Cosmetologist Job Description

Considering becoming a cosmetologist?

Ever wonder what a cosmetologist does all day? How about what a cosmetologist earns each year? Below Beauty Schools Directory has answered common questions about the salary, job outlook, career options and other career information about cosmetologists to help you decide if this is the right career path for you. If you like the sound of becoming a professional cosmetologist, simply enter your zip code in the box to the right to find schools near you.

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How should I find, compare, and contact cosmetology schools?

The first step to becoming a professional cosmetologist is to get the education and get licensed. If you're considering becoming a cosmetologist, talk to cosmetology schools about their programs, the cost of tuition at their campus, curriculum and any other questions you have. Everyone learns a little differently and has slightly different priorities when it comes to choosing the right college, so we created this handy “How to Choose a Beauty School” checklist to help. We advise you to talk to a number of different campuses near you and get all your questions answered, so you can make a confident decision on which cosmetology college will best meet your needs and set you up for success. We find that the average beauty school student considers 3 to 5 schools before making a final choice. It's an important life decision that should be considered with care after comparing your school options. Beauty schools nationwide are enrolling now! Find schools near you to get started.

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What is a cosmetologist?

Cosmetologist Trimming HairIn the beauty industry, a cosmetologist is more than just a hairstylist - they are people on the cutting edge of trends and styles in hair and beauty techniques, and they can transform their clients from simple to spectacular in a single sitting. According to the Princeton Review, cosmetologists “are often the initiators of style and change.” As a cosmetologist, you must learn to cut, color and style all types of hair, as well as do straightening, permanent waves, curling, weaves, extensions and other hair services.

Cosmetologists, also sometimes called “beauticians,” aren’t limited just to hairstyling. The job description of a cosmetologist might also involve doing manicures, pedicures and nail services, and even the basics of applying makeup for customers. They should also be knowledgeable in the field of esthetics, the division of cosmetology which focuses on skin care and includes services like facials, extractions and wraps, though some states require an esthetician license to perform these services professionally. Also important to a cosmetologist's job description is maintaining a safe, clean and sanitary salon environment at all times, and being able to follow the state's procedures for blood-borne pathogen management if the stylist or the client were to get nicked with the shears.

Also, a cosmetologist must feel comfortable consulting with hair and nail clients, asking questions and offering suggestions to deliver the best beauty services possible. A successful cosmetologist is outgoing and personable, can work well with their hands, does not mind standing for lengthy periods of time, and is willing to put in the work to market themselves to keep clients coming back and referring their friends.

The skills, abilities and aptitudes of a cosmetologist include but are not limited to: good communication and consultation skills; a creative bent and eye for good-looking design; ability to stand for lengthy periods of time; appointment scheduling and management; understanding of the effects of various beauty products; recommending product regimens to clients; cutting, trimming, coloring, perming, setting, straightening, curling, shampooing, treating, shaping, styling hair; using tools like clippers, scissors and razors; chemistry of color and color theory; physiology of the skin, hair and nails.

What salary can a cosmetologist earn?

Cosmetologist Finishing HaircutThe Bureau of Labor Statistics 2012 data says that cosmetologists earn a mean annual wage of $26,790 per year (a big jump from 2010, which was about $22,500) before tips, but cosmetologist salary depends on a number of factors. One thing that can affect a cosmetologist's earning potential is where the stylist works; working in major metropolitan areas may mean higher salaries and more tips than smaller, more rural areas. It's also imperative that cosmetologists urge their clients to re-book before they leave the salon, and encourage their clientele to keep coming back and referring friends and family. Your level of experience as a cosmetologist can dramatically impact your salary. As you gain more years of experience, continue your education in the field and grow your clientele, you will likely increase your salary and tips.

Because this field is so flexible, many cosmetologists choose to work part-time instead of full-time, and that can skew the salary data lower than it really is. Salary has the potential to grow with experience, growing clientele, and increasing hours worked. Another thing the BLS data often does not account for accurately is the tips a cosmetologist may receive for the hair, nail and makeup services. For more information about beauty wages, check out the average cosmetologist salaries data. Many cosmetologists fail to report their full income from tips and gratuities so it's difficult to calculate their real earning potential beyond the actual salary.

Cosmetologists who work for salons are likely paid an hourly wage in addition to tips from clients, whereas those who work in a booth rental environment keep all their proceeds after deducting the fees for their booth rental. Some cosmetologists choose to be entirely independent and do on-site cosmetology services or work out of their homes, in which case they keep all of the proceeds with minimal overhead.

What are some of the career options for a cosmetologist?

A career in cosmetology can lead to a variety of professions in the beauty industry. Some of the job opportunities for cosmetologists may include hairstylist, nail technician or salon or spa manager, just to name a few. Some licensed cosmetologists choose careers in the beauty industry as beauty magazine editors or consultants, while others become sales or marketing specialists in the cosmetics industry, and still others go on to teach beauty school and pass on their knowledge and skills to the next generation of cosmetologists. This is just a small selection of the job titles licensed cosmetologists may hold:

  • Cosmetologist Pull Quote 1Cosmetologist
  • Beautician
  • Hairstylist
  • Hairdresser
  • Wedding Stylist
  • Barber Stylist
  • Nail Technician
  • Manager Stylist
  • Salon Assistant

The top five metropolitan areas of the country that currently have the highest employment for cosmetologists are: Palm Coast, FL; Ocean City, NJ; Longview, WA; Mansfield, OH; Springfield, OH. Check out our cosmetology career options page for a more complete list of career ideas for this line of work.

Already in the market for a beauty job? Fantastic! Regardless of what direction your cosmetology career takes you, check out the My Social Beauty Cosmetology Jobs Board to find job openings across the U.S. This is a very helpful tool to find cosmetologist job openings nationwide that may fit your skill set and level of experience.

What is the future job outlook for cosmetologists?

As of 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that the employment pool for this career path was about 627,700 cosmetologists. Through the year 2020, the BLS estimates that job demand for licensed hairdressers, barbers and cosmetologists will grow approximately 14%, which is on par with the average for other professions. This means an estimated 98,400 jobs could be added this decadeThe demand for advanced hair treatments and other beauty services has increased, and is expected to keep growing this decade. All this job growth doesn’t change that you may face stiff competition when you get into the working world to get the higher-paying cosmetologist jobs. It still takes hard work, dedication to your practice, and the ambition to grow in your profession. Interestingly, the BLS estimates that about 44% of cosmetologists (281,600) are self-employed.

What is a cosmetologist’s day like?

Makeup Artist at WorkKnow the Itinerary - Every cosmetologist should begin their day by reviewing their appointment schedule and ensuring they know which clients are coming into the salon, and what services they’ll need. Many cosmetologists plan to use any free time in the appointment schedule to call and remind future appointments that they’re scheduled in the near future, which greatly reduces no-shows. Knowing the itinerary for the day can be very helpful for the cosmetologist to mentally prepare.

Prep the Station - Many cosmetologists then set up their station and get organized. They ensure their station is clean, organized and tidy. With so many parts of the tool kit, it’s important to stay organized so the professional can find what they need quickly when a client is in the chair. They check all their tools and products to ensure everything is clean and are up to the state’s sanitation codes.

Consult with the Client - Because a cosmetologist is licensed to perform hair, nail and makeup services, some may have a day filled with many types of clients and services. Others may specialize in a specific area, like hairstyling, and will have that type of client all day. The appointment generally begins with the client consultation, where you will ask a number questions to learn what the client wants you to accomplish. When you reach a full understanding of what the client wants, the services can then begin.

Perform the Beauty Services - For hairstyling, the services could include shampooing and conditioning, trimming, cutting, coloring and styling. For nail technician services, this could include paraffin hand treatments, acrylic or nail polish removal, cuticle treatments, nail polishing and sometimes even custom nail art. For makeup services, this may include color palette selection and the application of foundation and blush, eye makeup and lip treatments. Each appointment is completely custom to the client. This time should also be used to get to know your client on a more personal level – their tastes, interests, preferences, about their family, job, and so on. Building a personal relationship with your clients leads to customer retention and referrals.

Schedule the Next Appointment & Ask for Referrals - When the appointment is complete, every cosmetologist should tell the client when they would like to see the customer next, and try to get them to book their next appointment before they pay and leave. For example, “To maintain the look of this haircut, I need to see you back in 6 weeks. I can get you scheduled right now if you like.” Cosmetologists should also remind their happy, loyal customers that they love referral business so you can continue to grow your clientele!

How do you become a cosmetologist?

Cosmetologist Pull Quote 2The first step in becoming a cosmetologist is finding a cosmetology or beauty school that fits your needs. At cosmetology schools, students learn the skills and techniques needed to pass their state licensing exam for hair, nails, makeup, safety and sanitation. Every state has slightly different training hour requirements to be able to sit for the cosmetology board exams. But as a rule, courses for cosmetologist certification can include hair cutting, styling, coloring, shampooing, and permanent waving, as well as manicures and pedicures, facials, makeup application, nail technology, and more.

Cosmetology is the broadest and most all-encompassing of the beauty disciplines since it covers hair, nails, makeup and skin care all in one program. Some cosmetology schools may also offer courses in salon and spa management, business best practices, professionalism and ethics courses, and most also include elements of chemistry, anatomy, biology and physiology in their curriculum. Click here for more information about what you learn in cosmetology schoolBeauty schools nationwide are enrolling now! Find schools near you to get started.

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What are the requirements to enroll in cosmetology school?

Most beauty and cosmetology schools require a high school diploma or a GED equivalent to enroll, but check with the state in which you plan to enroll to be sure, and always contact the school directly to find out their unique regulations. The minimum age required to enroll in school varies from state to state. Click here for more information about the admissions requirements for cosmetologist training.

How long is cosmetologist training?

State beauty license requirements vary by state, so the length of the training program may also vary slightly by state. On average, it takes students 9 to 15 months to graduate from a cosmetology program. Many schools offer flexible scheduling that allows you to take night or weekend classes to accommodate work and family life, so part-time students may take longer to graduate than full-time students would. Click here for more information about the length of cosmetology school.

Our 2012 survey of all the licensing boards across the U.S. shows that most states require 1600 training hours on average to get licensed, but some states require as few as 1000 hours and other require as many as 2300 training hours. Take a look at our state cosmetology license requirements page to find out more. We recommend you contact the licensing department in your state to check for changes to requirements or curriculum.

How much do cosmetologist training programs cost?

Cosmetology school tuition costs vary depending on the types of courses, hours of instruction needed, location of the school, as well as their facilities and equipment. The cost of cosmetology school can also be affected by what's included in the price of tuition, like books, supplies, cosmetology kits or smocks or aprons. Our 2012 survey of 55 cosmetology schools says that the cost of cosmetology averages between $10,000 and $20,000. Be sure to speak to the admissions representatives at the schools you're considering to get the official information from each campus. Click here for more information about the cost of cosmetology tuition.

Still have questions?

Not to worry! We have tons more information about how to become a cosmetologist, even answers to questions you never thought to ask. As a starting point, get more cosmetology information here. Otherwise, please contact us with your questions. No question is dumb, and we're here to help you find all the information you need to make an educated, confident decision to start your career off right.

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