Freelance Life

The Impacts of Working for Free

In the second instalment of our series on ethics: what they are and why they matter, Lou + Khandiz examine the social and financial impacts of working for free as a beauty practitioner.


Photograph of a table with a makeup artists kit strewn across to illustrate the costs of free work as a beauty professional

Table of Contents


This is the second instalment of the series on ethics, what they are and why they matter. 

In our previous chapter, we discussed the difference between ethics and ethos and deep-dived into animal welfare and some of the human rights issues in the beauty supply chain. 

In this chapter, we are going to take a look at the financial and social sustainability impacts of working for free.  

There are very few other industries on earth where a request to work for free would be entertained, so why is it so endemic in the fashion and, more recently, influencer spaces?

What is the real cost of free work?

Working for free is not a prerequisite or rite of passage into the beauty industry. It is however very commonplace. All of us at CBU have done our ‘fair share’ of free work, fair being an interesting word here. As a conscious beauty practitioner, we actively think about Fairtrade for those involved in the making of our products, we must also extend that thinking closer to home too.

In order to create a sustainable working practice, and indeed a sustainable future, we need to think about it on all levels, our personal businesses and finances included. Continually working for free is not sustainable, for us as individuals, and for the industry as a whole.

Of course, anyone who works as a makeup artist, sessions stylist, nail tech or skin care specialist will know the physical cost of products. So, using them up on jobs in which you aren’t getting paid for (or benefit from in some way other than “exposure”) doesn’t make very good business sense. And, what about the other costs of running your business? Insurance, marketing and communicating? These real costs affect your ability to pay your bills and other living costs.

None of us is unaware of the financial implications, and yet there are many artists out there who still participate in working for free. Joining a union like BECTU can offer you some benefit and support, but they are not widely recognised in the fashion industry and therefore not enforced – and ultimately, it comes down to the individual to not accept commercial work without compensation.  

Finding a Balance Between Gaining Experience + Working for Free

Gaining experience and building a body of work are of course an important part of our job. However, it is important to recognise at what point the balance changes. Consider this before agreeing to work for free – how are you benefiting from it? Will you learn, will it improve your skills, will you be able to use it in your portfolio, can you get a testimonial for your website? If not, then walk away. Value yourself and your time. Khandiz explores this further in her great article 7 Ethical Dilemmas of a Freelance Beauty Professional.

Free work also creates a social divide. If working for free is a requirement to climb the career ladder’, then immediately those who cannot afford it become excluded. In addition, working for free can lower rates for everyone. It can also create and perpetuate the mentality ‘why pay someone if someone else will do it for free.’


Part of being a conscious beauty professional means that we need to consider far more than what products we use in our practice. It means making choices for our careers, but also being mindful of how our decisions impact our community (aka. our peers and the industry as a whole).

Accepting jobs that are benefiting the financial bottom line of brands – big and small – without benefiting your own needs means that you are doing yourself and your peers a disservice and perpetuating exploitation in the industry. 

Remember…it’s about quality over quantity! And, by being part of a collective…a community like CBU, we can stand up for ourselves and each other,  together. 

In our upcoming chapters, we will explore in more detail:

  • Exploited Natural Ingredients; their Impact on Biodiversity and Indigenous Communities;
  • The Ethical Issues with Carbon-Offsetting, Charities and Systemic Racism;
  • Harassment + Bullying at Work

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