How to Become a Cosmetologist

Becoming Cosmetologist (Beautician, Esthetician, Manicurist): Overview

Woman doing someone”≥ make-upCosmetologists work with clients to help them look and feel their best. Working as a cosmetologist means working with a client's hair, skin, and nails, transitioning seamlessly to provide individual clients with a personalized experience.

Flexible work hours, a strong projected job growth, and a stable work environment make cosmetology an attractive career for many. Find out where cosmetologists work, what training and licensure they are required to have, and what you can do to become a great cosmetologist.

What Do Cosmetologists Do?

Cosmetologists use their training and experience to cut and style hair, work with nails and skin, and improve their clients' appearance through hair color, skin treatments, and relaxing procedures.

Most cosmetologists work in beauty salons, either hired as a part of a team or as an individual renting out booth space or a chair. As a cosmetologist, you may be trained in one or more of the following services:

  • Hair cutting and styling
  • Manicures and pedicures
  • Scalp and facial treatments
  • Makeup analysis & wigs

Many cosmetologists are self-employed, employed part-time, or have variable schedules. This variety often allows cosmetologists to have more control over their work schedules. Your work environment depends on the career path you choose. Cosmetologists work from the following locations:

  • Beauty salons and barbershops
  • Day spas, resorts, and hotel spas
  • Retail beauty supply locations
  • Nursing and residential care homes

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for cosmetologists is better than average, with an estimated 20 percent growth across the occupation. Hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists alone are expected to experience 127,000 new jobs in the industry between 2008 and 2018.

Salaries within this growing career reflect the training required for professionals in the field. Take a look at the mean annual wages earned in 2009 by cosmetologists and related professions, as reported by the BLS:

  • Cosmetologists: $27,070
  • Manicurists and Pedicurists: $22,150
  • Skin Care Specialists: $31,990

Woman applying a face mask to clientWith continued training and experience, salaries can increase. The most skilled cosmetologists often go into business for themselves, renting a booth or owning a salon and working individually with their clients. In the cosmetology industry, your career future is in your own hands.

What Are the Steps to Becoming a Cosmetologist?

Education is a crucial component to your success as a cosmetologist. Whether you'd like to specialize in hair, makeup, nails, or facial treatments, you need to have the skills necessary for you to legally practice in your state. Training programs typically require a lower time commitment than a traditional undergraduate degree.

Most states require cosmetologists to complete training at a state-licensed cosmetology school. Full-time training programs typically last about 9 months and result in an associate's degree. Cosmetologists who only want nail or makeup training require less training to be legally licensed.

Cosmetology school offers students a mix of technical and business training. Programs include hands-on instruction, with students often practicing on real clients in a school setting. Coursework in cosmetology typically includes:

  • Basic anatomy and physiology
  • Hair shaping and thermal styling
  • Safe hair color techniques and foil highlighting
  • Maintaining client records

To some degree, students are able to pick and choose from the courses offered. For example, you may choose to add on instruction in nail care. Safety and clean-up duties are taught and practiced, and students learn how to operate with confidence in different areas of the salon.

How to Become a Great Cosmetologist

Becoming a great cosmetologist means adapting to changes in the industry. Once you've trained in the cosmetology field, you can only add to your skills. Building a strong client base, keeping your skills current, and racking up years of experience are all ways to advance in the field.

Success in the cosmetology industry doesn't come without hard work and perseverance. Even after you've obtained your license, it takes time to perfect your techniques with different styles and types of hair and skin. A successful cosmetologist has:

  • Good communication skills
  • Business and financial experience
  • Artistic skill and ability

Being aware of beauty trends is an important element for excellence in the field. Cosmetologists might attend trade shows, enroll in continuing education classes, or and subscribe to popular style magazines to keep an eye on current styles. With experience, many cosmetologists lease booth space in salons, rise to management positions, or open their own salons.

While no cosmetology training program can guarantee a particular career or salary, learning the ropes at in an accredited cosmetology school is typically required for a state license and a job. The first step to becoming a great cosmetologist is to learn the tools and tricks of your trade.

Resources for Cosmetologists


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