Cosmetology 101

That person you visit regularly to cut, style, or color your hair is a cosmetologist. Commonly, we refer to them as hairdressers. Cosmetology also includes nail technicians, esthetics and skin care, barbering and cosmetic laser technology. It is a fairly stable career because one thing people need year-round is to look their best! When a person finds a good cosmetologist, she will keep returning plus give referrals to all of her friends and acquaintances. Being a cosmetologist is also a good way to be self-employed if one desires.

It is vitally important to be informed!
Be sure to request information from more than one school in order to compare which program is best for you.

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At a Glance

Cosmetology SchoolOther Job Titles: Hairdresser, hairstylist, cosmetic laser technician, nail technician, esthetician
Salary Range/Pay: [1] 
Median $22,500 per year ($10.82 per hour)
Education/Training Required:
High school and state-licensed cosmetology school
Desired Skills/Aptitude:
Communication skills, good listeners, creative, stand for long periods
All states require a license following an approved training program
Locations with Best Opportunities:[2]
New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida, California
Employment Outlook:
Expected growth by 14% through 2020 (average growth)
Opportunities for Advancement:
Cosmetologists can advance from working in a salon to opening up their own business.

What a Cosmetologist Does

The main job of a cosmetologist focuses around the styling, coloring, and cutting of hair. Their jobs also entail washing, drying, and conditioning hair. They recommend and carry out special treatments for the scalp, hair, and face. Facial treatments can include recommending makeup that best fits the client. Today, they also do more in the way of scalp and facial treatments to include promoting products that improve the skin. Their objective is to make clients look their best when it comes to facial appearance and hair style.

A good cosmetologist gets to know her clients and keeps records to remember what services they have performed for them and what products were used. For example, if a client uses a certain hair coloring product, the cosmetologist keeps record of this. This provides a higher level of personal service and keeps clients returning.

The tools used by the cosmetologist are typically scissors, curling irons, hair dryers, and hair brushes. They are also responsible for keeping tools sanitary for the health and safety of clients.

Although cosmetologists know how to shampoo and condition hair, some have used other staff known as shampooers to do this. This would be the case for cosmetologists working in larger salons. A self-employed cosmetologist working alone would do these tasks herself.

The Workplace

Many cosmetologists are self-employed and work from their own salon, lease booth space in another salon, or work out of their homes. Most that work as employees in salons are hired part-time.

The only hazard in the job is exposure to the various chemicals that are used in hair coloring and other hair treatment applications. These chemicals have the potential to cause skin irritation thus the cosmetologist will oftentimes wear gloves and aprons to protect the skin as well as the clothing.

A cosmetologist needs to be physically fit because she must stand on her feet for many hours in a typical day. This is especially true for those who are self-employed and schedule as many clients as they can in any given day.

Education and Certification

Licensing of cosmetologists is required in all states. The path to licensing begins with a high school diploma and then successful completion of a cosmetology training program that is state-accredited.

States may have minor variations on their licensing exams but in general these exams involve a written portion and possible a hands-on section that tests the ability of the cosmetologist to style hair. Those interested in this field should consult with the appropriate state government agency to determine what is required for licensing.

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[1] Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Barbers, Hairdressers, and Cosmetologists, on the Internet at

[2] Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, Hairdressers, Hairstylists, and Cosmetologists, on the Internet at