The difference between Commercial Makeup and Professional Makeup

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As a Makeup artist and trainer, I’m always hearing stories of people complaining about their makeup looking white in their photos. The crazy thing is, they then go out and buy a foundation several shades darker because they think they got the wrong colour.

If your makeup matches your skin tone in person, yet looks pale in photos, I can tell you, it ain’t the colour… it’s the product.

Commercial Makeup – for the everyday customer

Most commercial makeup lines (brands sold in supermarkets and department stores) are designed for the everyday customer. People who want to look good every day, whether it be at work, for their special occasions, or whatever the reason us women wear makeup.

These brands supply products, ranging from cheap to insanely not cheap, for all skin types.  These products are designed to smell nice, look good, feel good, be easy to use and generally be as appealing to the consumer as possible. They need their customers to love their products, use and buy as much of them as possible for their business to grow.

Because the everyday consumer is generally not often in the photographic spotlight and they are more accustomed to touching up their makeup throughout the day, their makeup does not need to have the staying power, or photo-reflection of professional products. This allows the manufacturers to lower production costs by using less pigment, and more fillers, thickeners and other, often cheaper ingredients. Thus allowing for more profits. This is how business works, in most industries really.

It is a bit of a cosmetic world secret that if the product is designed to only last a few hours, you will use more through the day by touching up. The more you use, the more you buy.  As I said, it’s business.

Saying this, however this does not mean that a commercial product is of lesser value to the client.  If you love the products you buy from your supermarket or department store, then there is nothing wrong with using them. That brand is doing exactly what you want and need it to do and therefore is good value for money for you.

Professional Makeup – designed for a purpose

Professional makeup brands however, are designed to be used by makeup artists for photography, catwalk shows, weddings, movies, TV, theatre and other generally filmed occasions. To attract these professionals, the products must be:

  • long wearing
  • durable under strong stage and photographic lighting
  • be comfortable to wear
  • give good coverage without looking heavy
  • be easy to use
  • versatile
  • cost effective
  • and most importantly – reflect correctly in film and photos

These qualities ensure our clients are as happy as possible. Our brand choices can alter our reputation in the industry, so the right products are crucial.

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To achieve all these needs, professional brands need much higher pigments and quality of ingredients.

Most professional brands (especially those NOT sold commercially) can also be slightly cheaper than department store brands. When the cost vs longevity are weighed up, they are also often cheaper than supermarket brands too. I kid you not!  This allows for the makeup artist to earn a living as well.  Despite some beliefs, we do have bills and the need to eat too.

Pigment percentages in professional products can range up to 85% higher than in some commercial lines. Pigment gives you the colour, the coverage and the staying power. So to put it very simply, the higher the pigment the better the product is likely to be.

So why buy commercial if professional is so much better?

The answers for this could be that commercial is easier to find, habit, loyalty, or maybe changing brands is just too confusing and better the devil you know. And there is nothing wrong with any of those answers. Unless you have a photographic need, like a wedding. Then you may see regret for years to come in the form of a pale face in your photos.

How to tell which brands are professional

There are so many different brands out there and they all boast about being awesome. It can be hard to tell. Not to mention there are a few professional brands who also sell commercially, just to confuse you some more.

My general advice is, if it is a makeup artist’s own brand, like Laura Mercier, Becca, or Ben Nye for example, then it is most likely going to be professional.  Because if a makeup artist can’t use their own brand in photo shoots to promote it, then what is the point?

What you can also do, is ask a professional makeup artist. Preferably not one who is connected with a particular brand, as you may likely get roped into buying that brand and the information may be biased.

Also keep in mind, many retail cosmetic assistants are not qualified makeup artists.  So do a bit of research into your makeup artist. I have a blog about how to find a good one if you need some guidance.

If all else fails, feel free to comment below or email me.

Some of my faves are:

  • Ben Nye
  • Atelier
  • Graftobian
  • Kryolan
  • Paris Berlin
  • Gorgeous Cosmetics

FYI:  I do not represent any particular makeup brands and all my information is based on my thorough makeup education and my almost 2 decades of working as a professional makeup artist.