Coronavirus Diaries: My Job Is to Touch Other People’s Faces

Now what?

A woman has makeup applied over her face, with a medical mask draped over it that reads Coronavirus Diaries.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Coronavirus Diaries is a series of dispatches exploring how the coronavirus is affecting people’s lives. For the latest public health information, please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. For Slate’s coronavirus coverage, click here.

This as-told-to essay from a full-time makeup artist based in Toronto has been edited and condensed for clarity from an interview with Cristina Montemayor.

As a makeup artist, it’s our job to touch many people in a day and be in small rooms with people for hours on end. You could give someone pinkeye or worse, so you have to limit the spread of these things as much as possible. I don’t want to have that guilt on me if I were to do that to someone.

I think people really underestimate the potential of what we can spread as makeup artists. What we do is the perfect vehicle to pass a virus onto another person. We’re in very close proximity to our clients, and we’re touching multiple people within a small space. You really can’t get any closer than this.

My entire makeup and hair kit is valued at about $5,000 to $8,000. If I had any fear that someone I worked on contracted the virus, I would probably just scrap any powder cosmetics that I used on that person that day. With how I work and sanitize everything, there are certain things I wouldn’t have to get rid of because they wouldn’t be contaminated, like cream products, because I only scrape off what I need onto a stainless steel palette, and I keep lids closed whenever I’m working. If I had any inclination that someone sneezed on an open eye shadow palette, I would immediately get rid of it.

My father worked as a health inspector, so my standard levels of hygiene are quite high. In terms of my hygiene practices, nothing is different between what I do now and what I was doing before the spread of the coronavirus. If I’m working with multiple people, I wash my hands with soap and water between each application. In between clients, I spray my powder products with 70 percent isopropyl alcohol. I have multiple brush sets, and I don’t use the same brush on more than one person. I clean my brushes, including disinfecting the handles, after each shoot day. All of the outer packaging of my products and everything in palettes gets disinfected with lights after each client.

I consider these practices as just another part of the job to ensure that there’s no passage of anything from one client to another. This is your responsibility whenever you take on this profession. Obviously, with the coronavirus spreading, everyone is on high alert, but makeup artists could pass any virus to anyone at any time.

The problem in this industry is that people who need the work will show up in any condition, even when it is our job to touch people’s faces. I know how hard it is for people who are freelancing and self-employed not to go work, but I’m amazed at how many people show up to jobs sick.

With the coronavirus, what keeps me safe is just practices that we should be doing as people who touch people’s faces for a living. It should be standard practice. Because our job is not licensed, these hygiene practices go by the wayside. There’s no one checking in; there are no regulations that you have to comply with. Personally, if I’m sick, I’m not going to work. I’m fine with turning down jobs. I’d rather make the safer, healthier decision for everyone at this point.

But myself getting sick would have a huge impact, because I would be out of work for a number of days or weeks. Economically speaking, I am concerned. If there’s no work because people are afraid to be on set and shoot, I would be out of a job. If weddings get canceled, my primary source of income would be completely depleted.

As far as how my clients are reacting to fears of the virus, I don’t provide reassurance because I’m not coming at this from a medical background. I would be lying if I were to assure them that everything is 100 percent coronavirus-free. If my clients ask me specifically, I’m happy to tell them exactly the process of how I keep things hygienic. I can inform them of my practices, and if they choose to have their makeup done or not, that’s totally up to them.

What we do as makeup artists is prime breeding ground for spreading viruses. If you suspect that your hygiene practices are not up to par, now is the time to bear down and make sure that everything is as clean as you can make it, that you’re washing your hands frequently throughout the day, and that you’re making sure your brushes are clean. I think anyone who is not looking at this with some sort of concern and is not doing things proactively to prepare themselves at this point is kind of foolish.