Career Information for a Degree in General Cosmetology

Oct 10, 2019

Cosmetology programs can prepare graduates for careers in hair, nail, and skin care. Once they meet state licensing requirements, cosmetologists can find work in salons and spas or they can be self-employed.

Essential Information

Graduates of a degree program in cosmetology may work as hairstylists or cosmetologists, including manicurists. Using their classroom and hands-on salon training, they may also perform aesthetic skincare treatments like facials or hair removal. None of these positions require a degree, though postsecondary training and licensure is necessary.

Career Titles Hair Stylists Manicurists and Pedicurists Skin Care Specialists
Education Requirements Completion of a postsecondary state-approved cosmetology program Completion of a postsecondary state-approved cosmetology or nail technician program Completion of a postsecondary state-approved cosmetology or esthetician program
Licensure Required Required Required
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 8% (for hairdressers, hair stylists and cosmetologists) 10% 11%
Median Annual Salary (May 2018)* $24,730 (for hairdressers, hair stylists and cosmetologists) $24,330 $31,290

Source: *United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Those who complete a cosmetology degree program could pursue employment in various areas of cosmetology. The field of study could lead to careers such as hairstylist, esthetician or manicurist.

Hair Stylists

Hair stylists are responsible for cutting, coloring and curling and straightening hair, hairpieces or wigs. Cosmetology program graduates who want to style hair could seek opportunities in salons or spas. They might rent booths or spaces from salon owners, making them essentially self-employed. Alternatively, they could decide to open their own salons or spas. Some could also find work in department stores or nursing homes performing similar tasks.

The BLS reported in 2018 that hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists could expect to see an employment increase of 8% between 2018 and 2028 ( In May 2018, the BLS estimated that 377,210 people were employed in the field and the median annual wage was $24,730. According to the BLS, the states of California, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, and New York reported the highest employment levels for people in this career field, while the top-paying states were the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Washington, New Jersey, and Delaware.

Manicurists and Pedicurists

Manicurists and pedicurists provide nail treatments for the hands and feet. Their services include cleaning nails, smoothing rough, dry skin and massaging the hands and feet. Jobs such as technician or product representative may be available with companies that make hair, skin and nail care products likely to be used by cosmetologists.

Median annual salaries for manicurists and pedicurists were $24,330 as of May 2018. There were about 110,170 people working in this field that year. Personal care services and traveler accommodations were the industries with the highest employment levels for manicurists and pedicurists. Employment was expected to grow at a rate of 10% between 2018 and 2028.

Skin Care Specialists

Also known as estheticians, skin care specialists assess the condition of their clients' skin, recommend creams, lotions and make up to improve the appearance of certain conditions and provide facial hair removal services.

Skin care specialists earned median salaries of $31,290 in 2018. About 50,740 skin care specialists worked in the U.S. during that same year. According to BLS statistics, most were employed by personal care services and physician's offices. An 11% growth rate was predicted for skin care specialists from 2018 through 2028. The reason for this growth was attributed to the rising demand for services such as house calls and mini-sessions at reduced cost. Another factor was the increasing number of men and women who want to eliminate the signs of aging.

Licensing Requirements

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), all types of cosmetologists must be licensed by the state in which they intend to work ( While state requirements can vary, in general, cosmetology license applicants must be at least 16 years old, have a high school diploma or the equivalent and have completed a cosmetology program approved by the state before sitting for the licensing exam.

In some states, a cosmetology license expires periodically and must be renewed. Renewal of the license can be as simple as paying a fee or involve a more complex process that includes completion of continuing education courses, certain topics of which may be mandated by the state. Examples include courses in sanitation practices and state cosmetology laws.

The completion of a cosmetology program can lead to a career as a hairstylist, manicurist, pedicurist or esthetician who specializes in skin care. All of these professionals must be licensed in the state they are working in, which generally entails meeting age requirements and passing an exam upon graduating from a state-approved cosmetology program.

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