How Hairstylists and Makeup Artists are Returning to Work Amid The Pandemic

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

A makeup artist isn't really a makeup artist without their "kit", the industry term for a suitcase filled with every possible beauty product. Makeup artists spend their careers crafting the perfect kit. Over time, an artist might decide to use a certain style of makeup sponge, for example, or figure out which kind of flat palette fits best in their hand. But as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced a mass restructuring of health and safety practices, makeup artists and their hairstylist counterparts are reconsidering how they work.

"I've spent decades honing my kit to be efficient," says makeup artist Fiona Stiles. "I have a system. Now, I have to rethink all of these systems and figure out [things like] 'where do I get separate pouches for all my brushes' and it's keeping me up at night."

As any model will tell you, makeup and grooming are person-to-person professions. A makeup artist's job is to get as close to your face as possible, while a hairstylist might spend hours in close physical contact with a single client. With some states beginning to reopen for beauty services, professionals are developing new systems to stay safe amid the pandemic.

California-based makeup artist Scott Barnes, best known for his work with Jennifer Lopez, has been back in the studio in recent weeks to shoot the campaign for his holiday collection. "People [have been] really respectful," he says of heightened safety precautions. At his latest photoshoots, he's noticed changes such as masks on the entire glam team, no craft services, and social distancing in-between makeup applications.

"I've spent decades honing my kit to be efficient. Now, I have to rethink all of these systems…it's keeping my up all night."

Some industrious artists have replaced in-person makeup application with virtual sessions for their celebrity clients. Makeup artists Gita Bass, Katey Denno, and Vincent Oquendo use videochat to walk their clients through product choice and step-by-step makeup application to prepare for at-home interviews or photoshoots.

Makeup artists who haven't yet been back to work have used the time at home to revamp their kits. Makeup artist and beauty brand founder Danessa Myricks plans to only use multi-purpose products that minimize the amount of products (and thus the amount of items to sanitize) during a session.

"As artists, we use our tools a lot differently than the average consumer. It's really just about texture and color," Myricks says. "Instead of bringing 20 foundations, or bringing in tons of shadow palettes, it's really about just narrowing things down with the essentials."

Makeup artists are opting to use products that squeeze out of tubes or can be scraped onto a sanitized flat palette, in lieu of non-transportable items like powder. For Stiles, each of those products will be stored in a separate airtight bag. Makeup artist Carolina Gonzalez, who is an ambassador for Giorgio Armani Beauty, has also added some new items to her kit — masks, gloves, disposable lip wands, and disposable mascara wands.

"It's important to me that everyone feels safe and comfortable on set."

A pared-down kit means that editorial or advertising-focused makeup artists will have to devote more time to consultation and preparation. "It can't be ‘I think we're thinking maybe a '60s eye' on set, and then I have to go and dig for my lashes," says Stiles. When she does return to work, she's planning to speak to the art director and photographer ahead of time to nail down the look "very specifically," so she only needs to bring in the exact products needed.

Finally, makeup artists, like the rest of us, will have to rewire their behaviors. "I've always been on top of [sanitizing] when it comes to makeup [artistry], but I'm a hugger and I kiss on the cheek and I have to get used to that changing," says Gonzalez.

In New York state, where Phase Three of reopening includes personal-care businesses, hairstylist Loretta Wollner has taken to meeting her clients outside. She wears a mask, uses Lysol to sanitize the client's chair and any other surfaces, and "washes and dries a lot of robes and towels every day."

"You can't get away with shortcuts right now."

In California, where some hair salons have reopened, freelance hairstylist and Wella Professionals brand ambassador, Zach Mesquit, is taking care to book fewer clients. "I'm not double-booking clients, so everything is one-on-one," he says. That means he's not going back and forth between two clients — a plus for anyone concerned about cross-contamination, but a hit to his income.

Just like their counterparts across the beauty industry, makeup artists and hairstylists are feeling their way through the tiered reopenings, ongoing health updates, and their own and their clients' comfort levels.

The beauty industry, like so many others, will have to rise to the challenge. But at least one makeup artist was able to find the silver lining in all this chaos. "This time is going to elevate artistry as a whole," says Myricks. "You can't get away with shortcuts right now, and the cream of artists will rise to the top."

For our Future of Beauty issue, we’re giving you a front-row seat to see the technologies of tomorrow while exploring the impact these innovations will have on our lives.

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Sephora's Reopenings May Be Slowed Down by Ongoing Protests

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