Unscripted TV

Hair and make-up assistant

Also known as: Assistant stylist

Entry level

Hair and make-up assistant

What does a hair and make-up assistant do?

Hair and make-up assistants work for designers, stylists or artists. The types of make-up and hairstyles they help with depends on the type of production they are on. They could be helping with the hire or purchase of wigs for a designer, sourcing make-up products for a make-up artist or assisting a stylist with a celebrity’s hair. 

The role of a hair and make-up assistant can vary in seniority too, depending on the show. On many productions this is the entry-level role, where you may be required to run errands for your department, clean brushes and prepare make-up kits. Or you could find yourself working as junior stylist, assisting a hair or make-up artist with the appearance of on-screen guests. Assistants with more experience are often given more responsibility for key performers or presenters. 

On big-budget shows, hair and make-up assistants may be part of a team ensuring everyone on screen looks ready for recordings. Once shooting starts, they are often on set to touch up make-up or maintain hair, and when filming is over they assist with make-up and product removal, cleaning and storing equipment.

Hair and make-up assistants are usually freelance, unless attached to large in-house art departments. They will often be requested by designers or stylists they’ve worked well with before.


What’s a hair and make-up assistant good at?

  • Styling hair: be trained and have experience of working with every type of hair and the use of hair accessories, products and equipment  
  • Make-up: understand colour, shading, skin tone and texture, trained in using make-up; consider entire appearances, including hands, nails and any visible skin
  • Knowledge of products: be up-to-date and able to use the latest products and equipment safely and effectively, understand allergies, how to test and what to do should a client react adversely
  • Attention to detail: spot and deal with any design or styling flaws or issues during filming, keep the department or location organised and tidy
  • Communication: work well with others, listen and respond to designer’s or artists’ needs, be trustworthy, build good relationships with PR and brands who may supply products

Tools of the trade

You will build up your kit over time. To start with, get a set bag that should include:

  • Hair styling brushes, such as a paddle brush, barrel brush and Denman brush
  • Hair combs, such as a tail comb, wide tooth comb and cutting comb
  • Set of make-up brushes
  • Powders, puffs and sponges
  • Tissues, wet wipes, cotton pads
  • Hair dryer and straighteners
  • Dry wax, sticky wax, wet gel
  • Dry shampoo and hairspray
  • Bobby pins

Who does a hair and make-up assistant work with?

A hair and make-up assistant works directly to a designer, make-up artist or hair stylist, or all three. They also work with everyone and anyone on the production, in particular the costume department, to ensure they all create a complete and coherent 'look' for any contributors featuring in a programme. They have contact with studio and technical staff, members of production and have regular updates with the production management team regarding budgets and schedules.

How do I become a hair and make-up assistant?

Hair and make-up assistants are often the entry level role in the department. Some start as runners, but others go straight in as assistants. To get in, you need to develop your craft. Get in touch with hair and make-up artists and ask if you can shadow them on productions. Hair and make-up artists usually enter the industry through one of three routes: from hairdressing and barbering, beauty therapy or stage and theatre hair and make-up backgrounds.

At school or college:
Take one of the following Level 3 qualifications:

  • VTCT Diploma in Theatrical and Media Make-up
  • City & Guilds Advanced Technical Diploma in Theatrical, Special Effects and Media Make-up Artistry
  • City & Guilds Advanced Technical Diploma in Barbering
  • City & Guilds Advanced Technical Diploma in Hairdressing
  • City & Guilds Advanced Technical Diploma in Media Make-up Artistry
  • City & Guilds Diploma in Barbering
  • City & Guilds Diploma in Hairdressing for Colour Technicians
  • City & Guilds Diploma in Hairdressing for Cutting and Styling Technicians
  • City & Guilds Diploma in Women’s Hairdressing
  • VTCT Diploma in Hairdressing for Colour Technicians
  • VTCT Diploma in Theatrical and Special Effects and Hair and Media Make-up
  • VTCT Diploma/Extended Diploma in Beauty Make-up Techniques
  • VTCT Diploma/Extended Diploma in Hairdressing
  • VTCT Diploma/Extended Diploma in Barbering
  • VTCT Combined Diploma in Hairdressing

Get an apprenticeship:
An apprenticeship is a job with training, so it’s a great opportunity to earn as you learn. In the past, it has been challenging to find jobs as an apprentice within production companies, although there is now a Hair, make-up, prosthetics and wigs apprenticeship standard specifically designed for people working in theatre or film and TV. It might also be worth looking for a job as an apprentice. This will help you develop your craft and create a body of work for a portfolio that you can use to find your way into film and TV drama at a later point. Check out What’s an apprenticeship?  to learn more about apprenticeships and find an apprenticeship to learn how to find one in your region, or approach companies directly. Go to ScreenSkills information on apprenticeships for the main apprenticeship schemes in film and television.

Volunteer to do hair and make-up for student films or amateur theatre. The more time you can spend doing hair or make-up, the better. Work on a make-up concession or in a photographic studio. Get a part-time job in a hair salon or barber shop. The more you can demonstrate having the necessary skills, the better.

Build a portfolio:
 This is essential. Go to build your hair and make-up portfolio for details of how to do this.

Get work experience:
Try to get work experience by writing to hair and make-up professionals and asking if they offer any. Keep an eye out for work experience opportunities at the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, ITN, Sky and the PACT Indie Diversity Training Scheme.

Take a short course:
Hone your skills in hair and make-up by taking a specialist course. Go to the list of training courses recommended by ScreenSkills to see if there is one in hair and make-up. We recognise courses with our ScreenSkills Select award where they offer training in the relevant software, dedicated time to building a portfolio and have strong links with the TV industry.

Get to know people in the unscripted TV industry by attending events. Meet professionals and ask them questions about their work, while demonstrating interest in and knowledge of the industry. Offer to provide them with your professional contact details and try to stay in touch with them. Go to how to network well to learn how to do this.

Network online:
Create a LinkedIn profile. See if there are Facebook pages or other social media groups for people making unscripted TV in your area. There might even be groups for runners and trainees. Join them. Create a ScreenSkills profile. There are a lot of crewing agencies that will charge you to be on their books. Sign up to the free ones initially. Wales ScreenNorthern Ireland Screen and other areas offer free crew databases. Find a film office near you and get connected. If you do sign up to paid sites, make sure they specialise in the areas in which you’re interested.

Search for jobs:
Research unscripted TV production companies that you’d like to work for and watch the programmes that they make. Regularly check their websites and job listings websites to see if they are advertising for roles. You can also send in a short speculative letter with your CV to the production manager. Register your CV on websites like The Talent Manager, which is used by most broadcasters and independent production companies when looking for staff. StartinTV offers tips on creating your CV and attending interviews, as well as some advice for your first day working in TV.

You might also be interested in…

Being a hair and make-up trainee in film and TV drama.

Further resources