How Do I Become a Hair Specialist?

Research what it takes to become a hair specialist. Learn about education requirements, job responsibilities, licensure and salary information to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Nail Technology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Hair Specialist?

Hair specialists (also known as hairstylists or hairdressers) are professionals with expertise in the cutting and styling of different hair types. These individuals work with clients in creating a hairstyle that is satisfactory to the client.

Common tasks include shortening the length of the hair via cutting, styling the hair with techniques such as perms and layering and sometimes coloring the hair with dyes and other treatments. Some hair specialists will specifically focus on hair coloring. In addition, the hair stylist will often shampoo and brush a client's hair in preparation for the styling. Providing hair care tips and recommendations for products may also fall under the hair specialist's responsibilities.

Since the specialist may spend long periods with clients, strong interpersonal skills will prove useful, as will technical precision, physical stamina and a solid knowledge of hair types and current hairstyle trends.

Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this field.

Education Required Vocational diploma, certificate or associate's degree
Training Required Apprenticeship in lieu of postsecondary training
Key Responsibilities Professionally clean, cut and design clients' hair, give hair consultations, order products, maintain client records
Licensure Required State licensure required
Job Growth (2014-2024) 10%* (hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists)
Average Salary (2015) $28,770* (hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Hair Specialist Education

If you'd like to become a hair specialist, you'll need to receive your education through a state-approved and accredited cosmetology program. Cosmetology courses can be found in community colleges, vocational schools and private institutions. Programs vary in length depending on what you want to learn, but many take at least nine months to complete. You can choose among diploma, certificate or associate's degree programs.

Courses and training sessions in these programs teach you chemical restructuring, hair pressing and permanent waving, as well as practices in hygiene, sanitation, first aid and bacteriology. Lessons specific to hair care and artistry let you practice with theories in hair coloring, advanced hair designing and shaping using cutting methods and a variety of hair products. Some programs also include business management, marketing and accounting studies that teach you how to run a salon. You could receive hands-on training in simulated environments, work co-ops or internships, and some schools offer student services to the public.

What Will I Be Qualified To Do?

As a hair specialist, you'll use your skills to professionally clean, cut and design clients' hair. You'll perform tinting, coloring and bleaching services, deep cleaning and conditioning treatments, chemical applications and special occasion styling. You'll be proficient with salon equipment, such as scissors, blow dryers, curling irons, razors and trimmers. Other tasks could entail scheduling appointments with your clients, giving hair consultations, ordering products and maintaining client records.

Can I Start Working After I Graduate?

All states require that you become licensed in order to practice cosmetology or salon services. After you graduate from a cosmetology program and before applying to the state board for licensing, you might be required to complete a 6-month, supervised apprenticeship. Your academic program might offer sufficient experience to substitute for some or all the apprenticeship requirement, though you should verify any experience regulations with the state.

Once you are ready to take your licensing examination, you'll have to pass written and oral tests, as well as demonstrate your practical job skills. Licensing requirements vary by state, but all require that you completed a state-licensed cosmetology program.

What Salary Could I Expect to Earn?

Wages for hair specialists vary based on experience levels and work locations. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists earned average annual salaries around $28,770 in 2015 (www.bls.gov). The highest wages were paid to hair specialists who worked in outpatient care centers, earning $40,480 per year, according to the BLS. Professional hair stylists and specialists that made more than the national average were reported to work in Washington D.C., Hawaii, New Jersey, Washington State and Massachusetts.

What Are Some Related Alternative Occupations?

As part of the beauty industry, hair specialists perform duties specific to a certain aspect of an individual's appearance. Other beauty specialists will focus on different aspects. For example, manicurists and pedicurists help clean and beautify the fingernails and toenails, respectively. Skin care specialists, on the other hand, provide beauty and wellness guidance for a person's face and skin. Cosmetologists can provide beauty services for the face and the hair, while offering tips on make-up and cosmetics as well.

In the haircare industry, barbers also cut and treat hair, primarily for men. For this and the aforementioned beauty-related professions, licensure is required. Prospective professionals may complete a program through an accredited cosmetology or vocational school, potentially earning an associate's degree.

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