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Courtesy of Andrea Sailis

Has COVID-19 changed the beauty industry forever? Make-up artists weigh in


TextDominic Cadogan

As lockdown rules are lifted around the world, we explore the safety measures necessary for working creatives to protect themselves

To say that 2020 has been a year, is probably the biggest understatement ever. But, what a year. Whether you’ve been baking banana bread, shaving your head, or, more importantly, protesting against the unjust murders of George Floyd and other Black victims of police violence, the time has flown and now we’re in June. Halfway through the year already! 

As lockdown measures begin to lift around the world, the industries that have been on pause are reflecting on life after COVID-19 – though, polite reminder, the disease still exists without a vaccine, so we need to remain mindful. In the beauty industry, make-up artists are strategising how to begin taking on work again, given the close contact that is needed for them to do their jobs. 

Here, we speak to five make-up artists from New York, Milan, and London to investigate the precautions they’re taking to remain safe in the workplace and how they think the industry will be change. 

MARCELO GUTIERREZ, NEW YORK

How long have you been working as a MUA? What is your favourite part about it?

Marcelo Gutierrez: I've been working as a MUA for around six years. My favourite thing about it is working with so many talented artists that I admire and creating a long relationship together. 

When did you decide to start taking on jobs again?

Marcelo Gutierrez: I started to take on new jobs this month but very, very selectively. My main concern is production's diligence, I want to know everything is sanitised over and over along with keeping the team small.

What precautions are you taking to remain safe?

Marcelo Gutierrez: Firstly, I’m carrying hand sanitiser and wearing a mask at all times. I’m sanitising my work station, all products and tools in my kit, and keeping my workspace super organised, as well as separating all brushes between models. 

I make sure to wash my hands before and after each model and ask them if they have any concerns or questions just to make them feel safe. I decided on this after taking a Barbicide COVID-19 quiz for hair and make-up artists. 

“People are looking for beauty to distract them and bring them some lightheartedness to their daily lives. It’s important to share your artistry, but also to be aware that everything you do needs to be done very responsibly, both morally and ethically” – Marcelo Gutierrez

What do you think the importance of beauty/make-up is during these difficult times?

Marcelo Gutierrez: While the times are extremely testing and heavy, people are looking for beauty to distract them and bring them some lightheartedness to their daily lives. It’s important to share your artistry, but also to be aware that everything you do needs to be done very responsibly, both morally and ethically.

How do you think the beauty industry will change after COVID-19?

Marcelo Gutierrez: I hope the beauty industry prioritises quality over quantity. I don’t want to see so many shoots that lack purpose or substance and that are driven by only white, European talent. It’s irrelevant especially in the face of so many human rights issues at the forefront right now. 

EMILY WOOD, LONDON 

How long have you been working as a MUA? What is your favourite part about it? 

Emily Wood: Six years. I love idea generating and creating stuff that makes sense. I find this to be especially important when I’m working with talent on editorials/press shots. It’s helpful to draw inspiration from their nuances. Naturally, people can feel inhibited if their essence isn’t being shown. Enhancing inherent human beauty is always wonderful – but having said that, make-up for me has become less about this. Insecurities were definitely an exacerbation when I embarked on this journey and at 17, I soon realised that artistry is multifaceted and the main motive doesn’t need to be covering and concealing ‘imperfections’. 

When did you decide to start taking on jobs again? 

Emily Wood: Editorials that were put on hold, are ready to rock ‘n’ roll when we’re all feeling comfortable and it’s safe to do so. No dates have been set yet, but August seems favourable. 

What are your concerns about returning to work?

Emily Wood: Being a make-up artist involves behaviours that go completely against the actions we’ve all been asserting the last three months and breaking this habit will feel uneasy for a lot of us. One of the roles of a make-up artist is to ensure we’re providing a relaxed and trusted space – this pressure during uncertain times might be triggering for some of us. If you can, reach out with an idea to fellow creatives you feel wholesome around and see if they want to collaborate on some joyous personal projects. This is what I’ll be doing to help slowly introduce things. 

“Being a make-up artist involves behaviours that go completely against the actions we’ve all been asserting the last three months and breaking this habit will feel uneasy for a lot of us” – Emily Wood

What precautions are you taking to remain safe? How did you decide those were adequate?

Emily Wood: Wearing a face mask, shield, and gloves to create a more secure and attentive atmosphere. A metal spatula and palette will be our new best mates. Cream products will be more useful than ever. Sterilising all of our tools after every use with IPA.  I’ll be scraping everything out of its container with a spatula, onto a palette. That goes for pressed powders too – treating them as if they were loose powders. 

‘KUSH’ MiLK Mascara works wonderfully with disposable wands – one dip picks up enough product, thus reducing waste and leaving us with no room for cross-contamination. There are already spaces for us to educate ourselves further online and people going into more intricate detail on stringent hygiene.    

Have you discussed your concerns with other working creatives? What is the mood towards returning to work?

Emily Wood: I’ve been having visionary and productive chats more recently. The last three months have been very hard on a large number of people and it’s affected us all in different ways. I’m hopeful that this anxiety induced time will help create a more empathetic ambience. 

ANDREA SAILIS, MILAN

How long have you been working as a MUA? 

Andrea Sailis: I’ve worked as a MUA since 2010. I worked for seven years on counters (MAC, Make Up for Ever, Dolce & Gabbana, and Dior) but I now work as a freelance MUA in Milan.

What are your concerns about returning to work? 

Andrea Sailis: It will not be easy. I have a lot of concerns which aren’t about safety but mostly about the future. I’m not represented by an agency so I’m pretty worried about not getting enough jobs and not being able to pay my rent. I’m from Sardinia and there aren’t enough fashion jobs there. My worst nightmare would be to go back home and quit make-up. 

What precautions are you taking to remain safe? How did you decide those were adequate?

Andrea Sailis: I’m following the Italian government safety rules for the beauty industry. I have a sanitary dressing gown, FFP2 mask without the valve, a safety visor, gloves, and goggles. I’m also following all the sanitising rules for my kit too. 

Have you discussed your concerns with other working creatives? What is the mood towards returning to work?

Andrea Sailis: I discuss it every day with my colleagues. We are all pretty worried about the situation but we are happy to go back to work – we just couldn’t wait! This is what makes us feel alive. We hope that in the future we won’t have to wear all the precautions because it’s not easy to work when you wear them, especially at this time of year.

What do you think the importance of beauty/make-up is during these difficult times?

Andrea Sailis: Beauty and make-up has always been important during difficult times, even in the past. I know a lot of people wore make-up every day in quarantine just to feel alive. I spent the time applying make-up on myself and playing with colours, it was like a therapy that helped me get through quarantine.

SIMONA SVANTNEROVA, LONDON

How long have you been working as a MUA? What is your favourite part about it? 

Simona Svantnerova: I started just under a year ago, when I moved to London. I love the creativity of it. It’s amazing what make-up products can do. Make-up is an art form! 

When did you decide to start taking on jobs again? What are your concerns about returning to work? 

Simona Svantnerova: Following the government’s updates, make-up artists and hair stylists are allowed to work from July 4, so I’m planning to start working after that and already have a couple of shoots organised for then. 

As a make-up artist, I have the responsibility of working safely on models and talent. One of the main concerns I have is figuring out how to maximise the safety and hygiene on set, especially when on outdoor locations where it is very difficult to set up. Sets like this get very messy, especially when the make-up is experimental and unplanned. It’s important now to realise that hygiene comes first, then creativity. Good hygiene habits are a sign of professionalism.

“As a make-up artist, I have the responsibility of working safely on models and talent. It’s important now to realise that hygiene comes first, then creativity. Good hygiene habits are a sign of professionalism” – Simona Svantnerova

What precautions are you taking to remain safe? How did you decide those were adequate? 

Simona Svantnerova: The government has not yet released the guidelines on safety measures for make-up artists and hair stylists. However, after closely monitoring the situation in different countries, all of them introduced compulsory face masks and some of them even face shields

Of course, you also need to keep your kit sanitary, with clean and sanitised brushes and make-up products. Upon arrival on the set, I sanitise my work surface and place a clean towel on it. Make-up products that are used on the model are depotted on a stainless palette with a spatula. I wouldn’t recommend using plastic palettes as they are porous and thus can be a breeding ground for bacteria. 70 per cent alcohol and a sanitiser is a must in everyone’s kit. It’s important to keep yourself and others around you safe

What do you think the importance of beauty/make-up is during these difficult times? 

Simona Svantnerova: During the pandemic, I noticed design started gravitating towards gore and dystopia and horror became one of the most popular genres. Fear and anxiety was on the increase especially at the beginning of the pandemic. Perhaps this is the moment for a different make-up trend to emerge as a reaction to all the fear that is the new normal in the world of viral outbreaks, violence, and economic, social, and geographical instability. 

As a make-up artist I have the power to offer visual escapism to my audience. In my recent personal project that I did during lockdown called Phantasmagoria: Let these bizarre days be bizarre, I created make-up looks that have surfaces with a visceral and strange presence. 

How do you think the beauty industry will change after COVID-19? 

Simona Svantnerova: The next decade heralds an age of uncertainty, which will allow new voices to be heard and new solutions to emerge. I hope to see more costumers and make-up artists engaging in natural, green beauty which is more beneficial to the skin and our environment. Hygiene standards have to improve in order to make our clients, models, and talent feel safe in our chairs. After COVID-19, I hope every make-up artist finds a way to keep their kit and set as sanitary as possible to prevent the spread of virus and contamination. There is no excuse for being sloppy with your hygiene. 

HILA KARMAND, LONDON

How long have you been working as a MUA? What is your favourite part about it?

Hila Karmand: I’ve been a make-up artist for over 10 years, I started working for MAC Cosmetics and then moved into session work. I love having the ability to make people feel good.

What are your concerns about returning to work?

Hila Karmand: I haven’t been around new people other than my family since March, so it was always going to be concerning! The main concern was wearing PPE the whole time you’re on set, and travelling etc. I know eventually it will become the new norm, and become natural to us all, but I think it’ll take some getting used to in the beginning. I’m not sure how I’ll find my first trip, because I am sure that will be a new experience, but I am looking forward to properly being back. My elder sister is a GP, so I spoke to her in-depth about keeping myself and my clients safe and what the best precautions were to take to keep us safe.

“It’s super important we all try and follow the strict rules to protect each other. During a time like this there is no room for errors or mistakes” – Hila Karmand 

What precautions are you taking to remain safe?

Hila Karmand: My agency has set guidelines between us and our clients which are completely in our best interest, so we will all be doing our best to follow them. It’s super important we all try and follow the strict rules to protect each other. Over the years, I have seen the hygiene standards drop drastically, probably due to social media. People assume it is the norm to apply lipsticks /glosses from bullets when it isn’t and that was never hygienic unless you have your own kit for each person.

The two metre rule while being on set is almost impossible for us to be compliant with. However, there are many things we can do to help raise our hygiene standards as well as protect ourselves. Such as wearing gloves constantly, minimum skin to skin contact, having a face mask as well as a face shield, disinfecting surface tops before starting work, using antibacterial sprays to sanitise your products, and most importantly never double dipping and using clean sanitised brushes. I also deep clean my kit when I get home. During a time like this there is no room for errors or mistakes.

Have you discussed your concerns with other working creatives?

Hila Karmand: I found after speaking to many artists their concerns were pretty much the same as mine. We’re all thinking about how difficult it is to work with a mask, or how to apply make-up while wearing gloves. These are simple things that have been set in place for our safety and after a few times, we’ll get used to it. 

I also think many artists are concerned about the number of shoots that have taken place during this pandemic without the presence of an artist. It makes people feel like they are not necessary to have on set as some of these models and clients have done an extremely great job. However, I think we specialise in what we do and it’s extremely necessary to have us be a part of the team – we are experts in our field and we help elevate every shoot that we are a part of.

What do you think the importance of beauty/make-up is during these difficult times?

Hila Karmand: The beauty and make-up industry is part of self-care. It’s so nice to do your make-up and get dressed up, it can be so uplifting to your mood. I’m not saying we need make-up but everyone enjoys a pamper with a new beauty regime, and putting make-up on to make you glow and feel better. Something so simple has helped so many people during this period feel happier!

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