How to Become a Hairdresser

Becoming a Hair Stylist

If you have a passion for beauty, love working with people and want a career with a great deal of potential, hairdressing could be the ideal profession for you. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), hairdressers - also called cosmetologist - enjoy flexible schedules and a great deal of professional freedom. 

What Do Hairdressers Do?

Hairdressers and cosmetologists are trained to analyze a customer's facial structure and select hairstyles, makeup and other products to best fit that individual. While most hairdressers only deal with hair, many are trained in all aspects of cosmetology, which includes general knowledge about beauty, hair and skincare. They are licensed to perform a number of hair treatments on customers, including:

  • Cutting, trimming and shaping hair
  • Bleaching, coloring, or tinting hair
  • Shampooing and conditioning hair
  • Recommending home treatments to customers
  • Massaging and treating scalp for hygienic and remedial purposes
  • Performing eyebrow or eyelash shaping or coloring
  • Cleaning, shaping, and polishing fingernails and toenails
  • Removing hair through waxing or with laser treatments

In addition, cosmetologists are trained in skin care and many of them perform duties which cleanse and beautify the skin such as facials and head and neck massages. Some of them also perform nail care and give manicures and pedicures, as well as nail polishing.

What Are the Steps to Become a Hairdresser?

Most hairdressers and cosmetologists go through some sort of formal training. Though there are many different ways to become licensed and ready to practice as a hairdresser, here are some traditional steps to follow:

  1. Graduate from high school. A high school degree or GED equivalent is the bare minimum requirement for becoming a hairstylist or cosmetologist. This is required for licensing, and some states may even require a postsecondary degree. 
  2. Practice doing hair and makeup. High school and college years are a great time to practice cutting hair, styling hair and doing makeup for your friends and dorm mates. Cosmetology schools can provide plenty of hands-on practice, but many hairstylists have had experience doing hair long before they get to school. Buying wigs and mannequins to practice with could be a good investment too. 
  3. Earn a degree from a hairdressing or cosmetology school. It's highly recommended by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to earn a degree in cosmetology. Most programs can provide foundational skills that are essential for entry-level workers. Hairdresser degree programs aim to give you plenty of hands-on practice, networking opportunities, and are typically required in order to become licensed. Programs usually take anywhere from nine to 24 months to complete, depending on the focus or specialization. 
  4. Get licensed in your state. Each state has its own requirements for licensure as a cosmetologist or hairstylist, but some of the typical requirements include: 
    • Completing an accredited cosmetology program through an accredited beauty or vocational college
    • Passing a written exam
    • Passing a hands-on, practical or oral exam
    • Filling out the proper application and submitting it to your state's cosmetology board

In some cases, you may be able to do an apprenticeship instead of earning a degree from a cosmetology school. There are many big name salons that offer their own specialized training programs, specific to that salon. 

How to Become a GREAT Hairdresser

In order to be successful, hairdressers and cosmetologists must be clean and neat, both in terms of personal appearance and also in terms of their work areas. Interpersonal skills are very important in this profession, as the ability to attract and retain a strong customer base is vital. An addition character trait for a successful salon worker is the ability to be an effective salesperson. Other good attributes to have include talent in the areas of fashion, art, and technical design.

While most hairdressers earn their degrees or certificates to practice cosmetology, these credentials can serve as stepping stones to other careers. Salon owners or cosmetology directors typically benefit from business training in addition to basic cosmetology training. Those who hope to become cosmetology instructors may also be required to complete teacher training.

Resources for Hairdressers

You are visiting:
Our Partner Listings

Relevant Careers

Employment and Education Resources