Cosmetology Careers

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

Woman receiving facial at spa
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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.

Employment is expected to grow at least as fast as the average for all occupations over this decade. 

Quick Facts About the Cosmetology Industry

  • Approximately 617,300 people work in cosmetology careers.
  • Employers include hair salons, nail salons, barber shops, spas, and resorts.
  • About 43% of people working in this field are self-employed.
  • Job outlooks differ by occupation. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects hair stylists, manicurists, cosmetologists, and estheticians to experience job growth that is much faster than the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026. The government agency expects barbers and theatrical and performance makeup artists to experience faster than average job growth over the same period.

Cosmetology Occupations

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

Follow the links to get more information.

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 work well 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. Hair stylists, in 2016, earned a median hourly salary of $24,260 or median hourly wages of $11.66.

Learn More About Being a Hair Stylist


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. Barbers earned a median annual salary of $25,760 and median hourly wages of $12.38 in 2016.

Learn More About Being a Barber

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 earnings were $60,970, and median hourly wages were $29.31 in 2016, making it the most highly paid of all careers in the cosmetology field.

Learn More About Being a Makeup Artist


An esthetician, or 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. In 2016, estheticians earned a median annual salary of $30,270 and $14.55 per hour.

Learn More About Being an Esthetician

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.

Manicurists and pedicurists earned median wages of $22,150 annually and $10.65 hourly in 2016.

Learn More About Being a Manicure and Pedicurist

Comparing Cosmetology Careers
 Required TrainingLicenseMedian Annual SalaryMedian Hourly Wage
Hair StylistCosmetology program Required in all states$24,260$11.66
BarberBarber or cosmetology programRequired in all states$25,760$12.38
Makeup ArtistCosmetology programVaries by state$60,970$29.31
EstheticianEsthetician training programRequired in all states$30,270$14.55
Manicurist and PedicuristNail technician programRequired in most states$22,150$10.65


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 December 13, 2017).