (or create their own) detailed character and scene breakdowns, sometimes working from picture references in order to achieve the best look and most accurate representation of each character. Continuity is a key concern of the H&MU Department. They must keep a close eye on their talent (entertainment) or principal and supporting actors’ (drama) hair and makeup, to make sure the look is consistent for each scene. Scenes are not often shot in sequential order (as they appear in the script), so that’s why photos and notes are an imperative aid for the department.

To ensure absolute continuity - H&MU artists accompany actors or talent on set, standing by to do touch ups between takes, and log continuity notes/ take photographs for reference. At the end of the day, H&MU remove actors' makeup, wash out any products from their hair and condition it. On more complex shoots, they remove wigs and prosthetics, then clean and prepare the items ready for the next use.

To work in the H&MU Department, you need to be a good communicator (and dynamic!), as you’ll be spending long days with a volatile mix of actors, production staff and crew. It also helps to have an eye for detail and high levels of accuracy in order to carry out intricate styles and looks under tight turnaround times.  

H&MU (like most other departments) is very much a freelance industry, where you’re usually hired as a package with your own kit and products. You can charge for your kit usage, (it’s called ‘Box Hire’) so investing in a quality range of H&MU products, tools and brushes is a career investment. Using your own kit means that you must be very Health and Safety conscious, and check whether actors have skin and/or scalp conditions in advance to make sure that any allergies or sensitivities are considered before you’re on set. At the more senior career levels, H&MU Artists must also carry out risk assessments and develop procedures to control risks within the department

Key personal attributes needed for working in H&MU:

  • Creative thinker

  • A team player

  • Self confident

  • Clean/Hygienic

  • Organised and proactive

  • Punctual

  • Forward thinking

  • Friendly

  • Precise

  • Tidy (with so many bits of kit and pots of products, keeping a workstation in order is one of the biggest challenges on set)

  • On trend (know all the latest products and fashions)

  • Respectful (you’ll be dealing with some big egos and no matter what you hear/witness, you must keep calm and be professional)


There’s a multitude of routes in, such as working in theatre, working for one of the wig and facial hair supply companies, working on low budget productions, assisting on student films, fashion shoots and shadowing H&MU artists on branded content video shoots/commercials. MUA's are very versatile and will often be working across multiple industries, from bridal to broadcast to fashion. It's worth noting, if you want to work in drama you should find entry level roles in this capacity. If you cross over at a later date you have to take a few steps back down the career ladder to a trainee role - although the designer will have you working with talent sooner than a recent makeup school graduate.  

Another option could be to start out as a runner on a Tv dramas, commercials, or in-house at an independent drama or entertainment production company to get an overview of how the industry works. Runners often carry out errands between every department, so it’s a good way of sussing out the departments and observing activities so you know what’s expected, what sort of vibe the department has before you make any big career decisions.  


You will usually find hair and makeup assistants on the following productions:

  • Commercials

  • High End Corporate Video

  • Music Video

  • Feature Films 

  • Sports/OB (Outside Broadcast)

  • Entertainment

  • Children's TV

  • Drama

  • Comedy

  • News

There’s loads of genres to choose from but be aware that documentary doesn’t offer as much for H&MU these days, you won’t find a whole department - that’s for sure. It’ll usually just be one H&MU Artist doing simple, natural looks if the programme’s presenter-led. Some companies have cut back so much now that talent often do their own H&MU - which can be a hinderance to the camera department, say, if a presenter decides to use a really odd tone of foundation or too much blusher. The largest H&MU departments are found on feature films and TV drama. Be aware that the rates of pay vary quite considerably between the different genres too.


  • Dallies (Assistants that work on a day-to-day basis usually on large crowd scenes on drama)

  • H&MU Artist

  • H&MU Supervisor

  • Personal H&MU

  • H&MU Trainee

  • H&MU Designer

  • Prosthetic Makeup Artist (creates casts, moulds, applies pieces and builds up full looks)

  • Model/Creature Effects Supervisor (found on big, fantasy films and drama)


After achieving your college qualifications, you may want to do more specialised course(s) in a area you feel passionately about eg. barbering or period hair marcel tonging - there are plenty of niche short courses out there, but they will put a dent in your wallet. So, be prepared to keep a sideline job whilst you’re starting to get TV work. A part time salon job might seem slightly counterproductive but having regular money coming in will keep stress at bay, build your practical skills-base and help you save up for products and tools to load your H&MU kit box with.

You could apply to be a film or TV H&MU trainee through Creative Skillset’s Trainee Finder, which gives you hands-on experience in the industry and helps you build those all important contacts that are essential when competing for TV jobs. The ideal situation would be for a talented and experienced H&MU artist to take you under their wing and bring you onto a production (as a daily), to shadow or assist with a crowd scene. Having a contact or two already in the industry could give you a quicker foot in the door, though you will still need to prove yourself and work exceptionally hard to impress the H&MU team.  

It will take between 5 - 10 years to make the step up to H&MU artist. H&MU artists have a range of important responsibilities including applying makeup, affixing prosthetics, washing, cutting, blow-drying, styling and setting hair. They apply products and use specialised techniques to create specific designs. They set and dress wigs and hairpieces, and work with facial hair and false pieces, such as moustaches. They may also apply special effects make-up, e.g. cuts, bruises and bald caps. Each of these tasks requires a high level of skill and steady hands which and can take years to perfect.

As well as the hands-on creative skills, H&MU artists have to abide by rigorous Health and Safety guidelines, and carry out risk assessments. They have a responsibility to make sure products are safe for sensitive skin, and actors’ allergy/skin conditions are assessed long before they sit down at a H&MU station. Long gone are the days of liberally applying mercury to people's faces to achieve a pale look!

You could progress to become a H&MU designer - this is the job at the top of the career ladder (aside from supervisor, which is less creative and more of a organisational/leadership role). Your progress will be determined by your skills and experience, so don’t be surprised if it takes you between 10 to 15 years to reach the level of H&MU designer.  


  • Setup and maintain workstations

  • Keep workstations clean and tidy

  • Lay out brushes and products in accordance with day’s script breakdown

  • Top up and maintain products

  • Purchase supplies (eg. false eyelashes, hair grips)

  • Carry or drive H&MU kit between locations

  • On smaller productions, they may take care of basic H&MU for crowd scenes

  • On small productions, they may be given responsibility for some minor characters and stunt doubles (under supervision)

  • Keep by the H&MU Artist’s side, handing them whatever they require for the actor in the chair

  • Run general errands for the Department

  • Help H&MU Artist to affix prosthetics/wigs/pieces

  • Make sure actors are well looked after while in the department

  • Supply dailies (H&MU Artists/Assistants booked on a daily basis) with reference materials for supporting artists or crowds

  • Update continuity notes during scenes (taking photos for visual ref)

  • May be asked to prepare the actors’ skin (eg. remove makeup)

  • Could occasionally be asked to touch-up H&MU on set between takes if the senior department members are busy

  • May help with publicity shots after production is wrapped.

When you progress from Assistant to H&MU Artist, duties will increase to include:

  • Complete a wide range of hair styles (inc. cutting, waving, applying extensions, and applying dressing and facial hair)

  • Apply makeup techniques (inc. straight corrective; ageing face, hands and neck; contouring effects; and specialised techniques like tattoos and body painting.

  • Understand anatomy of facial muscle structure and skull

  • Break down scripts for character looks

  • Design and recreate production look in line with director’s vision

  • Carry out the latest health and safety procedures and production legalities

  • Oversee H&MU continuity during filming and remove products as required

  • Look after numerous principle actors’ H&MU throughout the shoot

  • Negotiate costs with suppliers, wigmakers and prosthetic makers (on smaller productions)

  • If required, accompany actors to fittings (wigs, facial hair, prosthetic castings, optician and dental appointments)

  • Remove makeup and appendages, ensuring actors look like they did before they entered the department

  • Clean up stations, set everything ready for next day or pack down for next production

On documentaries or factual programmes, the look of presenters and talent tends to be more natural, so the MUA assistant might have a shorter list of duties, though continuity is still a big factor across every genre. 


There will be early starts (one of the first departments to set up, as actors need to be in full H&MU before they step anywhere near set), sometimes there will be long hours, you’ll be very busy and some jobs are certainly harder than others – but it is also lots of fun when you’re creating impressive looks with a team that have the right synergy (and sense of humour!).

The H&MU industry is extremely competitive, so always be one step ahead of your peers by working in line or ahead of the latest trends, products and fashion. By keeping current and creating consistently great work, your confidence will boost as quickly as your diary fills up. A subscription to Vogue is a good investment. Watch loads of TV and feature films, and analyse the H&MU design like a hawke. Why does a certain look work so well? Did you spot any hair continuity errors?

Use high quality products and equipment – it may be pricey, but the finished result is always worth it. Products from Mac, Nars, Bumble and Bumble, Paul Mitchell, Bobbi Brown and Stilla are popular brands because they usually have something to suit all hair/skin types. It’s better to be over-prepared with your kit as you never know what surprise task might be thrown your way at short notice.

Working in tight-knit, high pressure work environment means that gossip can spread like wildfire. As tempting as it might be, don’t get involved in politics. Keep your head down, get on with the job in hand - micro politics are distracting and petty. Save your gossiping for the weekends!  

The other thing to remember is that you’re going to be touching the hair and faces of some very high profile onscreen talent. Getting star-struck is bound to happen at the start of your career, but you must learn to put any nerves (and crushes!) aside: H&MU is a profession like any other, so you need to strike up a polite, neutral relationship with everyone who passes through the department. Gauge the mood like you would in the salon - if the actor in your chair wants to talk about holidays and issues with their dog minder, go with it. If they’re quiet or brusk, be polite but don’t ask a million questions. Some celebs don’t even like crew to look them directly in the eyes, in which case, it’s likely you’ll be briefed with the correct protocol in advance by their personal assistant or a member of the AD team. 


You will need to achieve at least a level 2 vocational qualification or equivalent in media makeup and a level 2-3 NVQ in hairdressing, or the equivalent of two years’ experience. You will need to keep up to date with new methods and materials, so further qualifications and additional skills may be acquired by attending specialist short courses.

Creative Skillset Courses.

There are some degree courses in hair and makeup, however the majority of MUA's recognise qualifications from the makeup schools over the BA courses. 

Brush Strokes

The Academy of Freelance makeup

The London Makeup School

Christine Blundell Makeup Academy (Offers and ‘arftercare’ package which includes opportunity for students to go onto a film set with award-winning H&MU designer Christine Blundell)  

The London Beauty Training Academy 

Quite a few of the top TV and Film H&MU artists and designers end up setting up their own academies to keep industry standards high, or they run short courses for small numbers of students - so these are the ones to look out for as they’re guaranteed to be relevant to the industry you wish to go into


  • Maintain print copies and online portfolios of your work (inc. video clip montage) A website is a great calling card and an easy way for people to find your portfolio.

  • Request testimonies at the end of every production as evidence of your work and experience. Add testimonial quotes to your website.

  • Ask your seniors lots of questions, no matter how small or insignificant you think they are - it’s a simple way to keep ahead of the competition.

  • Keep a small notebook for writing to-do lists - when you get really busy, you’re likely to forget your priorities.

  • Visit the V&A and latest fashion exhibitions for regular injections of inspiration.

  • Attend fashion events – these will fill your head with ideas, colours, shapes and H&MU styles from different eras of history.

  • Don’t drink too much coffee on set - the shakes are your worse enemy! Dehydration is a killer too. Waking up the morning after not drinking enough water is as bad as a hangover.

  • Try to avoid on-set biscuits. Tempting when you need a little sugar rush, but like caffeine, sugar messes with your moods and energy levels.

  • Get a good night’s sleep. Sounds really obvious but as one of the first departments to be called, those extra hours of zzz will make all the difference.

  • Buy waterproofs and thermals. When standing by on location outside, it’s amazing how quickly your body temperature can plummet.  

  • Take care of your back. You will spend so much time standing up, hunched over people, (and tensed up in the cold winter months), an occasional massage or deep tissue/sports massage will work wonders. Daily stretches and yoga will help too (if you have time!).  

  • Have a sideline career. When production slows down (usually over Christmas), it can be hard to make ends meet with TV work. Lots of H&MU Artists do wedding H&MU, and vintage boutique styling at Pop Up parlours and events.


  • A good selection of moisturisers is essential for a basic kit. Dermalogica is a good brand to have in a kit because their skincare covers a wide range of skin conditions.

  • A good selection of blushers and mascaras. Some clients prefer creams over powder so again a variety is useful. Basic mascaras are essential - Nicole Fairfield applies it with disposable wands for good hygiene practice.  

  • Clarins “Beauty Flash Balm” is great for an instant glow and always use a lot “Ageless” which gets rid of eye bags in seconds.

  • Charlotte Tilbury eyeshadow palettes and iconic liquid eye pencils. The eye shadow colours and pigments are just stunning. A popular used palette is 'The Dolce Vita' Tilbury’s eye liners are amazing: they last all day.

  • Mac Pressed Blot Powder and Mac Matte Gel for Anti-Shine.  

  • Elizabeth Arden 8 hour cream for the lips is an all time favourite for Nicole Fairfield.

  • Armani Luminous Silk Foundation, is an time favourite for Nicole Fairfield, perfect for lightweight dewy make up and also build-able for a heavier coverage.

  • Tom Ford Shade and Illuminate - this creamy contour palette is a must have product, because it’s so easy to blend.

  • Chanel Soleil Tan Bronze Universal. This bronzer comes in a pot and has a mousse type consistency, great for the cheek bones and on the temples of the forehead, and also perfect for that sun kissed, dewy look.

  • Tom Ford Brow Sculptors. These twist up slanted pencils last forever and have a brush at one end.

  • A good selection of concealers. Mac select moisture cover concealer is lightweight and gives a lovely finish as do 'By Terry' products.

(Top tips provided by Nicole Fairfield, Freelance Makeup Artist & Personal Stylist)

You don’t need to rush out and buy everything in preparation for your first day as a trainee or assistant - but this is a guide of treasured H&MU artists’ kit items. Makeup artists should carry a variety of product brands because they will come across a client from time to time who may have an allergy or personal preference for certain products

H&MU Jargon Words and Phrases explained

  • DOOD stands for “day out of days," which refers to the days that cast and crew members will have different classifications of work. The entire shooting schedule is laid out according to the shooting script and the board, and then the days are listed openly.

  • De-rig. Dismantle looks and hairstyles, clean up, and return all equipment, products and pieces to their rightful place.

  • Touch-up. A lot less rude than the phrase indicates! This is when a H&MU artist steps in to reapply or smooth/adjust unruly hair between takes. It’s very important for continuity and to ensure onscreen talent look their absolute best at all times.

  • Anti-shine. Use this phrase is a good one to use with men instead of saying ‘makeup’, say, I’m just going to apply some ‘anti-shine’, if they’re nervous about makeup, it’s a simple way to pacify them.

  • Call time. The time that a department are required to start work - call times are always displayed on a Call Sheet, which is distributed to all cast and crew involved in a production.

  • Camera ready. When makeup is finished and clients are ready for filming etc.

What hours will I be working?

Hours may be long (10 - 14 hours a day) and the work can be physically exhausting. For most of this time, you will be on your feet, and as the junior member of the team you will be called upon to do most of the running. As you can be expected to work long hours, make sure to take care of yourself as well as the rest of the department (tea and water on hand if you ever get a chance to step away from set). When you are tired it is easy to forget your tasks, so make lists and prioritise them. You will sometimes be asked to do overtime, antisocial hours, and night shoots, often with short notice. These extra hours should be included in your pay. BECTU, the industry union can guide you on the different rates to charge for overtime.

What are the industry bodies for the Hair and Makeup Department?
How much do hair and makeup assistants get paid?

If you’re a daily working for 10 hours, this is cited as ‘social hours’. At H&MU assistant level, productions will usually pay you a daily rate. BECTU (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union) have their recommended Hair & Makeup Rate Card, which lists H&MU Assistants working on a British Drama (10 hrs) as £200 per day (inc holiday pay), however, bear in mind that these rates haven’t been updated since 2012. There is a 2015 draft rate card on the same BECTU page, though these rates are indicative of H&MU departments working on feature film productions only.

Is working as a H&MU in film and commercials different to TV?

Commercials are usually short in terms of filming time and also well paid compared to other genres. In commercials the working hours are very consistent and makeup is generally in an everyday style. Film work can be very varied. As a makeup artist, you do need to be competent in more skills than in other genres. Working knowledge of wigs, prosthetics, period hairstyling and facial hair are a prerequisite for working within film. TV varies depending on the format, Live TV is much faster paced and exciting. Sometimes studio work can involve harsh lighting which can drain skin colouring - so more attention might be needed for the makeup: using a touch more bronzer as well as more anti-shine products.

How long will it take to move up to H&MU Artist?

To progress to this role, you will usually need to have worked in the film and/or TV industries for up to 10 years. You will probably have started out as a trainee, progressing to be a H&MU assistant, before becoming a H&MU artist working on larger and more complex productions. It also depends on your personal tenacity and drive. If you show your initiative, do your homework/research and go above and beyond the standard requirements - you could move up the career ladder more swiftly. However, if you’re happy to take your time and progress at a slower pace, you will gain more experience and avoid the risk of being out of your depth when you do step up.

What do H&MU Designers do?

Designers lead the entire department, and are brought on to a project during preproduction. They have a responsibility for the overall design, continuity and care of H&MU from preproduction through to the end of production. H&MU designers control the department schedules and budget. They provide H&MU artists with detailed notes, character and scene breakdowns and reference pictures for character creation. They are problem solvers who are able to offer a solution at the drop of a hat. They liaise closely with the other Heads of Department (eg. costume designer, production manager).

What are Dailies?

Dailies are people who work on productions on a day-to-day basis, rather than on a longer/fixed term contract. They are often the more junior department members, who work just on the days that require large crowd scenes: applying H&MU to loads of supporting artists who will appear in the background of shots only.

Will I need a car?

It is strongly advisable. You might want to upgrade to a van or people carrier as you progress up the career ladder and acquire a mobile studio and a team of assistants to cart around!

I feel I am being unfairly treated who can I go to?

The first port of call is always your Head of Department (H&MU Designer), but if they are unavailable or are the problem visit the Production Manager who has an overall duty of care to the crew.

Can I start a career in Film and cross over to Broadcast TV?

Absolutely, but remember that the etiquette on film is very different to broadcast. Often on feature films, you are working with a larger crew which is much more hierarchical. If you’re thinking of transitioning from features to entertainment - this will feel like a much bigger career change: department size, and set-up time are quite different. The rates vary quite significantly too. Commercials are the most profitable genre to work in but the contracts are often only a few days at a time.

What does a Personal H&MU Artist do?

Personal H&MU artists are specifically requested by one of the principal actors to work on their makeup and hair only - offering a bespoke, personal service throughout a production to keep consistency. The bigger stars tend to have their favourites, and don’t like change, so some personal H&MU artists will be attached to a certain star from production to production.

Thank you's

My First Job in TV would like to thank Nicole Fairfield makeup designer and personal stylist for her input into the career guide. 

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