This is a controversial topic that is constantly brought up in makeup artistry groups and message boards. The conversations almost always become very heated as so many passionately believe what they have been told. Sadly the truth is not as known as it should be. So I will set the record straight with facts and details to clarify what everyone should know.

Is it necessary to get a license to work as a professional makeup artist? The answer is, no! People constantly argue this and insist that it is considered illegal as per the State Board. What they are unaware of is the fact that the State Boards ONLY govern what transpires inside of a SALON OR SPA. It is true that individuals are not allowed to cut, color or chemically process hair without a license both in or out of a salon. However, styling hair or doing makeup on location for TV, film, print, or special occasion events, which include working on brides DOES NOT, fall under the jurisdiction of the Board of Cosmetology.

There is often an argument that the type of work allowed without a license is determined by whether the client is to be “on camera” or not. Even if that were true, obviously brides hire professional videographers as well as photographers; making this a moot point and working as a bridal makeup artist or hairstylist fine to work without a license. The point is that “being on camera” would mean that live events, concerts and theater performances would also be in question. So that is not the case. The guidelines reference that individuals who perform hairstyling or makeup services for professional/entertainment purposes do not need a license. That means, TV, video, film, and print jobs. It also includes live events and special occasion events. Technically, if you have guests over to a dinner party, you are “entertaining friends”. A wedding, prom/ball, runway/catwalk show, pageant, fitness competition, quinceanera, concert, political debate, dance recital, speaking seminar, graduation, school reunion, etc. are ALL events put on for entertainment purposes for the attendees and audiences. Hence, every type of event is NOT in any way, shape or form in violation with the state board of cosmetology guidelines.

I’ve written about this topic many times in many different online groups. Often these conversation threads get deleted either by those that become angry or occasionally by the Admins, as they have previously posted that they think it is illegal to work as a hairstylist or makeup artist without a license, and they become embarrassed once shown the facts.

I actually worked with the State Board of California approximately 15 years ago, when they approached me to consult for them to help update their curriculum.  Due to their archaic policies, I did not get involved. However, I can tell you that they are in desperate need of an update as most of the curriculum still being taught was written in the 1940’s! Everything has progressed since then such as industry techniques, technology, ingredients, products, what we know about skin and such. However, the curriculum remains almost the same as it was originally written.

I want to point out that I am not just a Freelance Artist that “Thinks” this is how the licensing issue works. For over twenty years, I’ve owned a makeup studio, an agency that represents hairstylists and makeup artists as well as a professional makeup artistry academy. In addition, I travel all over the world as a top Educator, educating on the industry. In the past 3 years I’ve taught in the United States of America, Australia, Mexico, Indonesia, United Kingdom and New Zealand (Hell, I am in Sydney, Australia right now typing this on my first day off in what seems like months!) Obviously I HAVE to know and abide by the state rules, guidelines and jurisdiction of the law.

The State Board CONSTANTLY alludes to the fact that everyone needs a license. Why? Because it’s estimated that nearly 30% of their income comes from freelance hairstylists and makeup artists (or aspiring ones) that throw unnecessary money at them based on their threats. Search almost any makeup artist group for previous conversation threads about this topic and you will discover dozens, if not hundreds of peoples’ comments on this and how everyone is convinced they are right, yet have no valid evidence.

I’m not saying that no one needs a license or that getting a license is a waste of time. I’m saying that there are literally millions of people every year that get their license that have ZERO intention of working in a salon or spa where the license IS needed because they wish to work professionally in the entertainment industry. On a side note, to do hair for TV or film and be part of the UNION, you must be licensed to do hair (Because you may cut, color etc. when the script calls for it for the characters you work on). However, you do not need to be licensed to do makeup for the Union. Why? Because there is no license necessary, not to mention that cosmetology schools do not teach the skills necessary to work in television or film. So, the fact that unions do not require a license in order to do makeup should be a big light bulb moment for many.

You know who else does not require makeup artists to be licensed?! Makeup artistry agencies. That’s right, the highest paid makeup artists in the world that work on major celebrities and do magazine work, music videos, runway shows, editorials, commercial projects and all the biggest ticket fashion and beauty campaigns do not need a license. Of all the most famous makeup artists in the world, I don’t personally know of any that are licensed. Why? Because it is not necessary and the schools hardly teach any makeup in the first place! The majority of schools spend only a couple hours or days on makeup. And quite a few of the schools training consists of not much more than doing makeup on face charts or doll heads with Q-tips.

It has been noted by MANY professionals that each time the State Board in just about every state is asked to clarify the facts, that they are told completely different things by different people when trying to get to the bottom of this constant debate. Do you want to know why no one at the State Board can get their stories straight? It’s because some of their employees know the whole truth and some don’t. The whole truth being that no license is needed, however if they admit this, they could potentially lose millions in enrollments each year. So they are expected to allude to needing a license. Which translates into the point that they basically lie. Of course, some people are bad liars or are not comfortable lying when asked. So they are just evasive. Because exposing the truth will result in a MAJOR dip in enrollments due to the MASSIVE negative exposure. If the facts leaked, there would most likely be huge layoffs for those employees and many Class Action Lawsuits would develop from tens of thousands of people that spent their time and money getting their license when it was not necessary if they only wanted to work professionally.

Furthermore, please remember that most top artists of the world are not licensed. Do you really think that all of the Makeup and Hair agencies such as Cloutier Remix, Exclusives, Art & Commerce, Streeters, Artists by Timothy Priano and all the other agencies are illegal operations?! Don’t be ridiculous. Of course, they are not running illegitimate businesses.   I challenge anyone that thinks a license is necessary to contact some of the agencies and ask!

There are many stories and rumors spread about “this & that person” who DID get fined for not having a license. Interestingly enough, it’s rare that the actual people who received a citation or fine from a State Board ever comments. It’s typically someone on their soapbox arguing that, they heard “this or that”. I’ve spoken to several artists or hairstylists that have received a letter or citation from the State Board. Most often, the people were doing more than hair styling. But they don’t want to admit that publically. Or they were caught working IN A SALON without a license or for cutting or chemical processing hair or doing makeup, nails, facials, waxing, etc. And that is not what I am addressing. Of course, you cannot work inside a salon without a license.

The world has millions of licensed professionals that insist these rumors are true. Most, because they believed it and spent time & money to get licensed and they want to set themselves apart from the rest. They don’t know that what they were told was inaccurate and when presented with the facts, many get angry. I am delivering the facts and evidence as I know. States vary in their working of their codes, but not by much. Note the word is “Codes” not laws. So even if you are not in California, please read the section below to better understand what the code actually says, and I will clarify what has so many people confused.

Please allow me to break down what the California State Board Code 7317 ACTUALLY says. I will explain what is known as the #7 comment that people always reference in posts, and I will clarify what is being overlooked and misunderstood. As previously mentioned, the verbiage is MEANT to be confusing and difficult for the average person to 100% understand. That is exactly how government business and law is utilized to create fear and misinformation which then translates into income. Sadly, ALL government entities use this tactic. Anyone in the legal industry will attest to this and anyone with a background in Psychology will validate that it works.

This is what the code says,

“Any type of service that is regulated by the Board needs to be performed by a Licensee in a licensed establishment may be cited for Business and Profession Code 7317. Practice of Barbering, Cosmetology or Electrolysis for Compensation Without License, which carries a $1,000 fine.


<<I will break down the California Code sentence by sentence>>


“Any type of service that is regulated by the Board”

(People forget the State Board ONLY governs salons/spas)


“Needs to be performed by a Licensee in a licensed establishment”

First of all, a “Licensee’s” is a Cosmetologists or Esthetician WITH a License.

Therefore, the phrase says, “Needs to be performed by a Licensed Cosmetologist or Esthetician only within a licensed salon or spa only” Because it’s the only place the State Board oversees and has authority over and is allowed to govern and check.


“MAY be cited for Business and Profession Code 7317, Practicing Cosmetology for compensation WITHOUT a license.”

Read it again! This Code threatens LICENSED PEOPLE for PRACTICING WITHOUT A LICENSE. The very statement contradicts itself!


Nowhere does this code say that they can fine freelance makeup artists that do not have a license to work in a salon, BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT WORKING IN A SALON.

***The entire code is addressing LICENSED PEOPLE! Why? Because THAT IS ALL THE STATE BOARD ONLY GOVERNS or has ANY say over. (The licensed people in a salon!)

***The board is threatening to give $1,000 fine for Code 7317 to a “LICENSED” person for practicing cosmetology WITHOUT a License?!

Since I have made this information public a few years ago, within the past year the State Board of Cosmetology has reworded something of interest. See below.

Are spa/bridal parties in a home office or church legal in California?

Not if a licensee is providing the services. Any type of service that is regulated by the Board needs to be performed by a licensee in a licensed establishment. The Board must be able to inspect the tools and the location where services are being provided for the safety of the consumers of California.

So the State Board of California’s own statement says that licensed cosmetologists or estheticians are NOT allowed to do on location services or ANY services outside of the salon. Once again, this is because the state board can only check on the licensed individuals INSIDE a salon.

Does the code ban all licensed cosmetologists from doing on-location bridal work? Yes. But is anyone spreading rumors that Hairstylists are only allowed to earn income inside a salon? No, but that is what the code actually says!

So the question above is underlined and the answer is straight from the website of the State Board.


The question is, are spa/bridal parties in a HOME OFFICE, or CHURCH legal in California? First of all, most brides don’t get ready at the church or a home office. They get ready in a home or at a hotel or resort. But the important fact here is that their own reply to that question states that doing wedding parties are NOT legal if a licensed person is doing the work. In other words, a freelance makeup artist or hairstylist CAN legally do the work because the state board has no jurisdiction over them.

Again, it is meant to be confusing. It’s called a loophole. It costs a lot of money to have a lawyer write this kind of thing to benefit a company. No one should be embarrassed that they didn’t understand it to be that way, or if they fell for the sneaky marketing of the Cosmetology industry and got a license that they don’t need if they intend to do freelance work. Millions of people believe their trickery and sadly that is what government run industries bank on. Most people read the confusing paragraph, don’t really know what it means but then they read the last sentence that says WITHOUT A LICENSE which carries a $1,000 fine and comes to their own conclusion of what that means and don’t bother to analyze/interpret the rest of the paragraph.

So now you know better. I hope that you make your best career decision based on the facts and start paying it forward by spreading the truth about this situation.

Posted in Beauty Prodigy.


  1. Hello, I was wondering how is it legal for Mac associates (not licensed) to provide a makeup application to customer? what makes this legal? Thanks in advanced

    • It is outlined in the article, the State Board only govern those working in a SPA or SALON so if they are working at a counter or freelancing, then yes it is legal.

  2. Hello Donna, I read your article and I was hoping you would be able to email me? Please let me know if you can. I really need advice from a professional who knows as much as you do. Thank you, Ashley.

  3. Is this still true? I didn’t see a date of when this was posted. I live in CO and am trying to figure out if I can get fined for not having my aesthetics license and do freelance makeup artistry. I know at least one business got fined here and maybe some other people because certain makeup artists were trying to take out their competitors with the fact that they weren’t licensed. So confusing!!! Any thoughts would be great- thanks!

  4. Hello,
    I have been a freelance artist for a few years now working all special occasions, pageants, and print.

    I recently updated and published my website and instantly got called out for “not having a license” and it being “illegal”. I have been working as a freelance artist for this long and have never had any problems with it.

    I have read your article, and I see you’re from California. I know that you stated the laws are similar in all states. I’m from Iowa and have tried to do some digging myself, but just don’t understand anything/where to find all the information. I was wondering if you could give my some information specifically for Iowa’s freelance rules, as you make it much easier to understand!

    Thank you so much, and I hope to hear back from you!


  5. Thank you so much for this..I love this…but…I’m in Houston Texas…will this apply the same way…and caN I use a blow dryer and curling iron as a hair stylist…also can I do kids?…. we create children spa products. .we sell them on the website. ..but..I would like to offer kids,teens,adults spa parties and spa treatments with our line of Skincare and Cosmetics. .like to do cleansing facial..no extraction, body mask, mani pedi ,scrubs,mask with our non toxic nail polishes. .not using any tools..? Hair oils mask, then hair styles ..all in homes for proms, parties, events. ..I used to have a massage license. ..then received a rotators cuff injury. .so I don’t have a license now…I would like to offer reflexology. .in texas they say you don’t need a license for that only if reflexology is energy work…not malipulation. .which doesn’t make sense. ..they shouldn’t use the word reflexology. .oh…any help you can give me is awesome. .I’m in limbo…..your writing is so on point and understanding…I’m getting so many different answer…I want to be the makeup artist with our product line…mainly working with teens…for natural beautiful skin. Christina

  6. Thank for this article! I’d like to know if I need a special type of license , besides a business license, to open a make up studio where I would only be doing make up and styling hair with regular hot tools, no cutting , coloring, or chemicals on hair. (In California)

    Thank you !

    • Hi Hardy, I’d love to give you guidance on what you need to run a successful makeup studio. I offer private lessons and business mentoring over WebCam where I can give you advice on everything you need to know. Many artists sadly do fail when they open a studio, and I can give you the knowledge so that doesn’t happen to you. You can get all the information here: http://www.meeinc.me/businessmentoring/ and you can email Mee4Makeup@gmail.com to book.

  7. I am in school now for cosmetology and I don’t want to work in a salon at all, I want to do makeup and bridal hair or runways. I’m just trying to figure out if I even need a license for that? I don’t want to start my own businesses either. Thanks!

  8. Hi, this was very interesting information. Im glad you could clarify everything for a free lancer makeup artist from Delaware! It would be nice if you could come to the state to give some classes, I’m always willing to learn some more!

    • Hi Vanessa, I’m happy you found this article interesting. Are you in my Facebook Group “Mastering Makeup with Donna Mee” Be sure to join. Next classes are in Laguna Beach and then looking at another boot camp in paradise Cancun. I’d LOVE to see you there. You can email us at DonnaMeeIncInfo@gmail.com for any information on upcoming classes. xo

  9. Thank you so much for this information! I am a salon owner (hair and makeup) but we also do a lot of on-site weddings. All of our salon hair stylists are licensed but our makeup artists or not. EEEK! I didn’t realize that all makeup artists had to be licensed when doing makeup in salon, has this been the case for a long time? I’m freaking out! Also, I met another salon owner today that heard the law is changing Jan 1, 2017 for makeup artists and the criteria is getting stricter for them. Can you comment on this? Thank you!

    • Hello, Yes in a salon the makeup artists do need to be licensed. Artists that do not work in a salon do not require a license. Thank you xo

  10. I contacted the board and they agree with you on the makeup portion of it. Anybody can freelance and do makeup without a license. But freelance makeup artist are not allowed to do hair. Not even style hair because you are using hot tools to style their hair and that is a way of “changing the state of the hair” they told me that yes you would get fined for styling hair because you are legally not able to do hair. It is different for the film industry because you are not self employed. You are working for someone and they have other set of rules.

  11. This article just literally changed my life. I have been wanting to pursue freelance makeup artistry for over a year but haven’t pursued it because I was under the impression I needed a license. I currently work as a Registered Nurse and can’t afford to go back to cosmetology school. I already have a starter kit and everything but have never put it to use due to fear of breaking a law. I live in NH. Thank you so much!

  12. I emailed the IL state board to ask if a freelance makeup artist in IL needs to be licensed to apply makeup but offer nothing else, I received an email stating “Anyone applying makeup in the state of IL needs to be either a licensed cosmotologist or esthetician” I find this so confusing… I don’t want to spend the money to get my licence if its not needed, can you help me?! Thanks!

    • Sarah,
      Please re-read the article. It explains exactly why the state board continues to say what they do. State board of Cosmetology only governs what goes on inside of a salon. But they make blanket statements about licensing, as all they know is what happens inside of a salon. If you add the words, inside a salon to the beginning or end of any sentence they say… it’s no longer confusing, especially when you know that they purposefully or unknowingly leave that part out of all sentences.

  13. This is an excellent article and I have been practicing makeup for about three years but recently started making my services available to the public and doing freelance work. I was very concerned about not have a license and looking into schools and licencing requirements. So i am very thankful for the clarification!

  14. Thank you so much, I went to cosmetology school, got my license and it expired years ago, went corporate for a while, now I’m itching to get back in the beauty industry. My license is so many years expired, state board said I have to do it all over again. I just want to freelance now though. This was very helpful…thanks much!

  15. This article was very informative! I currently do free lance work, but I always wonder if I need some sort of a) cosmetology license and b) a business licensee?
    I live in the state of South Carolina.

    Thanks, xoxo JM

  16. Thanks so much for this I am in California, and I am a hairstylist but I don’t have my (license) nor do I work In a salon I simply work from home, I’ve been in a beauty school before but decided that it would be a waste of time Because my intentions after graduating was to simply work from home I never wanted to work in a salon or a spa and sometimes I feel like I need to go to school just to be liecened but like you said you will only get in touble if you work in a (salon/spa) which is pretty much self explanatory so thank you so much for this.

  17. I’ve been wondering this same exact thing I graduated from cosmetology school almost 10 years ago and got my license I worked for a couple of months then i stopped I had a boyfriend and then kids so my license is currently expired and I need to retake my state board which is a lot of $$$. I’ve always loved updos (hairstyling) that’s my passion I recently started again and getting weddings here and there so this was very useful for me to know I do not need to reinstate my license as long as I’m not working at a salon thank you!!

  18. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!
    My friend and I have been going over this exact type situation for about a month. I was explaining basically the same thing about it being a money maker, as she moved here from another state. Someone was jealous of my friend’s great work and success in such a short period of time and made a report to the State Board that she was not licensed to do makeup, (She is licensed to do tattooing and has diploma’s/certificates for makeup and lash training). I called and asked Cosmo School Directors/Owners and was told makeup was deregulated by our state, but nothing about on being in/working in a salon. So the other day I went down to our State Board Dept to inquire and got the round around and things you have stated in this blog that they would say about having to be licensed.
    Very informative and easily explained to understand. Although I believe some people are still confused because you are speaking of the state of CA. I know people want answers/direct answer for their questions/concerns. I’m almost certain there is a fee for a one on one webcam sessions (that only makes sense). What is needed is for the State Board Statutes and Administrative Codes of one’s state to be read and apply/compare to what you have stated against their State.
    Thank you again for such a great article/blog!!!
    Blessings, love and hugs <3

  19. I’ve got a friend who is being robbed by the owner of a salon… charging 50% for the spot, plus cost of product, won’t let her checkout the clients, doesn’t allow tips to be put on the credit card, doesn’t allow her to measure out her own product, removed her from the list of stylists on the website, etc. etc. etc. do you know if the owner of the salon can be reported to anyone?

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