Cosmetology License Laws, Regulations for Transfer, Reciprocity & Renewal

Cosmetology Licensing Laws, Rules & Regulations

Confused about licensing laws and regulations?

Licensing laws, rules and regulations vary from state to state, and that can make understanding your rights and responsibilities very confusing. Not to worry. Beauty Schools Directory has spoken with every state in the country about their specific regulations on everything from renewal to reciprocity, and we have compiled that information on this easy-to-read and easy-to-understand page.

Jump to Your Question:

Once I finish a training program, will I immediately get my cosmetology license?

Not immediately. You will have to take your state board exams first. Upon completion of your beauty school program, states require you to take a state board examination or multiple exams in order to obtain your cosmetology license or specialty permit.

Many beauty and cosmetology schools drill hard on the learned material toward the end of your training program to help students adequately prepare for these examinations. This is extremely useful to get students in the test-taking frame of mind, but also make sure that the school's entire curriculum is focused on providing a good, thorough cosmetology education, and not simply teaching students how to "pass the test."

Typically there is a written portion of the exam that is graded immediately, and then there is a practical portion of the exam that takes anywhere from a few hours to most of a day depending on your state. It can take several weeks to receive your grade, and your official cosmetology license in the mail.

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What are the unique cosmetology license requirements for each state?

Cosmetologist Setting Hair CurlersCosmetology licensing laws and requirements vary by state, as do reciprocity and transfer regulations, renewal schedules, fees and continuing education requirements. Almost every state has a cosmetology license, but each state differs on whether they offer barber, esthetician, nail technician, makeup artist, permanent makeup artist, electrolysis, instructor and hair braiding licenses.

The specific states' licensing requirements can be found from several sources. The first place to look is our state-by-state license requirements, which we have updated with 2015 data. We review every state board each year to ensure we have the most up-to-date information about laws and license requirements possible. We also recommend directly contacting the cosmetology licensing board or other regulating authority in your state, as they can answer questions for your specific situation. If you click the link above, we include complete contact information for each state's licensing board, including an address, phone number, e-mail address and a map to the location.

The information you find listed within each state is the latest data that Beauty Schools Directory has on file for each state board of cosmetology's licensing requirements. Hours and minimum requirements are subject to change as laws change. It's especially important to check this information for cosmetology licensing renewal and if you will be transferring your cosmetology license to another state. Often times when transferring your cosmetology license to another state, they have different licensing laws that you will need to meet. Please contact the appropriate state board licensing agencies in your home state and the state to which you're moving to make sure you understand the license transfer process.

What are license transfer, reciprocity and endorsement?

Cosmetology license transfer is when a state other than your home state of licensure allows you to perform cosmetology services legally. Often when transferring your cosmetology license from one state to another, you will need a record of your completed training hours from your beauty school or state cosmetology licensing board, and proof that you've taken and passed the board exams. Reciprocity and endorsement are two common ways to be able to transfer your cosmetology licensure from one state to the next.

Cosmetology license reciprocity is when another state allows you to work under the license of your current state. (So for example, if you live in Kansas City, Missouri and have a Missouri cosmetology license, but you also want to work in Kansas, you would need to find out if the state of Kansas will allow you to work under your Missouri license). Reciprocity often depends on whether the two states have similar or equivalent licensing requirements. Some states have pre-determined reciprocity relationships because they've established that their education and exam requirements are substantially similar.

Some states have a policy of licensure by endorsement. This means that you are attempting to qualify for licensure in a new state without having to take the new state's board examinations. This is usually achieved by having a current, active cosmetology license in good standing in your home state, and similar to the reciprocity requirements above, your home state must have comparable or more stringent education and exam requirements than the new state. There may also be age, education or other requirements to get licensure by endorsement.

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Where can I find additional information about the state board examinations?

Nail Technician Giving Manicure

Most states require both written and practical cosmetology exams of students after graduating from beauty school. Nearly all states have their own boards of cosmetology. Some states use national cosmetology exams, like the NIC (National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology) and the PSI Services practical exams, whereas others use custom exams just for their states instead. Contact the state boards of cosmetology directly to inquire about the cosmetology state board examinations dates, times and details. Most beauty colleges and cosmetology schools will also have useful information about the examinations available to students who are near graduation and can help guide you on getting yours scheduled. Some states only allow students to take the board exams in English, but some states offer all or parts of the exams in Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, French, Chinese or Arabic. Here is a helpful chart of languages cosmetology boards accept.

There are numerous resources available to help prepare graduating beauty students pass the cosmetology licensing exams, including online study guides and practice tests, and some state boards even offer a study guide booklet. We recommend you watch this interview with Beauty Brands Master Stylist Michelle Reid to hear her tips on how to prepare for the exams. And here is another article called How to Pass the Cosmetology Exam with four great tips on how to mentally prepare, and some bonus advice from several of our Twitter followers who have already passed the exams in their state.

What are the laws pertaining to cosmetology license renewal?

Once again, these regulations will vary from state to state. There are a few points to consider about cosmetology license renewal.

  1. Period of Time - Some states renew as often as every 12 months, whereas others allow 2 to 3 years before requiring licensees to renew.
  2. Renewal Date - For some states, your license must be renewed by your birth date. In others, there's a set date that everyone must meet each year. 
  3. Continuing Education Requirements - While continuing education is always recommended to stay current in the ever-changing beauty business, only some states require showing proof of a minimum number of continuing education hours (CEUs) during the licensure period in order to renew your license. 
  4. Fees - The fees to get licensed in the first place, and to renew any of the beauty licenses, will vary from state to state.
  5. Exams - Some states require you to take a fresh written exam to demonstrate that you are still knowledgeable about state law, safety and sanitation. Sometimes this exam must be taken in person, but more often state boards will mail a booklet and a test to complete and mail back to the board.

It is the responsibility of the licensee to remember to renew your license, not the board. Some boards are kind enough to send notifications and reminders, but it is not guaranteed, and you are still individually responsible for renewing on time.

What if my cosmetology license is expired?

If your license expires and you do not renew it on time, it is illegal to continue performing professional cosmetology services during that time. Again, it is the responsibility of the licensee to renew your license on time. The eligibility and requirements to renew an expired license vary state to state. If your cosmetology license is expired, but you decide to reactivate it, you may expect any or all of the following from your state board:

  • If it is expired only briefly, or within a set amount of time, you may only need to go through the normal renewal process and pay a higher renewal fee.
  • If it is expired for several years, you may be required to re-take the written and/or practical exams to reactivate it.
  • If it is expired for several years, you may be required to take a certain amount of continuing education hours to be eligible to sit for the board exams and again and get re-licensed.

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What if my state does not offer a license or permit for the specialty I want?

Not every state offers every license. Almost all states and territories offer a cosmetologist or beautician license of some kind (even the name can vary). Each state differs on whether they offer barber, esthetician, nail technician, makeup artist, permanent makeup artist, electrolysis, instructor and hair braiding licenses, among others. More and more states are beginning to offer hair braiding licenses, and some even offer permits as specific as threading licenses.

If your state does not have the specialty permit you're looking for, make sure the specialty doesn't fall under another licensure. For example, in some states makeup services fall under either the cosmetologist license or the esthetician license. If the board confirms that it is not licensed and doesn't fall under another certification, you may be allowed to perform the service professionally without a license in that state. However, there may still be schools to attend for that specialty so you can set yourself apart from the competition.

Can I be licensed in multiple states at once?

Yes, you can be licensed in multiple states at once. You will need to show proof of the required minimum number of training hours for the state, and then sit for both the written and practical exams in that state. As long as you continue to meet all the renewal requirements and renew the licenses on time, you can hold licenses in multiple states concurrently.

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