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Barber Vs. Cosmetologist: What's the Difference?

Barbers and cosmetologists require little formal education. Learn about the training, job duties and licensing requirements for both to see if one of these is the right career for you.

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Essential Information

Barbers and cosmetologists work closely with hair, but cosmetologists provide additional beauty treatments. Both professionals must complete a state-approved postsecondary training program that might culminate with a certificate or associate degree; they must also be state-licensed. Barbers earn a higher salary, while cosmetologists can expect better job prospects.

Career Title Barber Cosmetologist
Required Education Postsecondary training program Postsecondary training program
Other Requirements State license State license
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)* 11% 13% for hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists
Median Annual Salary (2013)* $25,010 $23,140 for hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Differences Between Barbers and Cosmetologists

What's the difference between barbers and cosmetologists? Both professions cut, style and wash hair, but barbers are better known for cutting men's hair while cosmetologists have female and male clientele. In addition to hairstyling, cosmetologists perform pedicures, manicures, waxing treatments, facials and makeup application. Cosmetologists may also specialize in one or more of these beauty treatments.

Barber and Cosmetologist Training

Certificate or associate degree programs for barbers and cosmetologists typically last from 9-24 months and are offered through community colleges, technical schools and beauty schools. Aspiring barbers and cosmetologists may attend the same program, but their courses will differ slightly.

Both types of students will learn about hair styling and treatment techniques. However, barbers will learn more about trimming and shaving facial hair while cosmetologists will take courses on providing additional beauty treatments. Both routes offer customer service, marketing and salon management classes.

Job Outlook for Barbers and Cosmetologists

Both professions must obtain state licenses, which requires at least a high school diploma or GED and completion of an accredited barber or cosmetology school. State licensing examinations usually consist of a written test and a hands-on test where candidates demonstrate basic skills. According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 50% of barbers and cosmetologists were self-employed in 2012.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that job prospects for hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists would grow by 13% for the 2012-2022 decade, while employment opportunities for barbers would grow by 11% for that same time interval ( The annual median wage for hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists in 2013 was $23,140, and barbers earned $25,010.

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Education Requirements to Become a Cosmetologist

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics