Cosmetologist: Career Summary, Job Outlook, and Training Requirements

Research what it takes to become a cosmetologist. Learn about training requirements, licensure, job outlook and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Culinary Arts degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Cosmetologist?

A cosmetologist provides beauty services to clients. As a cosmetologist, you'll work with clients' makeup and skin. You'll provide facial and scalp treatments, and may treat artificial hair. Cosmetologists must have good customer service and communication skills, and may need additional business skills if they are self-employed.

Other useful information is provided in the table below.

Training Required Technical diploma, certificate or associate's degree
Education Field of Study Cosmetology
Key Skills Attention to detail, physical stamina, creativity, time management
Licensure All states require cosmetologists to be licensed
Job Growth (2014-2024) 10% (for all hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists)*
Median Salary (2015)$23,660 (for all hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Job Duties of a Cosmetologist?

As a cosmetologist, you may begin with a client consultation where you talk to your client about the look they want or recommend hair styling or makeup options. Next, you will analyze the condition of their hair, skin and nails. Finally, you will begin providing the agreed upon service. These may include shampooing, cutting, shaping, coloring, tinting, perming, straightening or braiding hair; applying facial or scalp treatments; shaping eyebrows; manicuring and polishing nails. Other duties include cleaning your work area and sanitizing your equipment.

Although they aren't formal requirements, a well-tended image and an engaging, personable attitude are skills that could help with customer retention. If you're self-employed, you will also need skills in marketing, retail sales, bookkeeping and business administration.

Where Can I Work?

Your employer options include beauty salons, day spas, resorts, department stores and nursing homes. You could also lease space at a salon, provide your own supplies and be self-employed. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists held 348,010 positions as of May 2015 ( Employment for hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists is projected to increase by 10% from 2014-2024. New job opportunities were likely to arise from general population growth, retirements and worker turnover.

What Education or Training Is Available?

Private beauty schools and community colleges offer diploma, certificate and associate's degree programs in cosmetology. Programs at all levels acquaint you with the properties of hair, skin and nails. You also learn the basic cosmetology techniques and methods. Hair care topics might include cutting, styling, coloring and lightening. Makeup application, chemical peels, cleansing and massage are possible skin care topics. Nail care touches on such topics as extensions, polishing, manicures and pedicures. Courses may also touch on salon operations, safety procedures and customer service.

How Do I Obtain a License?

All states have licensing requirements for cosmetologists. With some variations, you will find the path to licensing generally includes the completion of a state-approved cosmetology program and passage of a licensing exam. Exams consist of a written test and, in some states, a practical skills test or oral exam. Cosmetology training or barbering training may be used towards a cosmetology license in many states. A few states issue combined cosmetology and barbering licenses.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Those considering a career in cosmetology may also want to consider working as manicurists/pedicurists or as skincare specialists. Manicurists and pedicurists typically treat clients' fingernails and toenails. Skincare specialist provide skin treatments to clients, including hair removal and facials. Professionals in both of these careers typically work in salons, although skincare specialists may also work in medical offices.

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