Deciding if Licensing is Right for You and Preparing to Ace Your Exams

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Unless you live in Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, or North Dakota you will need to earn some sort of professional credential to work as a makeup artist. Of the remaining 46 states, all but three require that you become either a licensed esthetician or cosmetologist. Earning one of these credentials involves passing a written/theory examination and/or a practical examination.

Even if your state is one of the seven that doesn’t require an official licensing exam to become a makeup artist, you need to be aware of industry standards. Realistically speaking, if you are up against a licensed esthetician or cosmetologist for a makeup artist job opening, you’d better be prepared to demonstrate an equivalent credential or similar amount of verifiable professional experience. This holds doubly true if you plan to practice in another state, where licensure as an esthetician or cosmetologist is often recognized via reciprocity across state borders.

State-by-State Licensing Requirements for Makeup Artists

43 states require you to have at least an esthetician (sometimes spelled “aesthetician”) license if you want to work as a makeup artist. Licensed cosmetologists usually have training that includes and goes beyond that of estheticians, and in this case you would also qualify to work as a makeup artist. If you plan on providing any services that involve skincare then you will also need to obtain at least an esthetician license.

These are the state-by-state licensing requirements for makeup artists. States that require the NIC (National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology) examination for esthetician licensure are also indicated:

  • Alabama – requires an esthetician license (NIC written and practical)
  • Alaska – requires an esthetician license (NIC written exam, state board-developed practical exam)
  • Arizona – no license required
  • Arkansas – requires an esthetician license (NIC written and practical)
  • California – requires an esthetician license (NIC written and practical)
  • Colorado – requires an esthetician license
  • Connecticut – no license required
  • Delaware – requires an esthetician license (NIC written and practical)
  • District of Columbia – requires an esthetician license
  • Florida – requires a facial specialist registration earned by taking classes; no exam is required
  • Georgia – requires an esthetician license (NIC written and practical)
  • Hawaii – requires an esthetician beauty operator license
  • Idaho – requires an esthetician license (NIC written and practical)
  • Illinois – no license required
  • Indiana – requires an esthetician license
  • Iowa – requires an esthetician license (NIC written exam, practical is not required)
  • Kansas – requires an esthetician license
  • Kentucky – requires an esthetician license
  • Louisiana – requires a makeup permit earned by taking classes; no exam is required
  • Maine – requires an esthetician license (NIC written and practical)
  • Maryland – requires an esthetician license
  • Massachusetts – requires an esthetician license
  • Michigan – requires an esthetician license
  • Minnesota – requires an esthetician (skincare specialist) license
  • Mississippi – requires an esthetician license (NIC written and practical)
  • Missouri – requires an esthetician license (NIC written and practical)
  • Montana – requires an esthetician license (NIC written and practical)
  • Nebraska – requires an esthetician license (NIC written exam, practical not required) or becoming a registered cosmetician (does not require schooling or an examination)
  • Nevada – requires an esthetician license (NIC written and practical)
  • New Hampshire – requires an esthetician license (NIC written and practical)
  • New Jersey – requires an esthetician license
  • New Mexico – requires an esthetician license (NIC written and practical)
  • New York – requires an esthetician license
  • North Carolina – requires an esthetician license (NIC written and practical)
  • North Dakota – no license required
  • Ohio – requires an esthetician license
  • Oklahoma – requires an esthetician/facialist, cosmetician, or cosmetology license (NIC written exam, state board-administered practical exam)
  • Oregon – requires an esthetician license
  • Pennsylvania – requires an esthetician license (NIC written and practical)
  • Rhode Island – requires an esthetician license (NIC written and practical)
  • South Carolina – requires an esthetician license (NIC written and practical)
  • South Dakota – requires an esthetician license (NIC written and practical)
  • Tennessee – requires an esthetician license
  • Texas – requires an esthetician license
  • Utah – requires an esthetician license (NIC written and practical)
  • Vermont – requires an esthetician license (NIC written and practical)
  • Virginia – requires an esthetician license
  • Washington – requires an esthetician license (NIC written and practical)
  • West Virginia – requires an esthetician license (NIC written and practical)
  • Wisconsin – requires an esthetician license
  • Wyoming – requires an esthetician license (NIC written and practical)

As you can see, of the 43 states that require at least an esthetician license for makeup artists 27 use the NIC’s written and/or practical examinations. If you are qualifying to become a makeup artist through a cosmetology license then you will also find that a significant number of states use the NIC’s cosmetologist written and/or practical examinations.

NIC Esthetician Exams

Chances are that even if your state isn’t in the majority of those that require an NIC exam, your state’s written and practical exams will be strikingly similar to the NIC exams. In other words, if you are prepared for the NIC’s esthetician written and practical exams then you will likely be prepared for any esthetician exam.

Knowing the content of the NIC’s written/theory and practical examinations is an important step you can take on your way to acing these tests on your first try.

NIC Esthetician Written/Theory Examination

This exam takes 90 minutes to complete and covers the following subjects:

Scientific Concepts – 55 percent

  • Infection control procedures
  • Microbiology
  • Levels of infection control
  • Methods of infection control
  • Safety procedures and guidelines
  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • Cells and tissues
  • Organs and their function
  • Body systems and their function
  • Histology and physiology of the skin
  • Skin disorders and diseases
  • Composition of body hair
  • Structure and hair growth
  • Abnormal hair growth
  • Basic chemistry and its relation to cosmetic products

Skin Care and Services – 45 percent

  • Client consultation and documentation
  • Skin analysis
  • Client records
  • Treatment protocols
  • Contraindications for skin services
  • Cleansing procedures
  • Steaming procedures
  • Exfoliation procedures
  • Extraction procedures
  • Massage movements and effects
  • Masks – clay, mud, gel, rubberized, and cream
  • Hair removal methods and procedures – waxing and tweezing
  • Makeup application as it relates to face shapes, features, color theory, and applications
  • Use of electrical equipment for skin services, including microcurrents, microdermabrasion, facial vaporizer, LED therapy, and a high frequency machine
  • Services related to body treatments
  • Service related to eyelash extensions

NIC Esthetician Practical Examination

Check with your state’s board of cosmetology to see exactly which of the following criteria are evaluated on the NIC’s esthetician practical examination. There are a minimum of nine required subjects covered on this exam, as well as up to three additional subjects depending on your state’s requirements. The nine required subjects are:

  • Work area and client preparation – 15 minutes
  • Cleansing the face with products – 10 minutes
  • Exfoliating the face with product, using implements or materials, with towel steaming – 10 minutes
  • Massaging the face with a product – 10 minutes
  • New client work area preparation and setup of supplies – 15 minutes
  • Hair removal of eyebrows with tweezing and simulated soft wax – no time limit
  • Facial mask and conclusion of facial services – 10 minutes
  • Facial makeup – 20 minutes
  • Blood exposure procedures – no time limit

The three additional procedures that may be evaluated depending on your state’s own regulations are:

  • Hair removal of the upper lip with hard wax – no time limit
  • Particle microdermabrasion on the forehead – 10 minutes
  • Eyelash enhancement – 10 minutes

NIC Cosmetology Exams

If you’ve concluded that earning a cosmetology license is the best fit for what you want to do as a makeup artist then you should become familiarized with the NIC’s written/theory and practical cosmetology examinations.

NIC Cosmetology Written/Theory Examination

This exam takes 90 minutes to complete and covers the following subjects:

Scientific Concepts – 30 percent

  • Microbiology
  • Methods of infection control
  • Federal regulations
  • First aid
  • Human anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Ergonomics and body positioning
  • Chemistry
  • Electricity

Hair Care and Services – 40 percent

  • Trichology
  • Properties and structure of the scalp and hair
  • Hair quality
  • Hair analysis
  • Stages of hair growth and loss
  • Hair and scalp conditions
  • Client draping procedures
  • Shampooing and conditioning
  • Massaging and brushing procedures
  • Principles of hair design
  • Hair cutting and styling procedures
  • Wigs, extensions, and hair enhancements
  • Chemical services and consultations
  • Hair coloring

Skin Care and Services – 15 percent

  • Skin histiology
  • Skin care services consultation
  • Draping procedure for facial services
  • Temporary hair removal procedures
  • Facial procedures
  • Facial makeup application
  • Makeup color theory
  • Cosmetic application procedures
  • Artificial eyelashes
  • Eyebrow and eyelash coloring

Nail Care and Services – 15 percent

  • Nail structure
  • Manicure and pedicure procedures
  • Advanced nail care

NIC Cosmetology Practical Examination

Check with your state’s board of cosmetology to see exactly which of the following criteria are evaluated on the NIC’s cosmetology practical examination. There are a minimum of six required subjects covered on this exam, as well as up to seven additional subjects depending on your state’s requirements. The six required subjects are:

  • Set up and client protection – 10 minutes
  • Thermal curling – 10 minutes
  • Hair cutting – 30 minutes
  • Chemical waving – 20 minutes
  • Virgin hair lightening application and hair color retouch – 20 minutes
  • Virgin relaxer application and relaxer retouch – 20 minutes

The seven additional procedures that may be evaluated depending on your state’s own regulations are:

  • Blow dry styling – 10 minutes
  • Shaping and pin curl placement – 20 minutes
  • Roller placement – 10 minutes
  • Basic facial – 10 minutes
  • Manicure – 20 minutes
  • Sculptured nail – 20 minutes
  • Hair removal of the eyebrows – not timed

Preparing to Pass the Required Exams

You can find a wide variety of official and unofficial sources that will help you prepare for the NIC’s examinations:

One of the best things you can do to prepare for your examinations is to review the CIB for your state’s specific esthetician or cosmetology examinations. When preparing for the practical examination, rehearse each procedure in full detail until it becomes second nature.

Unofficial Sources

These are just some of the unofficial sources you can use to prepare for your exams:

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