How to Become a

Cosmetologist

The complete career guide to be a Cosmetologist: salary, job growth, employers, best schools, and education you may need to get started.

Why We Love It

  • $28,770
    Potential Avg. Salary
  • 9.8%
    Job Growth Rate
  • Growing Demand
    Job Outlook
  • Creativity Focused
    Career Attribute

Cosmetologists are beauty specialists that are capable of performing a variety of roles. Cosmetologists may work as hair stylists, nail technicians, barbers, or makeup artists, or they may work in spas and provide massages, facials, or laser hair removal. Usually, cosmetologists focus on one of these areas.


What is a Cosmetologist?

The following job responsibilities are common for individuals in cosmetologist roles:

  • Wash, cut, color, perm, and style hair for men, women, and children
  • Perform manicures and pedicures
  • Perform spa services like facials, massages, and laser hair removal
  • Apply makeup and recommend colors and products that enhance natural beauty
  • Recommend and sell hair care, nail care, and skin care products

A Day in the Life

Almost all beauty-related careers require completion of cosmetology school, so cosmetologists are individuals who have been educated in a variety of beauty processes and techniques. Many cosmetologists move into hair styling after graduation, but cosmetologists are not limited to working as hair stylists or barbers. With a degree from a cosmetology school, cosmetologists can qualify to work as nail technicians, makeup artists, hair stylists, and barbers, and they may also provide spa services.

While the basics of all of these techniques are taught in most cosmetology schools, aspiring cosmetologists usually choose an area of focus for their studies and later career. A cosmetologist’s area of focus dictates when he/she will do on a day-to-day basis. Nail technicians clean, cut, file, and polish fingernails and toenails; hair stylists wash, cut, color, perm, and style hair; and makeup artists apply makeup and help individuals choose colors and types of makeup that enhance their natural beauty.

Some cosmetologists also work in spas. Along with their cosmetology training, they choose to study massage therapy, skin care and therapies, and laser hair removal processes. These cosmetologists perform a variety of services as spas, such as massages, facials, microdermabrasion, laser hair removal, blackhead extraction, and many more. In large spas, cosmetologists may rotate to provide a variety of services, filling in or stylists, manicurists, and facial technicians as needed to service customers.

Typical Work Schedule

Most cosmetologists work in salons or at home as independent contractors and set their own working hours. This is a huge part of this career’s appeal…the flexibility of the schedule and ability to make your own hours.  Most actually work through appointments rather than a fixed schedule.  People can thus squeeze in either a full-time or part-time workload based on their needs.  As you build up your client base, you are free to set their appointments according to your schedule. As a result, it is typically a great choice for students to finance their studies, working moms or dads, or adults seeking additional income to improve their income.

Cosmetologists may also be hired as an employee for a business.  In that case, they work around 8 hours per day, but the schedule could be shifted earlier or later during a normal workday depending on hours of operation and your desired schedule. It is also quite common for salons to be open on weekends or at least on Saturdays. So, a typical working pattern for a cosmetologist is to work 6 days weekly.

Projected Job Growth

Cosmetics have grown in popularity and become more important these days. This can be attributed mainly to the influence of heavy marketing and advertising campaigns, and the social media as Instagram and Facebook. This resulted in growing demand for cosmetologists around the world particularly in high income countries. The demand increases as a result of the growing population. Statistics from the BLS show that the demand for cosmetologists will increase by 8% from 2018 to 2028 which is more than the average for other jobs.

Cosmetologist Specializations

  • Hair stylists wash, cut, trim, color, perm, and style hair for women, men, and children.
  • Barbers wash, cut, trim, color, and style hair for male clientele, and also trim and shape beards.
  • Makeup artists apply makeup to clients and help client choose products and colors that enhance their natural beauty.
  • Nail technicians perform manicures and pedicures.
  • Spa technicians provide massage therapy, facials, and specialized services like microdermabrasion and laser hair removal.

Typical Employers

Cosmetologists can work for salons which can be small businesses with a single branch or a salon chain such as Great Clips, Fantastic Sams, Sport Clips, Supercuts or Cost Cutters. They may also choose to run their own salon or apply for a license to serve people at home. For the most part, cosmetologists are independent contractors whether they work at one of these larger chains or not. As you grow your client base and build a name for yourself, one of the many paths to higher pay is to begin working on celebrities or other high net-worth clients. Celebrity stylists include famous names as David Mallett, Serge Normant, Marie Robinson, Hiro Haraguchi and Tracey Cunningham, are good examples. Stylists can also work for fashion show to prepare the models participating in the show. This usually involves more work as they are asked to prepare many models at the same time.


How To Become a Cosmetologist

All states require cosmetologists to be licensed to work in their field. To become a licensed cosmetologist, you must attend cosmetology school after graduating from high school. Cosmetology schools are vocational institutions that teach students the techniques and best practices of hair styling, manicures and pedicures, makeup application, and skin care. After graduating from cosmetology school, you’ll be able to become licensed and begin working as a cosmetologist in your state of residence.

While in cosmetology school, you’ll want to focus your coursework in the specialization you hope to work in during your career. While you’ll certainly take general education courses in all of the cosmetology disciplines, you’ll want to focus your electives on a specific discipline. Aspiring hairdressers will want to focus their coursework on hair cutting, styling, and treatments, and aspiring nail technicians will want to focus their coursework on manicures, pedicures, and applying artificial nails.

After graduating, most cosmetologists start off working as an employee for a salon or spa. After gaining professional experience and building your client base, you may be able to move into self-employment, renting a booth at a hair or nail salon. Eventually, you may have enough clients to start your own cosmetology business. Some cosmetologists open their own salons or spas, some offer their services out of their own homes, and some offer mobile cosmetology services, traveling to client’s houses for appointments.


Cosmetologist Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

National Anual Salary

Low Range

$19,150

Average

$28,770

High Range

$47,410

National Hourly Wage

Low Range

$9/hr

Average

$14/hr

High Range

$23/hr

How do Cosmetologist salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, Cosmetologist's can make an average annual salary of $28,770, or $14 per hour. This makes it an Above Average Salary. On the lower end, they can make $19,150 or $9 per hour, perhaps when just starting out or based on the state you live in.

Salary Rankings And Facts

  • #720 Nationally for All Careers


Highest Education Among Cosmetologists

  • 0.3%   Doctorate
  • 0.6%   Masters
  • 5.2%   Bachelors
  • 10.1%   Associates
  • 31.5%   College
  • 45.5%   High School
  • 6.7%   Less than High School

Job Growth Projections and Forecast

2014 Total Jobs

597,200

2024 Est. Jobs

655,600

Job Growth Rate

9.8%

Est. New Jobs

58,400

How does Cosmetologist job growth stack up to other jobs across the country? By 2024, there will be a change of 58,400 jobs for a total of 655,600 people employed in the career nationwide. This is a 9.8% change in growth over the next ten years, giving the career a growth rate nationwide of Below Average.

Growth Rankings And Facts

  • #207 Nationally for All Careers


What Companies Employ The Most Cosmetologists

Industry Current Jobs New Jobs Needed % Increase
Personal care services 314,700 33,500 34%
Self-employed workers 253,600 25,600 26%
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 1,100 100 0%

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