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Cosmetology License Requirements

A license is a required credential for cosmetology professionals. Get some quick facts about the training and examination necessary to qualify for cosmetology positions.

Cosmetologists enhance the appearance of their customers by providing a wide range of beauty services. All states require licensing, and this usually entails graduation from a state-approved cosmetology program and successful completion of a certification or licensing exam.

Essential Information

Cosmetologists, who specialize in caring for people's hair, nails and skin, must be licensed in all states. Most states offer a comprehensive cosmetology license that addresses all three of these areas. States may also have separate licenses for skin care specialists (estheticians) and those who care for nails (nail technicians). Additional specialty licenses are available in a few states.

Licensing generally requires graduating from an accredited cosmetology program at a school or completing an apprenticeship program. After training, graduates must pay a fee and pass written and practical examinations. Most states require continuing education training to keep the license current.

Required Education Cosmetology training program at a school or through an apprenticeship
Other Requirements Minimum age requirement, HIV/AIDS training (specifics vary by state)
Exam Requirements Written tests on theory and procedures, practical demonstrations of skills in eight areas and written tests on state regulations
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 10% for hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists
Median Salary (2015)* $23,660 for hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

State Licensure Requirements for Cosmetologists

All 50 states and Washington, D.C. have specific requirements for cosmetologists. The most basic requirement is either graduation from an approved school or an apprenticeship program. Most states require school graduates to have at least 1,500 hours of practical experience. A few states require fewer hours, though some require significantly more.

Many states list a minimum age for the license applicant, ranging from 16 - 18 years old. A number of states specify minimum schooling requirements that vary from eighth grade to high school graduation or obtainment of a GED certificate prior to cosmetology schooling. A few states require applicants to take a 4-hour in-service training program in HIV/AIDS before they can apply for a license.

Licenses must be renewed periodically, usually every two years. During this interval the practitioner is commonly required to take 16 or more contact hours of continuing education courses.

Cosmetology Licensing Exams

Applicants are generally required to take two or three licensing exams. This typically includes a written exam on theories and procedures, a practical exam for each of eight core services and often, a written exam on state cosmetology rules and laws.

Many states use standardized tests offered through the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC). The written test on theory and procedures requires knowledge of some scientific information related to anatomy and physiology, chemistry and electricity basics, nutrition, infection control and ergonomics. Specific areas of information regarding hair, skin and nail care are also an essential aspect of the test.

The applicant will need to know about hair and its diseases, scalp treatments, washing and conditioning techniques, haircutting and styling, braiding and hair enhancements, and wig concepts. Hair coloring and other chemical procedures are also addressed.

The practical tests use mannequins. All states that use the NIC test administer the hair portion of the practical tests. This includes setting up and protecting the client, haircutting, hair coloring and lightening, permanents, thermal curling and hair straightening.

A few states also include sections for facials and manicures. Testing regarding state laws and rules are usually fairly short. A multiple-choice format for all written tests is almost universal.

In addition to maintaining up-to-date knowledge of beauty trends, cosmetologists should be creative, have great customer service skills, and have excellent listening skills. Licensing is necessary in this field, and requirements include completing a cosmetology program and passing both practical and written licensing exams.

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