What Does a Cosmetologist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Maddy Price © The Balance 2019

Cosmetologists provide personal care services that include caring for people's hair, skin, and nails. Beauty professionals employed in the cosmetology industry include hair stylists, barbers, and estheticians, also called skin care specialists.

More than 866,300 people worked in cosmetology careers in 2016.

Cosmetology Duties & Responsibilities

Many of the associated duties of hair stylists, barbers, and estheticians are the same, but some are unique to their exact profession. Overall, most include:

  • Shampoo, cut, style, color, curl, or straighten hair.
  • Provide clients with information about what styles and colors are best for them based on their hair's texture, condition, color, and their complexion.
  • Shave beards and perform facials.
  • Use cosmetics to enhance or change an actor's or performer's appearance.
  • Treat peoples' skin, evaluating skin condition and applying treatments after discussing alternatives.

Some states allow barbers to apply color, and to bleach and use chemicals to straighten or curl hair.

Cosmetology Salary

These professions have slightly different pay thresholds.

Hair stylists and cosmetologists:

  • Median Annual Salary: $24,850 ($11.95/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $50,669 ($24.36/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $18,158 ($8.73/hour)

Barbers:

  • Median Annual Salary: $25,650 ($12.33/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $48,484 ($23.31/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $18,616 ($8.95/hour)

Estheticians:

  • Median Annual Salary: $30,080 ($14.46/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $58,801 ($28.27/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $18,657 ($8.97/hour)

Education, Training & Certification

Training and education requirements can vary depending on the cosmetology field you wish to pursue and state regulations.

  • Education: A high school diploma might be required for some positions.
  • Training: You must complete a state-approved barber or cosmetology program lasting at least nine months to become a hairstylist. Barbers must also attend a barber training program. A makeup artist usually attends cosmetology school for several months to a year. Estheticians must complete a two-year training program that has been approved by the state in which they want to work.
  • Licensure: Every state in the U.S. requires that hairstylists be licensed. Barbers must also get state-issued licenses. You can get a barbering license by completing cosmetology school in some states, but in others, you must get specific training for barbering. Some states combine barbering and cosmetology licenses. Licensing requirements for makeup artists can vary considerably by state, but most do require that estheticians be licensed as well.

    Cosmetology Skills & Competencies

    Tips can depend on great customer service and developing a rapport with customers and clients. Possessing certain qualities can help in this regard.

    • People skills: An ability to interact well with others, and to be pleasant and friendly even under trying circumstances, can be invaluable.
    • Think outside the box: Creativity and a willingness to adapt to new trends can be important.
    • Be a good listener: People like to talk about themselves when they have time on their hands, such as when they're sitting still while you tend to them. You'll want to be able to provide appropriate feedback.
    • Physical stamina: You'll spend a lot of time on your feet.
    • Tidiness: This doesn't mean just your work station. Personal tidiness is very important as well. Remember, you're an example of your own work.

      Job Outlook

      As long as there are people, people will want to look their best. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment in cosmetology careers to grow faster than the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026, by about 13%.

      Work Environment

      Employers include hair salons, nail salons, barber shops, spas, and resorts. Surroundings tend to be pleasant to attract customers and make them feel comfortable. But these positions often require interaction with various chemicals and sometimes equipment, so protective gloves and clothing can be important.

      Work Schedule

      About 43% of hairstylists and cosmetologists and 72% of barbers are self-employed, which typically means they work a lot of hours, promoting their own salons, shops, and businesses.

      Employees in these fields often work full time, but part-time positions are available. Working evenings and weekends isn't uncommon and, in fact, these are typically the busiest times in these professions.

      Comparing Similar Jobs

      Cosmetology covers a wide range of skills. Some other common careers include:

      Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited October 24, 2018).