Cosmetologist: Overview of Becoming a Barber or Cosmetologist

Sep 20, 2019

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.

Barbers and cosmetologists can work in a variety of professional settings or have the option of maintaining their own salon or shop. In order to become a barber or cosmetologist, you first need to enter an accredited training program and then seek licensure.

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 Education State-approved cosmetology or barbering training program; sometimes a high school diploma
Other Requirements State license
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 8% for cosmetologists, hairdressers and hairstylists; 7% for barbers
Average Salary (2018)* $24,730 for cosmetologists, hairdressers and hairstylists; $27,960 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 above average employment growth from 2018-2028, and it the same job opportunities for barbers. He projected job growth was attributed to the need to replace barbers and cosmetologists who leave the field.

Salary Information

In May 2018, the BLS reported that barbers in the 90th percentile or higher earned $52,600 or more per year, while cosmetologists in the 90th percentile or higher earned $50,110 or more per year. These professionals may earn additional money through tips from clients.

To sum up, a barber focuses specifically on men's hair while cosmetologists focus more broadly on enhancing hair, skin, and nails for both men and women. Both barbers and cosmologists must complete an accredited training program and then obtain licensure in order to serve customers.

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