Cosmetologist: Overview of Becoming a Barber or Cosmetologist

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a cosmetologist. Get a quick view of the requirements - such as job duties, degree programs and licensure - to see if a career as a barber or cosmetologist is right for you.

Essential Information

Cosmetologists provide hair styling and coloring services, as well as facial services, to male and female clients. Students interested in becoming a barber or cosmetologist need to complete a state-approved cosmetology or barbering training program; they may also need a high school diploma. These programs offer courses in technique, safety and marketing. After graduation, candidates will need to earn licensure. Once licensed, barbers and cosmetologists may find work in several industries and may be self-employed.

Required EducationState-approved cosmetology or barbering training program; sometimes a high school diploma
Other RequirementsState license
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)*13% for cosmetologists, hairdressers and hairstylists; 11% for barbers
Average Salary (2013)*$27,530 for cosmetologists, hairdressers and hairstylists; $27,710 for barbers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Becoming a Barber or Cosmetologist

Barbers and cosmetologists are appearance industry professionals. Barbers typically work with male clients by offering facial treatments, such as shaving and grooming. Cosmetologists work with male and female clients by cutting, styling and coloring hair and performing facial services. Both professionals may perform additional tasks, including creating and fitting hairpieces.

Barbers and cosmetologists may be self-employed, rent space at a salon, or work in appearance-conscious industries like modeling and acting. Besides good styling and barbering techniques, these individuals need good marketing and customer service skills to build a customer base that will increase their earnings. Barbers and cosmetologists may be asked for advice on at-home care.

Educational Requirements

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most states require barbers and cosmetologists to graduate from a state-licensed school ( Most programs can typically be completed in one year or less, and the curricula consist of lectures with hands-on learning. Both programs include coursework in sanitation, hygiene, shampooing and shop management. After students have progressed to a satisfactory level, they may learn hair cutting and styling skills on mannequins, followed by live models. Students may have the opportunity to practice their skills in a supervised setting, since some schools have on-site salons or shops that are open to the public.

Cosmetology programs include training in hair styling, coloring and treatments that include relaxing or curling hair. Some programs may require training in esthetics, such as makeup, facials and massage. Barbering programs train students in shaving and facial grooming. Some barbering schools may include programs that incorporate hair cutting and styling courses.

Licensing Requirements

Barbers and cosmeticians are required to be licensed in every state. While licensing standards vary by state, most have a minimum requirement for age, education level and hours of training. In addition to meeting those requirements, prospective barbers and cosmetologists need to pass a state licensing exam. Some states may allow individuals to transfer a license from another state and may require that those seeking reciprocity to take a shorter training program that's specific to state laws and then take an exam.

Career Outlook

While jobs at high-end salons and shops will be competitive, cosmetologists are expected to see average employment growth of 13 percent from 2012-2022. The BLS indicated that employment of barbers was expected to increase 11 percent during that same time. The projected job growth was attributed to the need to replace barbers and cosmetologists who leave the field.

Salary Information

In May 2013, the BLS reported that the average annual salary for a barber was $27,710, while hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists earned a median annual salary of $27,530. These professionals may earn additional money through tips from clients.

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