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Cosmetology Careers

Career Description

Cosmetologists provide beauty services, such as shampooing, cutting, coloring, and styling hair, and massaging and treating scalp. May also apply makeup, dress wigs, perform hair removal, and provide nail and skin care services.

Common Work Tasks

  • Cut, trim, shampoo, color, and style hair
  • Advise clients on how to care for their hair at home
  • Give manicures, pedicures, and scalp and facial treatments; provide makeup analysis; and clean and style wigs and hairpieces
  • Keep work stations clean and sanitize tools such as scissors and combs
  • Analyze patrons’ hair and other physical features to determine and recommend beauty treatment or suggest hair styles
  • Schedule client appointments
  • Bleach, dye, or tint hair, using applicator or brush
  • Update and maintain customer information records, such as beauty services provided

Other Job Titles

Cosmetologists are also known by other titles, including:

  • Hairdressers
  • Barbers
  • Hairstylists
  • Skin Care Specialists

Education,  Training, and Experience

Education and Training
A high school diploma or GED is required for some personal appearance workers in some States. In addition, most States require that barbers and cosmetologists complete a program in a State-licensed barber or cosmetology school. Programs in hairstyling, skin care, and other personal appearance services can be found in both high schools and in public or private postsecondary vocational schools.

Full-time programs in barbering and cosmetology usually last 9 months and may lead to an associate degree.  During their first weeks on the job, new workers may be given relatively simple tasks. Once they have demonstrated their skills, they are gradually permitted to perform more complicated procedures, such as coloring hair. As they continue to work in the field, more training usually is required to help workers learn the techniques particular to each salon and to build on the basics learned in cosmetology school.

Certification and Licensure
All States require cosmetologists to be licensed. Qualifications for a license vary by State, but generally a person must have a high school diploma or GED, be at least 16 years old, and have graduated from a State-licensed barber or cosmetology school. After graduating from a State approved training program, students take a State licensing examination. The exam consists of a written test and, in some cases, a practical test of styling skills or an oral examination. In many States, cosmetology training may be credited toward a barbering license, and vice versa, and a few States combine the two licenses.

Successful personal appearance workers should have an understanding of fashion, art, and technical design. They also must keep a neat personal appearance and a clean work area. Interpersonal skills, image, and attitude play an important role in career success. As client retention and retail sales become an increasingly important part of salons’ revenue, the ability to be an effective salesperson becomes ever more vital for salon workers. Some cosmetology schools consider “people skills” to be such an integral part of the job that they require coursework in that area. Business skills are important for those who plan to operate their own salons.


The median annual salary for a Cosmetologist is $22,000. The top 10 percent earn more than $41,000, and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $14,000.  Median earnings in the industries employing the largest number of cosmetologists are:

  • Personal Care Services - $26,190
  • Department Stores - $17,940
  • Employment Services - $28,980
  • Technical and Trade Schools - $25,610
  • Nursing Care Facilities - $25,800

Job Outlook

  • 2006-2016 Employment growth:  12%
  • Number of new jobs created 2006-2016: 77,000
  • Employment 2006 : 617,000
  • Employment 2016:  694,000
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