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How to Become a Hair Specialist: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a hair specialist. Research the education and career requirements, licensure information, and experience needed for starting a career in hair styling. View article »

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  • 0:00 Should I Become a Hair…
  • 0:43 Career Requirements
  • 1:18 Steps to Become a Hair…

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Should I Become a Hair Specialist?

Hair specialists, often referred to as hairdressers or hairstylists, perform a variety of hair care services, such as shampooing, styling, cutting, and coloring. These professionals also do scalp treatments, massages, and brow shaping.

Hair specialists can find employment at hair salons, barber shops, spas, hotels, and resorts. Many hair specialists open their own businesses. As a business owner, hair specialists can set their own schedules, but client demand is the highest on weekends and evenings. These workers must spend most shifts on their feet, so physical endurance is needed.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Certificate or associate's degree
Degree Field Cosmetology
Licensing State licensure required
Experience One to several years, depending on employer
Key Skills Customer service and hair care skills; ability to use hair care tools and products, like scissors, curling irons, hair gels, hair dyes, hair sprays, and blow dryers; knowledge of hair styling trends
Salary (2015) $23,660 per year (Median salary for all hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Monster.com (October 2012), O*NET OnLine

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Steps to Become a Hair Specialist

Hair specialists must complete a formal education program before earning state licensure when required.

Step 1: Obtain Required Education

Most states require aspiring hair specialists to complete licensed and state-approved cosmetology programs. Academic options include certificate or associate's degree programs, which can be completed in 9 to 24 months. A cosmetology certificate program consists of intermediate and advanced subjects, such as hair cutting and styling, coloring, and hair care products, as well as sanitation and safety practices. These programs mandate a set number of hours of hands-on training, which depends on state licensure requirements.

Associate's degree programs in cosmetology combine the teaching of hair styling techniques and business practices. These skills enable a graduate to open a salon or manage the operations of an existing business. Programs in cosmetology instruct students about hair cutting and styling, permanent waving, scalp treatments, and brow and lash tinting.

Step 2: Gain Relevant Work Experience

A great deal of on-the-job training and experience are needed to master the art of hair styling. In addition to the hands-on training available within a cosmetology program, some schools provide internships and apprenticeships, or let students offer their services to the public. Work is guided and supervised by knowledgeable trainers and salon staff. Trainees begin their careers working as assistants to experienced hair specialists.

Step 3: Become Licensed

Hair specialists must obtain state licensure. To apply, applicants need to complete cosmetology training through a state-approved program or school, and meet state age requirements. The process of becoming licensed varies by state, but involves passing written, practical, and oral examinations, as well as displaying a mastery of cosmetology practices. A few states offer reciprocity agreements for salon workers that move to a different state.

Maintain state licensure. Continuing education courses may need to be completed to maintain licensure as a hair specialist. The frequency of continuing education courses and the required number of hours depend on state regulations. These continuing education classes allow students to learn new techniques and refresh their skills, though many states require only a fee for cosmetologists to renew their licenses.

Step 4: Start Your Own Salon

Hair stylists with enough experience and a strong client base may consider opening their own salons. Hair stylists who work for themselves can enjoy increased scheduling flexibility and higher pay.

Hair specialists complete a certificate or degree program before earning state licensure, which usually requires an exam and a practical component. Continuing education may be required to maintain professional licensing.

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