Cosmetology Careers

Hair Stylist, Barber, Makeup Artist, Esthetician, and Manicurist

Woman receiving facial at spa
••• Matthew Wakem/Stone/Getty Images

Cosmetologists provide personal care services that include caring for the condition of people's hair, skin, and nails. Among the beauty professionals the cosmetology industry employs are hair stylists, barbers, estheticians, manicurists and pedicurists, and theatrical and performance makeup artists.

Consider this career field if you have soft skills that include, excellent customer service, interpersonal, listening, and speaking skills; creativity; and superior time management skills.

Quick Facts About the Cosmetology Industry

  • More than 866,300 people work in cosmetology careers (2016).
  • Employers include hair salons, nail salons, barber shops, spas, and resorts.
  • About 43% of hairstylists and cosmetologists and 72% of barbers are self-employed.
  • 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.

Cosmetology Occupations

If you are interested in a career in the cosmetology industry but are unsure about which to choose, here are descriptions of each. Get the facts about training and licensing requirements, as well as earnings

Hair Stylist

A hair stylist cuts, styles, colors, curls, and straightens hair. Clients turn to him or her for advice about what styles and colors will be best for them based on their hair's texture, condition, and color, and their complexion. To become a hair stylist, you will have to complete a state-approved barber or cosmetology program.

It will take at least nine months. Every state in the U.S. requires a license.

Median Annual Salary (2017): $24,850

Median Hourly Wages (2017): $11.95

Number of People Employed (2016): 617,300

Projected Job Growth (2016-2026): 13 percent (faster than the average for all occupations)

Projected Job Openings (2016-2026): 80,100

Barber

A barber shampoos, cuts, and styles hair, usually for male clients. He or she may shave beards and perform facials. Some states also allow barbers to apply color and bleach and use chemicals to straighten or curl hair. If you want to become a barber, you will have to attend a barber training program and get a state-issued license. In some states, you can get a barbering license by completing cosmetology school, but in others, you must get specific training for barbering. Some states combine barbering and cosmetology licenses.

Median Annual Salary (2017): $25,650

Median Hourly Wages (2017): $12.33

Number of People Employed (2016): 56,400

Projected Job Growth (2016-2026): 13 percent (faster than the average for all occupations)

Projected Job Openings (2016-2026): 7,600

Theatrical and Performance Makeup Artist

A makeup artist uses cosmetics to enhance or change an actor's or performer's appearance. He or she may work with movie, television, or stage entertainers. A makeup artist usually attends cosmetology school for several months to a year. Licensing requirements vary by state.

Median Annual Salary (2017): $59,300

Median Hourly Wages (2017): $28.51

Number of People Employed (2016): 5,000

Projected Job Growth (2016-2026): 10-14 percent (faster than the average for all occupations)

Projected Job Openings (2016-2026): 600

Quiz: Should I Become a Theater and Performance Makeup Artist?

Esthetician

An esthetician, also called a skin care specialist, treats peoples' skin. He or she evaluates skin condition and applies treatments after first discussing alternatives. Before you can work in this occupation, you will have to complete a two-year esthetician training program that has been approved by the state in which you want to work. Most states require a license.

Median Annual Salary (2017): $30,080

Median Hourly Wages (2017): $14.46

Number of People Employed (2016): 61,300

Projected Job Growth (2016-2026): 14 percent (faster than the average for all occupations)

Projected Job Openings (2016-2026): 8,500

Manicurist and Pedicurist

A manicurist grooms clients' fingernails and a pedicurist cares for their toenails. He or she cleans, trims, and files nails, and applies polish to them. One must complete a state-approved cosmetology or nail technician program and, in almost all states, get a license.

Median Annual Salary (2017): $23,230

Median Hourly Wages (2017): $11.17

Number of People Employed (2016): 126,300

Projected Job Growth (2016-2026): 13 percent (faster than the average for all occupations)

Projected Job Openings (2016-2026): 16,700

Comparing Cosmetology Careers
 Required TrainingLicenseMedian Annual Salary (2017)Median Hourly Wage (2017)
Hair StylistCosmetology program Required in all states$24,850$11.95
BarberBarber or cosmetology programRequired in all states$25,650$12.33
Makeup ArtistCosmetology programVaries by state$59,300$28.51
EstheticianEsthetician training programRequired in all states$30,080$14.46
Manicurist and PedicuristNail technician programRequired in most states$23,230$11.17

Where You Can Get More Information

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).