Your Guide to Cosmetology License Requirements

Requirements to become a cosmetologist vary from state to state, sometimes by a lot. But cosmetologists in every state have to complete approved training through a school (or, in some states, an apprenticeship) and pass one or more tests.

This guide can help you learn about common cosmetology license requirements in the United States. You can also jump ahead to learn specific license requirements in your state.

Skip to popular topics on this page: License Requirements by State | Training Hour Requirements | Required Exams | Applying for Your Cosmetology License | Maintaining Your Cosmetology License | Certification vs. Licensure | Cosmetology License Renewal

What Are the Requirements for Getting a Cosmetology License?

Cosmetology licensure involves completing training hours and at least one exam, as well as applying and paying a fee to the state. All states allow in-school training, and some allow cosmetology apprenticeships.

State requirements can change, so always double check your state board for specific questions. Select a state below to learn about its cosmetology license requirements.

Note that not every state refer to the license as “cosmetology.” Cosmetologists can work with hair, skin, and nails, so look for a license letting you do all these in your state. Almost every state has a license covering all of these subjects.

Cosmetology Training Hour Requirements

Training hours are how much time you need to spend in school or at an apprenticeship. These can include both in-class learning and hands-on experiences, though some states use a number of hands-on procedures rather than hours for the practical part of training. The higher the number of hours required, the longer school may take.

READ MORE: State training requirements and how long cosmetology school takes

Most states require 1,500 to 1,800 training hours. But, again, training hour requirements for cosmetologists vary from state to state.

For states allowing apprenticeships under approved supervisors, these hours must still follow state guidelines. If your state allows apprenticeships, chances are it requires twice as many apprenticeship hours than it does for an approved cosmetology program—though this can vary.

READ MORE: Cosmetology license requirements for your state

Required Cosmetology Exams

You must take at least one test before getting your license. Some states need you to pass two exams. There's a good chance you need to take National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC) tests, but other states offer unique exams. Even if your state requires NIC tests, they may require additional local law or sanitation tests.

NIC offers three types of tests: Written, practical, and written practical.

The NIC written test consists of:

  • Scientific Concepts
  • Haircare and Services
  • Skincare and Services
  • Nail Care and Services

The timed practical exam covers 10 concepts. You show off your skills using tools on mannequins or models. Plan to bring tools and a mannequin or model.

NIC cosmetology practical exams include:

  • Work Area and Client Preparation and Set Up of Supplies—First client
  • Thermal Curling
  • Haircutting
  • Work Area and New Client Preparation and Set Up of Supplies—Second client
  • Chemical Waving
  • Predisposition Test and Strand Test with Simulated Product
  • Highlighting with Foil, Virgin Application with Colored Simulated Product
  • Hair Color Retouch with Colored Simulated Product
  • Virgin Hair Relaxer Application with Colored Simulated Product
  • Blood Exposure Procedure

The written practical exam is a combination of the tests. This version takes 120 minutes and involves:

  • Scientific Concepts
  • Hair Care and Services
  • Skincare and Services
  • Nail Care and Services

The written practical test also covers bloodborne pathogens.

The cost of the test varies by state.

What to Know About Applying for Your Cosmetology License

Your state’s licensing body provides cosmetology license application instructions. License applications are often completed online. You typically must provide proof of identity and education, agree to a criminal background check, and perhaps submit medical details, among other things.

Exam and licensure applications aren’t free. You pay when applying for your test and license, sometimes separately, sometimes simultaneously. Costs vary by state.

If you add more licenses or credentials, you may have to pay fees for those.

Who Sets Cosmetology Licensing Requirements?

State licensing boards create and enforce cosmetology laws and rules. Some states have specific cosmetology boards, while others have their departments of labor or health manage cosmetology licensure.

Are You Ready to Become a Cosmetologist?

How to Maintain Your Cosmetology License

Cosmetologists have to maintain their licenses throughout their careers. Timelines and continuing education requirements vary by state.

Continuing education units (CEUs) are training hours to update skills and knowledge. Some states need zero extra education, while others mandate several hours. A few only require bloodborne pathogen or abuse awareness training touch-ups. But even if your state doesn't require extra training, CEUs can help build your skillset and stay on top of trends.

In addition to CEUs, you likely need to pay a renewal fee. These vary by state, and you can find this information on your state's page.

For more information on state-specific license requirements and to begin your search for cosmetology schools, visit our state cosmetology licensing guides.

Cosmetology Certification vs. Licensure

Certification is different from licensure. You may need a cosmetology license before getting certifications for special skills.

Some cosmetologists pursue certifications to stand out from the competition. In other cases, employers need cosmetologists to become certified in particular procedures. Certifications offered for additional techniques, treatments, or services vary from state to state.

One internationally recognized example of a cosmetology certification is granted by CIDESCO.

Cosmetology License Renewal

Cosmetology license renewal requirements vary from state to state. The typical range is every one to four years, although most states require cosmetologists to renew their license every two years. A handful of states have additional continuing education requirements that must be met for license renewal.

Different state boards may require you to pass the exam again if your license has expired. Check with your state’s board to get specifics on license renewal periods, renewal fees, and other specific requirements.

READ MORE: State cosmetology license requirement and renewal

More Resources on Getting Your Cosmetology License

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