Careers in Cosmetology


As a cosmetologist, you will provide services to help enhance the appearance of your clients. This may include offering hair care services, make-up, manicures and pedicures, as well as skin care. Most individuals entering a career as a cosmetologist choose to specialize in providing a single service.

Education requirements for cosmetologists include completion of a certification program. These can often be finished in well under a year. Upon completion of the program, the individual will need to meet the requirements for licensing in their state. This is usually met by completion of cosmetology school, a high school diploma (or GED), and the successful passing of a licensing exam.

Cosmetology Education and Training

A high school diploma or GED is required for those interested becoming cosmetologists. You will also need to complete a licensure program. Cosmetology school is required to complete the licensure in most states.

Duties of a Cosmetologist

The field of cosmetology is broad. You may choose to specialize as a hair stylist, nail technician, make-up artist or skin care.

Cosmetology Work Environment

Cosmetologists spend much of their day standing and bending. They often work 40-hours a week, or even more, especially those that are self-employed. It is very common to work evenings and weekends, or whenever clients can come in.

According to the National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences, a cosmetologist is, “anyone performing manicures, hair cutting, styling, shampooing, makeup or other cosmetology services.” With this in mind, it’s easy to see how varied the career opportunities available to cosmetologists can be.

What is a Cosmetologist?

The title of cosmetologist covers several different job specifications, including hair dresser, shampooer, skin care specialist, manicurist, and pedicurist. Cosmetology encompasses many different aspects of the personal care industry.

Where can I find cosmetology information and learn how to obtain certification?

You can learn everything you know about cosmetology through an online distance learning course. An accredited online cosmetology school can help you fulfill all of the course requirements to become a licensed cosmetologist.  Once you have completed all of the necessary coursework, you will need to take a comprehensive exam administered by your state cosmetology licensing board; passing this exam will make you eligible to work as a beautician in your state.

Where does a cosmetologist work?

A licensed cosmetologist may work in a variety of different settings. While the majority of beauticians work in a spa or salon, either as a direct employee or an independent contractor, hotels, resorts and cruise ships may also hire cosmetologists to care for their guests.  If you are interested in the film or television industries, you may find work on-set as a stylist or makeup artist.  Some cosmetologists, especially those with years of experience, may work as editors for beauty magazines.

What are some advantages of being a cosmetologist?

Working as a licensed cosmetologist has numerous advantages. For those who enjoy helping others, there is the satisfaction of helping clients to look and feel their best; flexible hours, the chance to open your own salon business, and the ability to improve your salary as you gain experience are also some of the benefits of cosmetology work.

Employment facts for licensed cosmetologists

There are currently over 800,000 licensed cosmetologists working in the United States, and this number is expected to increase dramatically over the next decade. Beginning salaries, including tips, for a certified cosmetologist average around $8.00 per hour; salon workers with more experience may earn as much as $14 per hour.  If you own your own salon or work in a high-end establishment, your annual salary can be much higher.

History of the Cosmetology Industry

Cosmetology, the study and practice of beauty treatment, has its roots in prehistory. Although it is impossible to say who started cosmetology, cosmetics have been used for thousands of years to enhance the features, mimic animals, frighten enemies, or for religious rites since before civilization began.  Cosmetics of various types have been used by both men and women throughout the ages; the following is a brief history of the cosmetology industry through time.

The first cosmetics were used by tribal peoples who spread a paste made of mud or ash over their bodies; it is believed that this was done to frighten hostile tribes or to ward off evil spirits. Around 4000 BC, the ancient Egyptians began their use of heavy eyeliner, made from mercury or lead, ash, and other materials, to enhance the shape of their eyes.  In addition, the upper classes often rubbed ground carob or spices into their skin as a deodorant.  The ancient Chinese nobles also used cosmetics made from beeswax and various plant dyes to create makeup for their skin, as well as coloring their nails.

The first known “professional” cosmetologists were Roman slave women, known as “cosmetae,” whose job was to prepare makeup (often using highly toxic materials, including, as with the Egyptians, mercury and lead). Heavy, greasy lotions were applied to the skin to cover imperfections, and women wore eyeliner, nail color, and powders to lighten their complexion.  Men and women alike wore meticulously made wigs to transform their appearance.

Throughout the Asia and the Middle East, henna products have been used for centuries, both to decorate the skin and to color the hair. Worldwide, the elite of society, and more recently, the middle classes, have used makeup prolifically to improve their appearance and gain social acceptance.

Even during Victorian times, when use of brightly colored cosmetics by ladies was considered immodest, a makeup made of beeswax was used to disguise the skin damage left by smallpox (which led to the invention of the fire screen, an often elaborate furnishing which was used to block the heat of the fire from a lady’s face, preventing the beeswax from melting).

With the invention of film, and then television, cosmetics reached a new level of popularity and social acceptance, as everyone scrambled to look like their favorite movie and TV stars. Throughout the 20th century, major advances have been made, with the invention of chemical peels, tanning lotions, and thousands of new color shades for powders, eye shadows, eyeliners, lipsticks and more.  Now, cosmetic surgery is becoming a common way for women, as well as men, to look younger, transform their appearance, and improve their self-esteem.

Popular Cosmetology Jobs

Hair Styling

One of the largest divisions in cosmetology includes those professionals who are involved in the washing, cutting and styling of hair. Within this category, a cosmetologist can specialize in either men’s or women’s hair.

Typically, cosmetologists who cut men’s hair are known as barbers, while those who cut women’s hair have no such distinction. A cosmetologist may be responsible for washing hair, cutting and styling it, or applying color products.  Larger salons may employ several different specialists – for example, one or more staff members who focus solely on bridal up-dos – while cosmetologists at smaller salons may be expected to handle all of these tasks themselves.

Nail Care

Instead of working with hair, some professional stylists focus on providing manicures and pedicures to clients. As a nail care specialist, you’ll trim, file and shape your client’s nails, apply polish and strengthening agents, and attach or maintain acrylic nails.

Consequently, you’ll need to stay on top of emerging nail fashion trends, be familiar with different nail products and tools and maintain a clean, hygienic workstation. Some manicurists find jobs at unisex salons that also offer hair services, while others work at boutique nail care shops.

Makeup Application

Finally, there’s another group of cosmetologists who focus exclusively on applying makeup and instructing clients on the proper application of cosmetics. Larger salons often employ makeup artists for the sole purpose of applying formal makeup for bridal parties and other special events, while some salons offer instructional lessons that help clients learn the correct way to apply makeup to their unique bone structure and coloration.  Makeup artists may also be employed in the fashion, TV or movie industries, where they develop makeup looks for models and actors.

Potential for Advancement

Typically, there are two paths for advancement in the cosmetology field. Depending on your skills and experience, you may be able to work your way up the hierarchy of your salon or get a job at a higher-end salon where you’ll be able to charge higher rates for your services.  This can be a difficult path, since you’ll need to justify any increase in your fees, and you may face animosity from colleagues who aren’t at your level.  You may also lose clients in the process if they feel priced out of your new fee structure.

On the other hand, once you’ve worked in the field for a number of years, you may decide to open your own salon. While your income potential is significantly higher going this route, it does come with a number of extra responsibilities.  You’ll have to rent your own space and deal with the legal and tax implications that come with owning your own business.  You’ll also need to recruit stylists to work for you, monitor their work and address any customer complaints that arise.  However, the satisfaction you derive from owning your own successful business may be enough to balance out these concerns.

How you can start a career as a beautician or cosmetologist

If you have a high school diploma or the equivalent, you enjoy working with others to make them look and feel better about themselves, and you are looking for a rewarding career, studying cosmetology could be the right move for you. Read on for more information about cosmetology and how you can get started on your new vocation.

Cosmetology Careers: What Skills Do You Need to be a Cosmetologist?

What type of person makes a good cosmetologist?

The best cosmetologists understand not only the technical and aesthetic aspects of the job, but are warm and personable, outgoing, and enjoy working with their hands. Because they need to be available at their clients’ convenience, cosmetologists should be willing to work nights and weekends if necessary.

What are the requirements for becoming a cosmetologist?

In order to become a licensed cosmetologist, you will need to attend an accredited cosmetology or beauty school. Most schools offer business courses such as salon management, as well as chemistry, biology, and anatomy, in addition to courses in hair care and styling, makeup application, hair removal, and other beauty-related subjects.

Most beauty schools require that you have a high school diploma or the equivalent, although this can vary – you will need to check with specific schools about their enrollment requirements. Most state licensing boards require that you have at least 1500 hours of training.  In order to obtain licensing, which is required in all 50 states, candidates must pass a comprehensive licensing examination.

A typical day as a cosmetologist

A licensed cosmetologist is a professional who treats hair, skin, and nails, helping clients to look their personal best. They may advise clients on skin care, offer styling and care tips tailored to their clients’ hair type, and provide manicure and pedicure services.  A cosmetologist is generally a graduate of a specialized beauty school and is licensed by the state in which he or she intends to practice.  If you are thinking about a career in cosmetology, you probably want to know what a typical day as a cosmetologist is like.

What does a cosmetologist do?

During a typical work day, a licensed cosmetologist has a wide variety of duties. He or she may have appointments with a number of clients or accept customers on a walk-in basis.  The cosmetologist will consult with clients, offering them advice and discussing the various services to be performed.  These may include:

  • Cutting, coloring, highlighting, styling, straightening, or perming the hair;
  • Makeup, facials, scrubs and other skin care treatments;
  • Manicures and/or pedicures;
  • Massage;
  • Waxing, electrolysis, and other hair removal techniques;
  • Eyebrow grooming.

While cosmetologists can typically perform most of these services, it is common for each individual working in a salon or spa to specialize in a particular area.

In addition to these services, a cosmetologist may be responsible for cleaning and maintaining his or her work station and equipment, as well as answering telephones, scheduling appointments, and other administrative work. Licensed cosmetologists may be employed by a salon, or they may rent or lease space in a beauty shop as a contractor.

How can I become a cosmetologist?

If you are creative and have a strong sense of esthetics, you are warm and personable, and you enjoy working with others on a close, personal level, cosmetology can be an excellent career choice. In order to become a licensed cosmetologist, you will need to complete a course at an accredited beauty school.  In addition to course work in hair and skin care, hair removal, make-up application, and other beauty techniques, you will be required to take classes in anatomy, physiology, chemistry, and salon management.

Once you have completed your course work, you will need to pass a state-administered licensing exam. After receiving your certification, you will be qualified to practice as a licensed cosmetologist in your state.

Where do cosmetologists work?

Most licensed cosmetologists work in a beauty salon, a spa, or a hotel or resort setting. Some may offer their clients in-home consultations and services, while others may work on the sets of television or film studios.