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5 Steps to Becoming a Professional Hair Stylist

Research what it takes to become a professional hair stylist. Learn about education and licensure requirements, key job responsibilities, employment outlook and average wages to find out if this is the career for you.

What is a Hair Stylist?

A hairstylist inspects an individual's hair and scalp to discuss and/or recommend style options and, if necessary, proper treatments (for conditions such as breakage or dandruff). They are able to wash, color, condition, cut, dry and/or chemically change hair upon request. They are responsible for cleaning and disinfecting their utensils and work spaces. If they operate their own salon, they may also be responsible for handling business matters, such as budgeting and hiring staff. The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Training Required Cosmetology or barber program
Licensure Requirements All states require hair stylists to be licensed
Key Responsibilities Grooming, cleaning work spaces, physical stamina and time management
Job Growth (2018-2028) 8% (for all hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists)*
Average Salary (2018) $30,190 (for all hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists)*

Source: *United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Complete a Training Program

Training programs for hair stylists are available at community colleges, beauty schools and cosmetology schools. Programs generally last between nine months and two years. A 2-year program offered through a community college may culminate in an associate degree. Courses are offered in hair coloring, cutting, shampooing, styling and applying permanent waves. Some programs include courses in skin care, manicuring, cosmetology and salon management. You should ensure that the program you choose is approved by the state for licensing purposes.

Step 2: Obtain a License

All states require professional hair stylists to obtain a license; requirements vary by state. However, most require the completion of an approved cosmetology program and licensing exam. You should contact your local state licensing board to apply for a license.

Step 3: Find a Job

Most hair stylists are employed in salons. Other job opportunities include spas, resorts and nursing care facilities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), almost half of all hair stylists are self-employed. Many rent a station or chair at established salons. The BLS projects that jobs for hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists will increase by 8% from 2018 to 2028. This group of workers earned an average wage of $14.51 an hour in May 2018.

Step 4: Seek Professional Certifications

Hair stylists can seek professional certification in specialty areas, such as hair color and hair extensions, to demonstrate their knowledge and ability in the area. Certifications can come from manufacturers of hair products or professional organizations.

Step 5: Career Advancement in Professional Hair Styling

Professional hair stylists start in entry-level positions and advance by increasing their clientele list and taking on more responsibility within a salon. Some advance to become salon managers. Business-savvy stylists might open their own salons. Others teach cosmetology or become sales representatives for beauty-related products.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Alternative careers include manicurists/pedicurists and skin care specialists. Manicurists and pedicurists clean, shape and decorate fingernails and toenails. Skincare specialists beautify the face and body, and they recommend products and options for skin conditions and problems. These options generally require a postsecondary certificate or diploma from an approved school.